I, Rigoberta Russert


Jonathan Chait takes up one of my favorite themes: the rise of right-wing P.C.

Barack Obama's comments about the white working class have thrown the political campaign into a particularly comic spasm of pretense and hypocrisy, but I was planning to let it go, I really was, until George F. Will decided to leap to the defense of the proletariat. Yes, that George F. Will. The fabulously wealthy, bow tie-wearing, pretentious reference-mongering, Anglophilic fop who grew up in a university town as a professor's son, earned two advanced degrees, has a designated table at a French restaurant in Georgetown, and, had he dwelt for any extended time among the working class, would be lucky to escape without his underwear being yanked up over his ears. Will devoted his column to expressing his displeasure at Obama's "condescension" toward the working class….

Blue-collar whites now occupy the same position in American politics that people of color hold in the smaller political subculture of academia: a victim-hero class whose positions (usually as interpreted by outsiders) enjoy the presumption of moral superiority.

The victim-hero class is the object of competitive flattery and the subject of mutual accusations of disrespect. You can't read a Peggy Noonan paean to real America–"a healthy and vibrant place full of religious feeling and cultural energy and Bible study and garage bands and sports-love and mom-love and sophistication and normality"–without thinking of a junior faculty member extolling the dignity of Guatemalan peasant women. Bill O'Reilly's or Tim Russert's endless invocations of their working-class backgrounds are the equivalent of the campus activist who introduces every opinion by saying "As a woman of color…."

Whole thing here. Over the next seven months, you should expect many more opportunities to think of those noble Guatemalan daughters of the soil.

Update: A few readers have spoken up for George Will, noting that his column in question managed to avoid O'Reilly-style phony-populist bluster. That's a fair point, though I think Chait was simply showing how easy it is to turn those rhetorical guns on the Republicans. But for the record: Will has a right to write about liberal condescension toward the working class whether or not he has a proletarian bone in his body. The problem is those conservatives (and Clintonites) whose hymns to Middle America are at least as condescending as Obama's remark about people who cling to their Bibles and guns.

(That's one of the reasons, I think, why Obama's comment doesn't seem to have hurt him in the Pennsylvania primary, though it may yet do some damage in the general election. Nothing he said has been as patronizing as Hillary Clinton's Dukakis-in-a-tank attempts to paint herself as a gun-toting, shot-drinking tribune of the laboring classes.)