I see the media have adopted GOP talking point #1: Obama is an arrogant, aloof elitist.
What is the deal with this? Attending elite schools like Harvard makes him an an elitist? No, that can’t be it. W went to Yale and Harvard and he’s a regular guy. In addition, Obama attended elite schools because of his personal achievement; W attended them because of his personal connections (Daddy was an alum). So, it’s not elite schools. Maybe its because Obama speaks in sentences? Because he wears a suit? I don’t know.
But since his elitism is now “a given” among the mainstream media types, mainstream media types like Jeff Greenfield are now offering advice on how liberals like Obama can fight their “elitist image”. It involves George Orwell’s book Wigan Pier. Writes Greenfield:
“Wigan Pier is an account of Orwell’s travels to England’s industrial North, to the towns of Barnsley, Sheffield, and Wigan. Orwell wrote of everything from conditions in the coal mines to the homes, diets, and health of desperately poor miners. He himself was a socialist who could also turn a critical eye on the British left, and in the middle of the book, he devoted a chapter to the failure of socialism to gain a foothold among the very citizens who would have seemed to benefit most from its rise. Substitute liberal or progressive for socialist, and the text often reads as though Orwell were covering American politics today.
Now, just because Greenfield is substituting “liberal” for “socialist”, don’t get the idea that American liberals are socialists—you know, the people who quote Marx and want to nationalize industries—I’m sure Greenfield wouldn’t want to imply that. But I digress, back to his column:
“Everyone who uses his brain knows that Socialism, is a way out [of the worldwide depression,]” Orwell writes. “It would at least ensure our getting enough to eat, even if it deprived us of everything else. Indeed, from one point of view, Socialism is such an elementary common sense that I am sometimes amazed that it has not established itself already.” And yet, he adds, “the average thinking person nowadays is merely not a Socialist, he is actively hostile to Socialism. … Socialism … has about it something inherently distasteful—something that drives away the very people who ought to be flocking it its support.”
One key to the movement’s lack of popularity, Orwell argues, is its supporters. “As with the Christian religion,” he writes, “the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents… .” The typical socialist, according to Orwell, “is either a youthful snob-Bolshevik who in five years time will quite probably have made a wealthy marriage and been converted to Roman Catholicism, or, still more typically, a prim little man with a white-collar job, usually a secret teetotaler, and often with vegetarian leanings … with a social position he has no intention of forfeiting. … One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist and feminist in England.” (Think “organic food lover,” “militant nonsmoker,” and “environmentalist with a private jet” for a more contemporary list.)
Concludes Greenfield: “the perennial struggle of Democratic contenders to appeal to ordinary Americans seems very much of a piece with Orwell’s sharp descriptions.”
This is kind of the point Thomas Frank makes in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”. Working class folks get tricked into voting against their economic interests. I’m not entirely sure I buy it. Whose to say that people should vote their economic interest? Many people on the left vote for Dems expecting that their taxes will increase. Are they failing to vote their economic interest? I have an alternative theory: maybe it’s because the media insist on running with the “elitist story. Maybe that has something to do with the popularity of the “elitist story”? Might it be “of a piece”?
"Image rehabilitation my specialty"
In any event, Greenfield obviously believes liberals are elitists, but suggests that it’s not impossible for them to connect with the average Joe. His example is Bill Clinton who was, he says, “hard to label an aloof elitist” because of “Clinton’s obvious tastes for earthly pleasures—from Big Macs to more intimate diversions.”
Of course! The perfect strategy to counter the elitist charge! Strike up a relationship with someone like Monica Lewinsky. Worked well for Clinton. As soon as we find out Obama has been fooling around with some young woman (especially a white one!) his elitist problem will be solved.