The problem with the GOP’s elite-bashing is not their definition but their contradictions. In practice, conservatives are no less inclined than liberals to adopt superior stances or to tell people how to live their lives. Palin’s counter-snobbery holds those who live in the middle of the country, own guns, and go to church are more authentic, more the “real America,” than those who live in coastal cities, profess atheism, or prefer a less demonstrative style of patriotism. But the insistence that gay people not be married, or that some go without health insurance, or that gas be lightly taxed, reflect choices about “how other people should live” no less than the opposite positions. Gingrich and others cast democratic decisions as illegitimate only when they conflict with right-wing ideology. If an unelected judge upholds gay marriage, he’s practicing liberal elitism. But if the same unelected judge were to invalidate Obama’s health care legislation, he would be defending the Constitution. Such hypocrisy is based on the construct of a pre-political state of nature, where we lived in abstract freedom until government arrived to limit and control us.

In the real world, we suffer from self-righteous conservatives as well as smug liberals, from as many Republicans as Democrats who think they know best. Arrogance and paternalism remain bipartisan attitudes. Elitism, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.