Monday, April 21, 2008


The Venn diagram of Larry Bartels and Thomas Franks has a very slim intersection, but it does exist.  I believe these two agree about "Bittergate."  Bartels is convinced that Obama's understanding of the electorate is flat out wrong, and that this culture stuff is a bunch of crap.  Frank, for his part, has a nice piece in the WSJ saying not so much that the culture war idea is wrong, but that it's an attempt by conservatives -- er, Clinton supporters -- to recast the class divisions in terms favorable to them:
"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.
Actually, it's hard to say who is responsible for perpetrating this canard.  In What's the Matter with Kansas?, Frank suggested that it was the conservative media -- Bill O'Reilly, Anne Coulter, et al.  Here, it seems to be a combination of Clinton supporters and a wide swath of columnists from George Will to Maureen Dowd.  Maybe it's just a convenient media framework that anyone can plug into.  Self-righteous faux populism is pretty easy to use.

The question, I suppose, is whether this recasting of the class war is working on voters.  Frank says yes.  Bartels says no.  Brewer and Stonecash have some evidence of both divides splitting the electorate from time to time.

Me?  I lean toward Bartels in this argument.  But Frank has a really nice ending paragraph that should unite all strains:
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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