Eminentoes

Who’s the Real Elitist?

Hint: she's the self-anointed hero of the working class.

By 5.12.08

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So Barack Obama is the elitist in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination? I'm not so sure about that.

Obama's famous comment that small-town Pennsylvanians "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," made at a $1,000 per plate fundraiser in San Francisco, made his name synonymous with "elitism."

Last July, Obama asked an audience in Adel, Iowa, "Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula? I mean, they're charging a lot of money for this stuff."

Granted, Obama is no Joe Sixpack. Yet one of the things that makes him so interesting as a presidential candidate is that for the most part he doesn't pretend to be. In the same Iowa event at which he brought up shopping for arugula at Whole Foods, as if everyone does that a few times a week, a farmer told Obama, "You can come and help me load hogs in the morning." Obama replied, "You can tell that I'm dressed for it." He was wearing "slacks and a pressed shirt," the New York Times reported.

That's pretty much what Obama wears everywhere. He might stand out in rural Iowa or Pennsylvania, but that helps him. He's not trying to pretend that he knows squat about farming or working on a factory floor. He told the Adel audience, "Although there are an awful lot of farms in Illinois, in the neighborhood where I live, the main livestock is squirrels. So I don't pretend to know everything there is to know about agricultural issues."

When was the last time Hillary Clinton didn't try to pretend to fit in with whatever crowd happened to be surrounding her?

Clinton is Zelig, or at least she wishes she could be. While Obama makes fun of himself for showing up in farm country dressed like it's casual Friday, Clinton rides around in pickup trucks, drinks Bud and pretends that she'd know the difference between a Glock and a Lugar.

Clinton is careful not to speak her condescension as clearly as Obama did in San Francisco, but her elitism is of a worse sort because it manifests itself in such brazen acts of attempted deception. Obama is out of touch, but at least he doesn't treat the rabble like complete morons. He doesn't assume that they are so stupid they will be fooled by a pickup truck prop or a phony accent. Clinton does.

On the day of the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, Clinton, her husband, and her daughter all wore a shade of pale blue easily recognized by any North Carolinian as strikingly close to the University of North Carolina's official color. What an amazing coincidence.

Clinton's pandering is all the more condescending because it is so blatant. She really doesn't think the people are smart enough to catch on. That's true elitism. It's the attitude that all the people can be fooled all the time. (Wow, she really grew up in suburban Chicago as a lifelong Yankees fan?!) It's the sign of a woman who deeply believes herself to be superior to most everyone else.

Does Obama believe he's superior to the average American? Probably. His lapel pin comments alone suggest it. But it is also evident that he respects the average American enough not to treat him like a total idiot. Clinton has never shown such respect. She thinks the American people are rubes who can be fooled into voting for her by the most obvious lies and the simplest campaign trickery. So in the end, who is the real elitist?

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About the Author

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @Drewhampshire.