On Tuesday, the National Rifle Association released a new ad accusing President Obama of being an “elitist hypocrite” for allowing his daughters to attend a school protected by armed guards. The ad argues that, “Mr. Obama demands that the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to their fair share of security.”
The ad, on its face, is fairly illogical. President Obama’s children are not like other children; their situation is unique. As White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded, “Most Americans agree that a president’s children should not be used as pawns in a political fight.”
What’s even more disturbing is the disingenuous nature of the ad itself. By attacking “elitism,” the NRA is harnessing populist frustration with the ruling class in America without having to admit that they too are a part of that elite ruling class. Wikipedia defines “elite” as “a small group of people who control a disproportionate amount of wealth or political power.” By this definition, the NRA might be one of the most “elite” institutions in the country.
According to IRS filings in 2010, the NRA has a total revenue of $227.8 million and $163 million in assets in the main branch of the NRA alone (the NRA Foundation and the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund have millions more in fundraising and assets); the NRA is, for a political organization, extremely wealthy (values from 2010 IRS filings). And although their membership hovers around four million (and some have argued that it is actually much less), decisions are made by a 76 member board of directors and 10 executive officers who almost all gain office through nominations of a secretive nine-member Nominating Committee. Sitting on this nine-member committee is individual George Kollitides, chief executive of the Freedom Group – the self proclaimed leading innovator, designer, manufacturer and marketer of firearms and ammunition, as well as other individuals who benefit financially from gun sales.
There is evidence to support the idea that members themselves have little influence in how the organization runs. Not only do members rarely achieve leadership positions without specific connections, but their own opinions do not translate into actions. A poll conducted last May by Republican Frank Luntz showed NRA members to be in favor of various “common sense” restrictions such as criminal background checks (74 percent in favor) and permits for only those who have completed gun safety training (74 percent in favor). Yet the NRA leaders continue to oppose any type of restriction whatsoever and have instead advocated for more guns.
Those few leaders who do make the decisions, and quite a lot of money too, have an immense amount of power in their wealth, connectedness and platform that has allowed them to prevent any semblance of gun reform for years because of the fear they inspire in both the American public and in our elected officials. They are, by any standard, elite. They may not be condescending, cosmopolitan intellectuals but they are a small class of wealthy and powerful individuals.
And “elite-ness” should signify power in our political discourse. Not only because power is at the root of the true definition of elite, but because defining it as such lays blame where it is due – with those with the power.
When we see truly powerful individuals as powerless, they are absolved of taking responsibility for the consequences their decisions result in. And the current definition used for “elite” in political discourse fuels problems of dishonesty and a lack of accountability.
The NRA campaigning against the “big bad elite” is not only misleading, but it allows them to participate in self-involved lobbying under the guise of populist interests and morally-sound objectives. Most of all, this problem fuels hypocrisy. While the NRA attacks President Obama as a hypocrite, they act like an underdog when they couldn’t be farther from it.
Anne Boring is a College senior from Atlanta, Ga.