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Daily Howler: What does liberal elitism look like? Let Gail Collins show you
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THE APEX AND ZEBULON OF IT! What does liberal elitism look like? Let Gail Collins show you: // link // print // previous // next //

THE APEX AND ZEBULON OF IT: Perhaps we should simply thank Gail Collins. Debates have raged in recent weeks about what it means to be an “elitist.” We’ve been struck by how many people—more particularly, by how many liberals and progressives—don’t seem to understand the basic concept behind this potent charge.

What does it mean, then, to be an elitist? At the start of this morning’s column, Collins shows us, quite capably. Rolling her eyes, she chuckles at Bill Clinton’s recent schedule—and at his general outlook. What does “liberal” elitism look like? Here—let Collins show you:

COLLINS (5/1/08): You have to give Bill Clinton credit. Sure we think he's self-involved. But on Wednesday the former president of the United States was campaigning for his wife in North Carolina, making appearances at Apex, Sanford, Lillington, Dunn, Hope Mills, Lumberton and Whiteville. Following a 7:45 a.m. event in Apex, he was scheduled to discuss ''Solutions for America'' on ''the lawn in front of McSwain Extension Education and Agriculture Center.''

This does not sound like the itinerary of a person who's incapable of relinquishing center stage. In a way, though, it's his idea of heaven. The man is perfectly happy to go anywhere as long as he gets to talk. Harvard, McSwain Extension Center, somebody's living room, somebody's lawn, the checkout line at Rite Aid. Just sit him next to a human being with ears and he's good to go.

Could a person possibly get any dumber? “The man is perfectly happy to go anywhere as long as he gets to talk,” Collins purrs—and she lists the ghastly places where Clinton has recently spoken. Why, the man is even happy to speak at McSwain Extension Center! “Just sit him next to a human being...and he's good to go,” Collins says.

Long ago, Austen mocked the clownish pretensions of the comical Mr. Collins. Today, that cleric’s heir gives us a look at the soul of the upscale elitist.

Just sit him next to a human being! Truth to tell, this is one of the itches these darlings always wanted to scratch when it came to Bill Clinton. (Good lord! That ghastly mother!) It’s rare, though, that anyone is so wonderfully dumb as to lay it out in this manner. “Sure, we think he’s self-involved,” Collins purrs, perhaps in the royal we—as she displays her own vast self-regard. How funny it is that he spoke at McSwain! Why, you might even catch him at Rite Aid!

Collins’ headline this morning is this: “How Will It Play in Apex?” No doubt, we’re all supposed to enjoy a good laugh at the comedy provided by the no-name town’s name. (Luckily, Clinton didn’t appear at Zebulon, another suburb of high-tech Raleigh. We were thereby spared the word-play we’ve placed in our own deathless head.) Is something comic about life in Apex? As noted, it’s a next-door neighbor to high-tech Raleigh, a place which is crawling with people who are smarter than Collins; it’s a town of roughly 26,000 souls. For the record, here’s part of the statement which appeared on the Apex web site when Money magazine named it the 14th best place to live in the whole dad-burned country:

TOWN OF APEX WEBSITE (7/16/07): reported today that the editors of Money Magazine had ranked the Town of Apex as the 14th best in their annual list, 2007 Edition, of the 100 Best Places in America to Live. This year’s list had focused on smaller communities under 50,000 in population that offered the best combination of economic opportunity, good schools, safe streets, things to do, and a real sense of community...

Mayor Keith H. Weatherly expressed his appreciation for this recognition as he said, “We are all so pleased and proud that our Town has attracted this kind of positive national attention. Our Town Council and town employees have really worked together with our citizens, our businesses, our schools and churches to make this community one of the best places in all of America to have a home, to raise a family, to go school, to start a business, and to enjoy a safe and happy lifestyle.”

As news of the national ranking of Apex spread, calls and inquiries poured into Town offices and the local Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve had a deluge this morning of people from everywhere wanting to know more about Apex,” said Apex Town Manager Bruce Radford. We are always glad to share all we can about opportunities in Apex. This is a very welcoming community.”

Did calls and inquiries pour into town offices? If so, let’s guess that none of them came from Collins, a classic “Manhattan provincial”—a consummate “know-nothing know-it-all.”

Might we make an obvious statement? Decent people live in all the towns at which Collins rolls her eyes in amusement. Why, decent people might even be found taking classes at McSwain Extension! If they become aware of Collins’ column, they’ll hear its mockery, loud and clear. Dems and “liberals” have lost elections this way for many years.

(By the way: It’s hard to picture a column like this about small towns in Wisconsin or New Hampshire. This is a quintessentially southern column. Manhattan provincials especially like to roll their eyes at the rube-ridden south.)

Which part of Apex doesn’t Collins understand? The part about the schools and the churches? The pride the mayor expressed in the way the town council and town employees have “worked together with our citizens, our businesses, our schools and churches to make this community one of the best places in all of America?” It’s hard to be a bigger provincial than Collins paints herself as today. (By the way: Don’t miss her pointless take on Miley Cyrus, which she pointlessly shoe-horns into this column.) In recent weeks, we’ve been struck by how many liberals don’t even seem to understand what the charge of “elitism” consists in. Luckily, rubes like Collins work for the Times—and they’re endlessly willing to show us.

Is this relevant to the current flap about Obama and Reverend Wright? We’d be inclined to say it is. We strongly recommend this fascinating, front-page report in this morning’s same New York Times. Noting that Times reporters still don’t seem to have read Obama’s first book (see below), we’ll plan to comment on it tomorrow. We think this article reveals some aspects of contemporary “journalism of race.” And we think it forms an excellent framework for discussing this recent brouhaha.

BIG JOURNOS RAIRLY SEAM TWO REED BUKS: Do big journalists ever read books? We wondered again when we read the following part of Michael Powell’s report. In all candor, the highlighted statement about Obama’s first book just isn’t accurate:

POWELL (5/1/08): Trinity was a progressive church, welcoming to gay men and lesbians, embracing of AIDS sufferers at a time when many other black churches shunned them. But the message heard from the pulpit was sometimes unyielding in its radicalism. To be provoked, if not always to agree, was the point. As he wrote in ''Dreams From My Father.''

''In his sermons, Mr. Wright spoke of Sharpsville and Hiroshima, the callousness of policy makers in the White House and the statehouse,'' Mr. Obama wrote.

Mr. Obama faced practical political considerations as well. He had made Mr. Wright a central figure in his personal narrative. His embrace of Mr. Wright's church and its congregants, wealthy and working class and impoverished, formed the climax of his book. It was the moment, in his telling, when Mr. Obama finally pulled every disparate strand of his background together and found his faith.

Obama’s embrace of Reverend Wright “formed the climax of his book?” In fact, the book is 442 pages long—and the passage quoted by Powell is found on page 293. This may just be an editing error, but Obama’s embrace of Reverend Wright plainly isn’t the climax of this book. It is the climax of “Part Two.” But alas! The book has three parts.

We might view this as a minor misstatement. But journos have tended to read this book somewhat selectively (to the extent that they’ve read it at all), leading us to the present moment—and to moments which haven’t (yet) occurred. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the ways this article illuminates journalistic aspects of the current discussion—a discussion which may yet decide who sits in the White House next year.

Of course, Manhattan provincials will want to ignore this discussion. Apex and Zebulon may be involved—and Manhattan provincials don’t go there.

In fairness: In fairness, this is a minor book-learnin’ error compared to that of the brilliant Chris Matthews (Rachel Maddow), who still thought, last December, that Obama’s mother had been “Islamic.” (And his “maternal grandmother!” No, we’re not making this up; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/21/07.) Paid $5 million per year to discuss such matters, he still didn’t seem to have gotten around to reading the actual books. (Or anything else, for that matter.) But again, we’ll guess that this is just human nature. That’s why we offered that timeless bromide to Ron Lee’s students at Nebraska. We hated to say it, but it’s so true: Human nature being what it is, you can’t run a middle-class democracy with a multimillionaire press corps.