The Obamas are trying very hard to avoid the elitist tag that Barack Obama’s remarks about middle America has stuck to them. This week, both Obamas have tried very hard to emphasize their modest upbringing as the lens through which they see the world. Unfortunately, as Jim Geraghty points out, that’s leading to some rhetorical gymnastics:
Elsewhere, Jen Rubin notes that Obama is talking about his humble roots to dispel the charge of elitism and snobbery. (He apparently keeps referring to his three-bedroom condo as a one-bedroom.) But snobbery is less about income than it is about one’s attitude towards other people — most often expressed when one is among one’s own (say, while drinking wine among San Francisco’s elites).
Bill Gates is the wealthiest man in the country, but I don’t know if Americans think of him as a snob. A nerd, maybe, but not a snob. Professional athletes, musicians, and actors all make enormous sums of money, but the appeal of the latter groups depends on their ability to establish an emotional connection with the much less wealthy members of their audience. George W. Bush is enormously wealthy, but he, too, rarely gives off a snobbish vibe, and I’ll bet many Americans actually look down their nose at him as unsophisticated.
Precisely. And if that isn’t enough, this video juxtaposing two different Michelle Obama appearances should make the point even more obvious:
I have a few friends who are lawyers — John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson of Power Line, for instance, and a couple of cousins who practice at the bar as well. (I have a few more relatives who do other things at bars instead.) If I could say that “all of my friends are lawyers”, I don’t think that I could refute an elitist charge with a straight face.
What can be said is that the Obamas want to have it both ways. When hanging out with Middle America, they want to sell themselves as salt-of-the-earth, humble Americans. When hobnobbing with the elite on Billionaires Row, they want to join in with the elite at scorning the values of middle America. Maybe that isn’t elitism, but it certainly sounds like a heavy dose of phoniness. Which is worse?