THE NEW COVENANT
"The populist, a believer in the ability of people to handle their own affairs better than an elite, will tend to believe in present equality. The elitist, with his optimism about the superior ability of elites to handle people's affairs, will tend to believe in future equality." --Jeffrey Bell
Our nation's founding was predicated on the self-evident truth that all humans are created equal, and equally endowed with rights from our Creator. Still, for nearly a century, our country permitted one class of persons to own another, with slavery based on skin color. Even today, we allow grown humans to make life-and-death decisions for unborn humans. Indeed, as we noted earlier this week, a Supreme Court majority in 1992 declared that no one may assert claims of equal rights on behalf of unborn citizens: "Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles or morality, but that cannot control our decision. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code." The Justices' decision, of course, mandated their "own moral code" as binding (and therefore superior) to any different understanding of equal liberty for all.
What, then, do we mean by equality? Is it only a promise -- or is it a practice? And on what legitimate basis can anyone assert a decision-making capacity superior to other citizens' capabilities, if we are all truly equal?
We human beings are each unique, each differing in knowledge, skills, and experience. But it is illuminating to consider how very successful people, elites among us, lay claim to making decisions on behalf of the rest of us, and to consider the precise nature of the decisions they would undertake for our good. They believe they know so much better than we do what is best for us.
One of the most notable exemplars of such elitist thought is Ted Turner. "People who think like us may be in the minority, but we're the smart ones. ... [The Ten Commandments] are a little out of date. If you're only going to have 10 rules, I don't know if [prohibiting] adultery should be one of them," Turner said last month. So, Mr. Turner claims to know better than even God what our moral code should be.
He continued with more insults. Evidently, as is typical of liberal elitists, Mr. Turner believes anyone who disagrees with him must be stupid. "Ever seen a Polish mine detector?" inquired Turner, pointing to his foot. "[The Pope] should get with it. Welcome to the 20th century." After Catholics complained, Mr. Turner apologized for his attack on the Pope. After the Polish government complained, Mr. Turner apologized to Poland. It is unlikely he will apologize to Jews, Christians and families for his other comments.
And this is not the first time Turner has uttered such words. At a recent environmentalist meeting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he said that not only is Christianity "not an environmentally friendly religion," but Christians themselves are "dummies." Moreover, the smart people of the world should get all the dumb Christians "to come along with us," in his view.
As Jeffrey Bell discussed in this 1992 book "Populism and Elitism: Politics in the Age of Equality," elites in society are prone to view their success and renown, in whatever field earned, as merits that qualify them to make decisions for other people. But Turner's bare assertion that he is smart, while those who disagree are stupid, is remarkable in its arrogance. Celebrity elites usually know better than to demean such a large portion of their audience.
Turner's media fortune has derived from appealing to tastes of the majority in American popular culture. If he counts himself among the minority of "smart ones," he has clearly gotten his gelt by pandering to mostly "dummies." Has his life's work been unjustifiable and irresponsible, then? And exactly how does that make him a "smart one"?
From the largest issues, a universal moral code and world environmental policies, to the most intimate, personal matters of individual family size, the Turneresque elitist vision for creating a new covenant is complete: At the UN population summit, Turner advocated draconian government policies to limit families, saying, "We could do it in a very humane way if everybody adopted a one-child policy for 100 years." Mrs. Turner, Jane Fonda, chimed in, "Anybody who tries to block family planning doesn't see the writing on the wall."
And what do the liberal elites envision for the best system to govern us? "To say that we want only non-professionals governing us is to show a basic disrespect for government, and though that sentiment may be popular, it is dangerous. We have nothing binding us together as a nation -- no common ethnicity, history, religion, or even language -- except the Constitution and the institutions it created," opined Cokie Roberts. Well, how are we a real nation, then? Only because of the professional elites in government, who balance the competing demands of a clamoring cacophony of citizens?
And certainly, we must be convinced that elites can best manage our economic affairs as well. Bill Clinton's pastor and spiritual adviser, J. Philip Wogaman of Foundry Methodist Church, provided an "ethical" analysis of the major economic debate of the 20th century: "Marxism can speak to the conscience of Christians precisely because it expresses some basic human values which are very close to Christian ones. ... Christians cannot find anything to quarrel with directly [over] the Marxist idea of the human spirit [because Marxism is] concerned, both morally and economically, with the creative possibilities of every human member of the community, and, in this sense, respects the value of each person. ... How could Christians support any other economic ideology?" Marxism, an entirely materialistic philosophy of governance through central planning, in which the value of each person is calculated as property of the state, with no spiritual dimension whatsoever -- this is close to Christian values, especially that one about the human spirit being created in the image of God?
The new covenant liberal elitists have in mind a simple exchange. They say, Give us power, and we will make you equal. Let us rule your lives, and we will give you peace with your neighbors and harmony with nature. We will remake man in our own image. And all this will be done ... tomorrow.
The new covenant? Sounds more like the old pride.