Ghost in the Bittergate fuss

obama clinton cheActually, there isn't a ghost in the Barack Obama "Bittergate" fuss. The religion element has been right there front and center (or to the left of center) all along. In case you have been on another planet and have not memorized the quotation, the Democratic front runner said, speaking of working-class people:

"And it's not surprising then that they 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."

So if you go to Google News right now and search for a logical set of words -- perhaps "bitter," "religion" and "Obama" -- you end up with a swarm of stories and columns. No surprise. There's no way to take the religion question out of this brouhaha.

Of course, Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as Obama, are already known as churchgoers, in a way progressive oldline Protestant context. Everyone knows that they are pro-religion and active believers.

So the story evolved. Before long, it turned into a debate about another crucial political word -- elitism. Suddenly, the senator who endured Arkansas before ascending to Washington, D.C., and then New York was tossing back shots and talking about shooting guns. Obama was trying to bowl. I expect, any day now, one of them to claim "Fanfare for the Common Man" as a campaign theme. Wait! That's classical music. Sorry.

So this was too much for the elite folks at the Washington Post Style section, which led to reporter Paul Farhi's piece entitled " 'Elitist': The Rarefied Term That's a Low Blow." The article starts off strong:

Other than being called a criminal, a philanderer or a terrorist sympathizer, is there an accusation in American politics worse than being branded an "elitist"?

The word supposes something fundamentally effete and out of touch, a whiff of brie and latte. There's something about it that grates against our Jacksonian, egalitarian self-image.

Barack Obama invited his opponents and the media, um, elite to wheel out the evil E last week by suggesting that some people in small towns "cling" to guns and religion, among other things, because of their embitterment. The comment created a rare moment of common cause for Hillary Clinton and Rush Limbaugh, both of whom characterized Obama's comment as "elitist."

So the religious element is in there at the start.

Now read the rest of the piece. The quest for the populist touch wanders all over the place, but it never returns to home base. We cover beer vs. merlot, corn dogs vs. country clubs, bowling vs. windsurfing, ranches vs. estates and all kinds of other things. We gain this insight, noting that "elitist" has more to do with what's between your ears than in your wallet.

Donald Trump has money, but few think "elitist" when thinking of Trump. Elitism is instead an attitude, a demeanor, a vocabulary, a self-possessed air. It suggests condescension and contempt, a lack of empathy, an arrogant aloofness.

Admittedly, it's a fine line. It's okay to be perceived as smart (Bill Clinton) but it's not okay to be perceived as bookish and intellectual (Adlai Stevenson). And it's okay to be elite. Olympic athletes are elite, as are Marines and Navy SEALs. But it's not okay to be insufferably proud of your elite skills, which is just obnoxious.

There is even this laugh-out-loud howler that shows how little the Style folks know about the latte liberal zones of the Midwest and Southwest. If you live in Texas, you'll want to read this one sitting down.

Some liberal college towns are caricatured as elitist (Cambridge, Berkeley) but other liberal college towns (Madison, Austin) are not.

The essay goes all over the place, but avoids the actual issues at the heart of the Bittergate controversy itself, which is "guns" (code for rural) and "religion" (which, coming from a person who is a religious believer, must be a coded reference to a kind of religion that is dumb and sub-standard).

So here is the question: Why did the Style piece avoid the religion ghost, which, in this case, was not a ghost because it was at the heart of the story from day one?

Please respect our Commenting Policy