Thomas Frank: Obama's Touch of Class





[Mr. Frank is the author of "The Wrecking Crew," forthcoming from Metropolitan Books. He will begin a weekly column each Wednesday in the Journal on May 14.]

Allow me to introduce myself. According to the general clucking of the national punditry, my 2004 book – "What's the Matter With Kansas?" – is supposed to have persuaded Barack Obama to describe the yeomanry of Pennsylvania as "bitter" people who "cling to guns or religion or . . . anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." Mr. Obama's offense is so grave that the custodians of our national consensus have elevated it to gatehood: "Bittergate."

In truth, I have no way of knowing whether some passage of mine inspired Mr. Obama's tactless assertion that the hard-done-by clutch guns and irrationally oppose free-trade deals. In point of fact, I oppose many of those trade deals myself.

But I know one thing with absolute certainty. The media flurry kicked up by Mr. Obama's gaffe powerfully confirms an argument I actually did make: That as they return again to the culture war, what the soldiers on all sides are doing is talking about class without actually addressing the economic basis of the subject.

Consider, for example, the one fateful charge that the punditry and the other candidates have fastened upon Mr. Obama – "elitism." No one means by this term that Mr. Obama is a wealthy person (he wasn't until last year), or even that he is an ally of the wealthy (although he might be that). What they mean is that he has committed a crime of attitude, and revealed his disdain for the common folk.

It is a stereotype you have heard many times before: Besotted with latte-fueled arrogance, the liberal looks down on average people, confident that he is a superior being. He scoffs at religion because he finds it to be a form of false consciousness. He believes in regulation because he thinks he knows better than the market....


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