The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A stupid column by Thomas Frank
Tom Smith

Well, this is dumb and annoying.  It is surprising and annoying that "Joe the Plumber" was put through media investigation just for querying Obama on his tax plan.  That was a bad thing.  Shouldn't somebody be able to question Obama in public without having all their dirty laundry aired?  Especially given that the MSM has hardly covered itself in glory telling us all about say, Obama's career in Chicago.  The MSM has given Palin a hard time.  And the blogosphere has been positively scurrilous towards her, especially The Atlantic and Andrew Sullivan.  The idea that contemporary American liberalism is the philosophy of cultural elitism is not made up.  Cultural elites are overwhelmingly Democratic.  Some of the attacks on Palin have been the merest snobbery and a fair bit of it has been positively offensive.  Granted, she can be remarkably inarticulate, but so can most people when a microphone is put in their face.  All of this has nothing to do with the young woman who fabricated an attack on herself by an Obama supporter.  I guess the idea is that the lattermost attack was a fantasy and so sort of were the former.  But the problem is, the former complaints are warranted.

I resent this.  Thomas Frank has all these prized column inches in the Wall Street Journal, and he can't even come up with a literary trope worth its weight in printer's ink.  If this guy had a blog, few people would link to him.  I am feeling sorry for myself here as a blogger, not as a conservative.

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Tom Smith


I have a serious question. Why is it "cultural elitism" when Upper West Side liberals feel better than the common folk who cling to their guns, etc., but not "cultural elitism" when Sarah Palin and her followers define themselves as the "real Americans," in contrast to the presumably un-American liberals who don't hunt moose, believe in God or support the Iraq War?

Really, what's the difference? One stereotype drinks beer and the other stereotype drinks wine, but they both seem pretty "elitist" to me.

Posted by: Potted Plant | Oct 29, 2008 2:28:11 PM

I think Thomas Frank is a creation of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. By printing his junk, they can claim they are not exclusively right wing. By publishing Frank, they have a left winger who is so dim and irritating that he makes the left look really stupid. Two birds with one stone.

Posted by: William Sjostrom | Oct 29, 2008 3:01:36 PM

Umm, Potted Plant, it probably has something to do with the fact that said Upper West Siders are richer than Palin voters, went to more prestigious schools, face a lower tax marginal tax rate (having more capital gains), etc. In other words, the fact that they are members of the elite. Do you have any more stupid questions?

P.S. I live on Central Park West, I went to Yale, etc., so I know whereof I speak.

Posted by: y81 | Oct 29, 2008 5:08:00 PM

y81 -- I'm still not sure that I understand how "contemporary American liberalism [being] the philosophy of cultural elitism" fits into your explanation. It may be that my questions are stupid because I'm too dumb to understand your explanation. But I'm not aware that "cultural elitism" necessarily refers to where you went to school or how much money you make. I thought it meant that certain people -- often those who went to good schools, etc. -- thought they were superior to everybody else and acted as such.

Maybe I'm wrong in that understanding. But it still seems to me that supposed conservatives who classify themselves as "real Americans" are every bit as elitist as the "liberal elites" that Fox News likes to complain about, because they think that (for example) people who don't believe in God are somehow not "real Americans."

Posted by: Potted Plant | Oct 29, 2008 6:16:26 PM

I believe "real American" elitism is often referred to as reverse snobbery (

Unfortunately, Palin doesn't get that right, either (see

Posted by: SotS | Oct 29, 2008 7:02:56 PM

In defense of the cultural elite, I will say if I belonged to it, I would definitely live either on the Upper West Side, or even better in that area right next to Central Park on the East Side, close to the Plaza, the Sherry Netherland and so on. What a beautiful, romantic area of the City. I once stayed for almost a week at the Pierre on a law firm's dime, before it got co-opped. I think it has been co-opped. Anyway, it was a gorgeous hotel. Unfortunately, you either have to have a lot of money to live there, or else work all the time to afford it.

Posted by: Tom Smith | Oct 29, 2008 10:16:54 PM

The first question above would make sense if cultural conservatives were in charge, or even significantly represented, in the leadership of universities, media industries, government bureaucracies, and non-profits. In fact members of leftist elites are dominant in these areas and have been working to impose their preferences on everyone else. That's why the moral equivalence suggested by the questioner does not make sense.

Posted by: Jonathan | Oct 30, 2008 5:34:38 AM

1. Definition of "elitist" (from -- "The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status or financial resources." Based on that definition, "cultural conservatives" can be seen as just as "elitist" as "cultural liberals."

2. Cultural conservatives in the media (Fox, WSJ, George Will, Bill Kristol, Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin); in the government bureaucracy (GW Bush, the Republican Party and its supporters that have essentially run the country for the past 8 years). I don't know about non-profits, although I would think that the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Federalist Society and the like would show that conservatives have a role in prominent non-profits. I will concede that most universities seem to be run by and populated with liberals.

The statements that my question is "stupid" or that my observation "does not make sense" remind me of the argument that only whites can be racist. Do you really think that only liberals can be "elitist"?

Posted by: Potted Plant | Oct 30, 2008 7:37:39 AM

Only members of the elite can be "elitist." That is why Upper West Siders who laugh at Sarah Palin for dropping her "g's" and having a pregnant daughter are elitist, whereas truck drivers in Nebraska who laugh at Barack Obama for bowling 32 are not elitist.

Obviously, there could be conservative elitists: if Richard Posner and Eugene Volokh were sitting around laughing at Joe Biden for having gone to law school at Syracuse, that would be elitist. But that sort of elitism actually isn't a big part of our current political discourse.

Posted by: y81 | Oct 31, 2008 10:13:56 AM

y81 -- You say that you live on the Upper West Side, so you would know better than I whether people actually "laugh at Sarah Palin for dropping her "g"s and having a pregnant daughter." I'm surprised that anyone would act that way. "Elitist" isn't the word I'd use to describe such people, who simply sound like jerks.

I understand what you and Jonathan are saying about "elitists" having to belong to "the elite." I just disagree with your definition. In my mind, any group of people who think that they are better than another group of people can correctly be described as "elitist." That's the basis of my opinion that those who view themselves as "real Americans," in contrast to the stereotypical latte-drinking liberals, are "elitist."

Posted by: Potted Plant | Oct 31, 2008 8:20:08 PM