Barack Obama has offered poor defenses of his “Crackerquiddick” remarks over the last few days, but none quite as daft as Meghan Daum in today’s Los Angeles Times. According to Daum, Obama’s comments got him in trouble not because they revealed him as an elitist snob, but because Obama is an intellectual. Echoing Obama’s remarks in San Francisco on a perfect harmonic, Daum says Americans can’t handle an intellectual because … well, let her explain:
I never thought I’d say this, but I’m beginning to think she might have had a point. As dumb as things were back then, it’s fair to suggest today’s culture is even dumber. Granted, the police aren’t raiding highbrow cultural events and arresting anyone who uses a three-syllable word, but something uncannily similar is playing out, minute by minute, on television and the Internet. With political discourse reduced to screaming contests and actual news eclipsed by exclusive and shocking footage of celebrities without makeup, we’ve become not only impatient with but downright opposed to the kinds of ideas that can’t be reduced to a line on a screen crawl or a two-sentence blog entry.
What’s more, a lot of people who harbor an intolerance for complexity see it not as a character flaw but a cognitive virtue. That’s because they’ve fallen into the trap of believing that complicated ideas (“complicated” now constituting anything that requires reading, watching or listening to in its entirety) are the purview of the “elite.”
The effect of that trap has been on a continuous loop in recent days, following Barack Obama’s ill-chosen remarks about bitter rural Americans clinging to guns and religion. The takeaway, of course, is that this sentiment proves once and for all that Obama is an elitist fatally out of touch with the average American. But in deference to my onetime dinner companion, let me ask this: Is he vulnerable to the out-of-touch charge because he is an elitist, or because he is usually (even if not in this case) comfortable with and in command of nuanced ideas? Is he bashable because he’s a snob or because he’s an intellectual?
Daum’s argument boils down to this: Obama was essentially right about life outside of the intellectual circuits in the top half-dozen or so urban cocktail-party circuits, but don’t call him an elitist!
If one wanted a demonstration of both irony an cluelessness in concurrence, Daum’s article provides it. She so thoroughly takes an elitist position that she even sniffs at the current definition of intellectual as too broad, and complains that Woody Allen isn’t intellectual enough to meet her standards any more since “he traded intellectuals for boring rich people a while ago”. As a writer, she certainly fails to meet her own standard. She sneers at “two-sentence blog posts” but fills her column with parentheticals that wind up acting like an obstacle course through her snobbish chatter.
In short, Daum provides an example of why Obama is so “bashable”: it’s because both of them are phonies. Daum aspires to intellectual snobbery, as she herself describes in the article, while Obama attempts to hide his, but both are as inauthentic as can be. Further, she essentially agrees with Obama’s assertion that people outside of her intellectual circles are Bible-thumping, gun-hugging bigots out of Deliverance who can’t understand concepts that take longer than the average Geico commercial, but chastises Obama for saying that so bluntly and in an unnuanced manner.
Just as Obama did in the debate when he repeated the same comments but just changed “cling” to “focus”, Daum winds up reinforcing the insult. Middle Americans have ruined American culture, we can’t speak in words of more than three syllables, and we can’t understand nuance from a master like Barack Obama. Maybe — but we can spot self-involved phonies when we see them, and especially when we read them.