Thomas Frank Responds on Elitism and Bitterness

Barack Obama’s recent comments on small town American voters have been compared to the writings of Thomas Frank. I discussed these views at length yesterday in this post. Today The Wall Street Journal has an op-ed from Thomas Frank.

Frank looks at whether Obama, and Hillary Clinton, are elitist:

Consider, for example, the one fateful charge that the punditry and the other candidates have fastened upon Mr. Obama – “elitism.” No one means by this term that Mr. Obama is a wealthy person (he wasn’t until last year), or even that he is an ally of the wealthy (although he might be that). What they mean is that he has committed a crime of attitude, and revealed his disdain for the common folk.

It is a stereotype you have heard many times before: Besotted with latte-fueled arrogance, the liberal looks down on average people, confident that he is a superior being. He scoffs at religion because he finds it to be a form of false consciousness. He believes in regulation because he thinks he knows better than the market.

“Elitism” is thus a crime not of society’s actual elite, but of its intellectuals. Mr. Obama has “a dash of Harvard disease,” proclaims the Weekly Standard. Mr. Obama reminds columnist George Will of Adlai Stevenson, rolled together with the sinister historian Richard Hofstadter and the diabolical economist J.K. Galbraith, contemptuous eggheads all. Mr. Obama strikes Bill Kristol as some kind of “supercilious” Marxist. Mr. Obama reminds Maureen Dowd of an . . . anthropologist.

Ah, but Hillary Clinton: Here’s a woman who drinks shots of Crown Royal, a luxury brand that at least one confused pundit believes to be another name for Old Prole Rotgut Rye. And when the former first lady talks about her marksmanship as a youth, who cares about the cool hundred million she and her husband have mysteriously piled up since he left office? Or her years of loyal service to Sam Walton, that crusher of small towns and enemy of workers’ organizations? And who really cares about Sam Walton’s own sins, when these are our standards? Didn’t he have a funky Southern accent of some kind? Surely such a mellifluous drawl cancels any possibility of elitism.

It is by this familiar maneuver that the people who have designed and supported the policies that have brought the class divide back to America – the people who have actually, really transformed our society from an egalitarian into an elitist one – perfume themselves with the essence of honest toil, like a cologne distilled from the sweat of laid-off workers. Likewise do their retainers in the wider world – the conservative politicians and the pundits who lovingly curate all this phony authenticity – become jes’ folks, the most populist fellows of them all.

Frank notes which party is the champion of encouraging and taking advantage of bitterness:

Conservatism, on the other hand, has no problem with bitterness; as the champion strategist Howard Phillips said almost three decades ago, the movement’s job is to “organize discontent.” And organize they have. They have welcomed it, they have flattered it, they have invited it in with millions of treason-screaming direct-mail letters, they have given it a nice warm home on angry radio shows situated up and down the AM dial. There is not only bitterness out there; there is a bitterness industry.

Consider the shower of right-wing love that descended in February on small-town newspaper columnist Gary Hubbell, who penned this year’s great eulogy of the “angry white man,” the “man’s man” who “works hard,” who “knows that his wife is more emotional than rational,” and who also, happily, knows how to “change his own oil and build things.”

Frank concludes with a summary of his views:

If Barack Obama or anyone else really cares to know what I think, I will simplify it all down to this. The landmark political fact of our time is the replacement of our middle-class republic by a plutocracy. If some candidate has a scheme to reverse this trend, they’ve got my vote, whether they prefer Courvoisier or beer bongs spiked with cough syrup. I don’t care whether they enjoy my books, or would rather have every scrap of paper bearing my writing loaded into a C-47 and dumped into Lake Michigan. If it will help restore the land of relative equality I was born in, I’ll fly the plane myself.

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