Hillary Clinton: When Elitism Is as Elitism Does

Posted: May 05, 2008 12:00 AM
Hillary Clinton: When Elitism Is as Elitism Does

In recent weeks, Hillary Clinton has won a “strange new respect” from legions of Americans who have despised her since she emerged on the national scene in 1992. As Barack Obama has been pinned between the twin controversies of Jeremiah Wright and Bittergate, Clinton’s tenacity has won plaudits, some grudging, from many of her long-time detractors. And in a development that speaks volumes about the public’s perception of Obama’s place amid the elites on the leftward end of the American political spectrum, she’s actually succeeded in repositioning herself not just as a moderate, but as “just folks” – the very antithesis of elitism.

We’ve seen this movie before. After her husband’s defeat in his first re-election campaign as governor of Arkansas, Hillary Rodham became “Hillary Clinton.” Now, she’s become a whisky-drinkin’, God-invokin’ (and “g”-dropping) candidate, with a persona clearly designed to maximize her appeal to the blue-collar constituency keeping her campaign afloat. Just folks. If Hillary has shown anything over a lifetime of climbing the greasy pole of political power, it’s that she’s willing become whatever you want her to be.

The cynicism behind this move is remarkable. Like her repeated falsehoods about taking sniper fire in Bosnia, it reveals a certain implicit disdain for the intelligence of the public – and an unbounded belief in the gullibility of the blue-collar Democrat voter.

Hillary’s lifetime of cultivating advantageous connections, her work on the Watergate Committee, her service on the board of Wal-Mart, her regular attendance at the gathering of achievers known as “Renaissance Weekend,” her new status as a multi-millionaire – all are questionable credentials for someone presenting herself as the champion of the lunch-pail set. In fact, her condemnation of Barack Obama as an elitist – in particular, the “man on the street” ad she used in Pennsylvania to such devastating effect – is at its core a breathtaking act of hypocrisy.

After all, Hillary Clinton is, perhaps, the only politician who’s come of age as tenderly nurtured in the bosom of the liberal elite as Barack Obama. Of course, he won early attention for his election as the first black President of The Harvard Law Review – but she garnered glowing plaudits from the press (and the cover of TIME) for her rebuke of Senator Edward Brooke during her college commencement address. He may be a product of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, but Hillary claims Wellesley College and Yale Law School as her almae matres. He may have been too friendly with Reverend Jeremiah Wright – but as Tom Hayden recently noted, she hung out her shingle at a left-wing San Francisco law firm that defended Black Panthers and accused communists.

Even Hillary’s early missteps on the national stage are strangely reminiscent of Barack’s. For all the furor elicited by his “bitter” remarks, her comments about how she could have “stayed home and baked cookies and had teas” revealed a similar (if more truculent) unfamiliarity with – and disdain for – the lives and concerns of those less privileged (or with different priorities) than she.

Ultimately, Hillary Clinton has only two advantages when it comes to selling herself as candidate most in touch with blue-collar America. First, she has been divested of her long-time status as the darling of the nation’s liberal elites, from Hollywood to the newsroom to the faculty lounge to the netroots. No longer is she held up as the #1 victim of the “vast right wing conspiracy” she herself first identified. For Americans who distrust those who once championed her so fervently, that’s a big plus.

And finally, of course, she has “experience” that Obama lacks. Whether that means she’s finally come sincerely to respect the normal, hard-working Americans who make this country great (and not just because they’re voting for her) – or she’s simply become more skilled at hiding her condescension for them – well, only she can say. We all know what she’d tell us; the problem, of course, is that Hillary Clinton is hardly known for her veracity.

When it comes to policies, priorities – and Supreme Court appointments – there’s little difference between the two Democratic candidates. Indeed, many of the big government solutions beloved by both signal a profound lack of confidence in the capability and common sense of their fellow Americans. If elitism is as elitism does, Everyman is once again sadly underrepresented in the Democratic field.

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