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The Upper South—Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia—was the scene of the most destructive war ever fought on American soil. Contending armies swept across the region from the outset of the Civil War until its end, marking their passage at Pea Ridge, Shiloh, Perryville, and Manassas. Alongside this much-studied conflict, the Confederacy also waged an irregular war, based on nineteenth-century principles of unconventional warfare. In The Uncivil War, Robert R. Mackey outlines the Southern strategy of waging war across an entire region, measures the Northern response, and explains the outcome.
Complex military issues shaped both the Confederate irregular war and the Union response. Through detailed accounts of Rebel guerrilla, partisan, and raider activities, Mackey strips away romanticized notions of how the “shadow war” was fought, proving instead that irregular warfare was an integral part of Confederate strategy.
Al Gore is a Harvard man. George W. Bush went to Yale. Their preparatory schools were also exceptionally elite-Bush: Andover, Gore: St. Albans. Both had politically powerful fathers-one a president, the other a U.S. senator. Though Al Gore and George Bush would run for president as barefoot boys from Tennessee and Texas, those toes had been wiggled in country club pools.
They are both good family men. Each has a strong and intelligent wife and is widely regarded as a devoted parent. Both attend church regularly. Unlike most of their privileged contemporaries, each served, more or less, in the military.
Peas in a pod? Hardly. They are in fact the most dissimilar rivals ever to face off against one another in a presidential race. They are at the far opposite ends of the spectrum-the political spectrum now being defined in terms of new class warfare.
It is a war that began when intelligence came to be tested. Rewarding ability is of course highly desirable. But there is a tendency to reward not achievement but rather test scores. It iswidely assumed that there is one single capacity called general intelligence and that it can be accurately measured. Many (not all) of those with high scores can't escape the feeling that since we know who the smartest people are, there is no longer any point in seeking the opinions of anyone else. Why should we let the majority rule?
Those who are the "we" in this question are the New Elite. Everyone else, regardless of intellect or income, is one of the Left Behinds. These are the groups who are at war. It is a strange war, with one side advancing only by stealth, and the other organized largely for defense.
The battlefields are cultural as well as political, but the clearest conflicts are usually national elections. For some time now, they've been heavily influenced by the new class war, but never more so than in the Bush/Gore contest.
Gore of course was the New Elite candidate and Bush the Left Behind.
And this is why Bush won.
He certainly didn't win on the issues. As the presidential race of 2000 grew nearer, the stars seemed in alignment for the Democrats. On issue after issue, the polls showed a clear majority favoring the policies of the party in office. On abortion, gun control, tax cuts, health care, tobacco regulation, and other issues, the numbers showed that the Republican positions were not shared by most Americans. When the Republicans came up with a popular new policy-such as welfare reform-it was swiftly stolen and completely coopted by President Clinton, thereby turning the issue gap into a gorge.
Further, the economy was very, very strong. There was a book out about the Dow Jones average reaching 36,000. The market had in fact been going up so long and so high that perhaps there really was no ceiling. Unemployment was astonishingly low. All this would change, of course, but not before the presidential election.
There was, to be sure, a cloud over the personal life of the incumbent president. Though a clear majority had opposed his removal from office by impeachment, there was widespread public revulsion over all the tawdry revelations and a very understandable desire to change the channel. The vice president was stuck with his president's vice, the taint necessarily so.
Even so, the polls suggested that had the constitution permitted him to seek a third term, even Clinton could have survived the Clinton scandals. He probably would have clobbered Bush.
This is because Clinton was a magician. He didn't need smoke and mirrors. He could turn himself into anything. He had magic. So while embodying almost every characteristic and attitude of the New Elite, he could just stand there and face the populace and-poof!-he was someone else. He was one of them. It was almost like the movie Men in Black, where people were zapped with electronic wands and made to forget the alien secrets they had just observed.
Al Gore did not have a magic wand. He couldn't change into anything except earth tones. By election day, almost everyone (with the exception of Gore himself) knew who he was-he was the person who didn't know who he was.
He was the prototype of the New Elite. You can't get any closer to its essence, its embodiment, its very definition.
And that's why the 2000 campaign can be called the Perfect Storm. Because in the opposite corner was the champion of the Left Behinds. The choice had never been so remarkably clear. These weren't two leaders of opposing camps, these were the opposing camps. One couldn't invent two candidates who more precisely personified each side of the new class struggle.
Which is, as noted, why Bush won. Or, more accurately, why Gore lost. The Gore persona became increasingly defined as the campaign developed. The Bush persona did not. That came largely after 9/11. During the campaign, and right through election day, much of the voting public knew very little about George W. Bush.
Everyone knew that his father had been president. To get around the similarity of their names, the press took to calling the son "Dubya," for his middle initial W. "Dubya" sounded kind of Texan, and it reminded people that he was governor of Texas.
But six years earlier, he hadn't even held public office. His reviews as governor were largely favorable, but outside of Texas he continued to be known as his father's son and little else.
Much fun was made of the way he spoke. His speech was straightforward, but his sentences were disjointed and his syntax often a mess. This gave rise to the impression, in the opposition camp at least, that Dubya really wasn't very bright.
This was a mistake-in fact the classic mistake that the new class makes in judging candidates. Those who write about such things prefer candidates who sound like themselves-or as they think they sound, or want to sound, or sound after editing.
The political landscape is littered with the whitened bones of erudite commentators who underestimated candidates who didn't speak the way they spoke. Truman, Eisenhower, and Reagan were able to ascend history's ladder despite such denigration, and none required a Henry Higgins to do so.
But the word was out in many circles that Bush was pretty dumb. It was sneeringly noted that he had been a college cheerleader, that his friends were businessmen, that he had been part owner of a baseball team, that he wore cowboy boots, and that he spoke seldom, bluntly, and with a twang. When it was pointed out that Bush not only had a B.A. from Yale but an M.B.A. from Harvard, his detractors usually replied that it was easier to get into those places back then.
"Back then" was indeed a time that was ending just after George Bush was admitted to Yale. Dubya's father and grandfather had attended Yale. Of course, he would as well. But this was precisely the moment when college admissions swung from the old elite to the New Elite. Dubya squeezed in just before the family door was closed. From now on, SAT scores mattered much more than whether your grandfather was Senator Prescott Bush. Dubya's younger brothers, Governor Jeb and the rest, did not attend Yale.
The New Elite had already established a beachhead at Yale when Dubya was there. And he didn't like it. "Nothing illustrated Bush's alienation from this new world better than his hatred of Strobe Talbott, chairman of the Yale Daily News, Rhodes scholar, and meritocrat par excellence. Talbott irked Bush no end. To borrow the WASP term of art, Talbott, who would later become Clinton's foreign policy guru, was a 'grind,' a first-rate party pooper. To this day, the New York Times has reported, Bush still carps about him" (Franklin Foer, New Republic, February 5, 2001).
That was Bush. Now what about Gore? His Harvard years were marked by the same tectonic class shift that was rocking Yale. But in Gore's case, the change was welcome. Very welcome. He loved the New SAT Elite. In fact, it was the start of a lifelong infatuation. Many years later, with brilliant insight, Nicholas Lemann wrote in the July 31, 2000, issue of The New Yorker that Gore's book "'Earth in the Balance' is not so much the work of an intellectual as the work of someone immensely impressed by intellectualism and intellectuals, who occupy the venerated position for him that baseball heroes do for Bush."
And there you have it. The most important thing to know about the New Elite is that it is self-selected. It's the values you choose to side with. If you perceive, as Foer puts it, "merit not as brainpower but as 'character'," then, like Bush, you're a Left Behind. If your central value is brainpower itself, above all else, you are a member of the New Elite, the club to which Gore chose to belong.
It's all how you see yourself. And while the New Elite is supposedly based on "objective" test scores, there is nothing objective whatsoever about including oneself. Admission is shameless. If you think that it is a much better fraternity than DKE, then you just voted yourself in.
There is no admissions test; that's just for college. You don't even have to go to college to be in the New Elite. You just have to feel that you belong. Although if you plan to get along with your new friends, you've got to talk the talk and walk the walk.
Actually, the talking is more important than the walking. (With Left Behinds, the opposite is probably the case.) Look at how Gore talks. Then Bush.
The perfect contrast between the two appeared in an article by Tucker Carlson in the September 1999 issue of the now-defunct talk magazine, more than a year before the election. It refers to a profile of Gore by Louis Menand that had appeared in The New Yorker. "At one point," notes Carlson, "Gore waxes enthusiastic to Menand about the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception, a work, Gore explains, that he found useful 'in cultivating a capacity for a more refined introspection that gave me better questions that ultimately led to a renewed determination to become involved with the effort to make things better.' As Menand points out, 'It is a little hard to imagine having this conversation with George W. Bush.'
"And it is," notes Carlson. "When I ask Bush to name something he isn't good at, there is no hesitation at all. 'Sitting down and reading a 500-page book on public policy or philosophy or something,' he says."
Carlson, a writer for the conservative Weekly Standard, was clearly delighted to quote both candidates. He saw at once that Gore's supposed erudition was not the slam dunk that Menand assumed. It was, in fact, a smoke alarm for the Left Behinds. For one thing, Gore speaks in social science prose. His statement would have been appalling enough had he written it out, but to actually speak like that, to use all these words to say, apparently, that a French writer made him think more clearly and therefore better able to do good, is stupefying.
Bush's response is equally telling. What counts most is that he said it. To deny that one's Energizer is a position paper is to invite the scorn of the New Elite-as Bush learned well at Yale. To give this answer in an interview is to extend, as Gore might phrase it, the middle digit to the New Elite.
Only a fool would suppose that Bush was endorsing stupidity. Politicians know that voters don't want stupid presidents. Nor was his a redneck's snarl against his betters. Yes, Yale and Harvard were easier to get into when he went there, but not that much easier. In point of fact, Bush's SAT scores were higher than Gore's-a fact about which only one of them gives a damn. As we have seen, it's all about self-selection. It isn't a question of who really is smarter than whom.
What's going on is something else entirely. Perhaps the best example comes from the Clinton years. While one does not readily make light of the very real pain endured in the Clinton White House after the suicide of Vince Foster, it is noteworthy that in recounting that tragedy, Hillary Clinton has told how they procured a number of books on grieving and passed them around within their circle. Perhaps these books really helped; one sincerely hopes so. But one essential difference between the New Elite and the Left Behinds is the difference between reading books on grieving and simply grieving.
The above sheds some light on Bush's disinclination to read "a 500-page book on public policy." He understands that someone in his administration has to read such books, but that his own job, choosing between policy alternatives, is more usefully linked to the application of core values than the analysis of transitory data.
The voters understand this. People respond to candidates who respond to people-not feeling their pain, but sharing their values. The voters don't want a president eager to test some untried theory with the quality of their lives-or indeed, with their lives. They want a president who agrees with Oliver Wendell Holmes that "a page of history is worth a volume of logic."
Holmes was a Left Behind, too, as well as perhaps our greatest jurist. Like Bush, though much more so, he was something of an aristocrat-a genuine Boston Brahmin. But his basic allegiance was not to an old elite-Holmes had passionate faith in the wisdom of the majority. As does Bush to a great extent, although the M.B.A. president also thinks highly of the managerial elite as well.
Class allegiance. It's what voters look for now, more than anything else. You have to listen to how people talk. How many words would it take Al Gore to say, "A page of history is worth a volume of logic"? Three pages? Even the most self-absorbed pedagogues know that obtuse expression will turn off an audience, which is why beltway commentators have learned a few folksy phrases with which to season their pedantry. ("That dog won't hunt" and "at the end of the day" seem to be the current favorites.)
But you really can't fake it. (Even Clinton didn't really fake it; he just had this magic trick of actually being the kind of person each audience wanted.) Bush is of course not really a cowboy, and he does indeed get more audience mileage out of his West Texas ranch than The Phantom of the Opera eked out of that chandelier, but symbols aside, he's still pretty much who he says he is. He's the embodiment of the Left Behinds, and the voters know it.
Of course, in electing him president, the voters had some help. Karl Rove has advised the younger Bush since before even the Texas gubernatorial campaign. As recounted by Franklin Foer:
Rove insisted that [Bush] read the works of David Horowitz and Myron Magnet, both of whom accused intellectuals of unmooring society from its bedrock values....
Excerpted from The Uncivil War by Robert Russell Mackey Copyright © 2005 by Robert Russell Mackey. Excerpted by permission.
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