The Elite Beat

Friday, May 09, 2008


Barack Obama's success in this week's primary contests took place despite an all-out effort by the Clinton campaign to paint him as "elite." Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg describes how the meaning of elite has changed over the years and psychologist Drew Westen explains why being labeled an elitist can be so damaging.

Comments [5]

F. Milton Olsen III from 3rd from the sun

I'd like to see a general discussion area for Word Watch.

I'm sick to death of Public Radio voices mangling the language and making words mean, well, whatever they want them to mean.

It is the destruction of meaning.

Nov. 30 2008 08:58 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

So, at the Convention Obama must recast himself as a working class hero. That shouldn't be that difficult with his biography.

As far as Mr. Terrance complaint, at first mention of the elitist charge an Obama surrogate pointed to the 109 times a millionaire couple's and the heiress' husband's hypocrisy in leveling such a charge against the son of a single mother on food stamps.

He should avoid quoting his "Audacity of Hope" text, judging how his reading of it did tend to put my 92-year old mother and I, both interested to hear what he had to say, asleep, repeatedly.

As previously mentioned in last week’s comments, I tend to recall Quayle's other huge flub rather than the one mentioned by Mr. Lister but, as for elegant reverie, Mr. Bennett has it all over me. That was a pleasure to read, despite being unfamiliar with his references.

May. 15 2008 11:26 PM
William Terrance from Tempe, AZ

I am astounded that nobody, especially the Obama campaign, has been able to point out that Hilary Clinton more elitist than any in the race. This woman lives in one of the most elite parts of New York State. Vacations on Martha's Vineyard, is an Ivy League scholar, a lawyer...etc. Obama should really call her out on her elitist attitude about her past.

May. 11 2008 04:39 PM
Rodney Lister

Geoffrey Nunberg's reference to Murphy Brown brings one thing to mind, which I've never seen mention of before. If Dan Quayle had actually watched Murphy Brown (and maybe we should be grateful that he didn't, but that's another question), he would have known that in the very story line on which he was commenting, Murphy found herself pregnant and, despite everyone all around her telling that she should have an abortion and subjecting her to enormous pressure to do so, she decided to keep the baby. That fact, that she refused to abort her baby, should have made her some kind of hero to Quayle, I would have thought, but since he didn't actually know anything about what he was talking about he misinterpreted it as meaning something else and shot of his mouth, and, as they say, the rest is history.

May. 11 2008 02:40 PM
Daniel Bennett from Washington, DC

Your photo usage brings to me two references. The obvious first one is latte art (which has not come to Washington, DC yet, but I know it from my travels to Espresso Vivace Café in Seattle). Latte art is an expression of possibilities, taking seconds to transform foam into ephemeral art. Understanding that life is more complex and more interesting than what might appear at first glance is an important role of the artist. Quite often this extra effort is dismissed as being elitist or indulgent. (passive voice being used to avoid "bitter" like references to certain segments of the populace). I have found myself becoming tired at trying to explain the importance of whimsy, artful self-reference or esoterica. Instead I bury myself in a (s)mug of caffe latte.
The second reference is the great scene from my favorite film "2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle" by Jean-Luc Godard of the coffee cup. In the scene, at a coffee shop is an overhead close up shot of a coffee cup with swirling bubbles. Well described in a blog posting:
Few have seen this scene, itself in a film by an elitist or elite filmmaker--depending on your tastes, you pick your term. Coffee is metaphor for the universe and universal.
In our country, coffee can put you in clover with the down home set, or if drinking from the Clover (also not yet in DC), the bonhomie set, because we are all in this boat together and should learn to just love one another.

May. 10 2008 09:35 AM

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