Gingrich watch: Who the heck are the elites?


Frank Bruni just plain doesn't know: We think Frank Bruni’s new column is instructively clueless.

Newt has been railing against “the elites.” Bruni is puzzled by this stance. This is clueless stuff:
BRUNI (1/24/12): With Gingrich, the distance between reality and rhetoric isn’t shrinking but growing, and the incongruities mount. He has lately fallen in love with his rants against “the elites,” and casts himself as their most determined foe, but I can’t for the life of me figure out a definition of elite that doesn’t include him.

Are the elites those hyper-educated intellectuals who use big words? Gingrich has a Ph.D. in history from a prestigious private university, Tulane, and when it suits him, he plays Cerebellum in Chief with nonpareil diction and derision.

Are the elites rich people with fancy ZIP codes? He and his third wife, Callista, made more than $3.1 million in 2010 and have an estimated net worth in excess of $6.5 million. Since 2000 they have lived in the posh enclave of McLean, Va., not Appalachia, and have personally stimulated the economy with expenditures at Tiffany, not Zales.

He lashes out against secularists and trumpets his and Callista’s Roman Catholicism, though the two of them lived for six years in explicit defiance of its tenets.
Gingrich is constantly full of crap. But when Bruni can’t locate his "elites,” we think that’s instructively clueless.

When Gingrich rails against “the elites,” who does the gentleman have in mind? Granted, he’s often full of crap. But who is he talking about?

For unknown reasons, Bruni thinks first of folk with degrees—but Gingrich has a degree! Then he thinks of folk with money. But Gingrich has lots of swag too!

Finally, he thinks of “secularists,” and he plays some sort of hypocrisy card. At least he has finally come somewhat close, although he’s still in the dark.

When Gingrich talks about “the elites,” who does he mean? Why do so many voters respond?

Duh. If we were chasing the most basic explanation, we would say this: He's talking about the type of people who look down on average Americans and their values. Before your lizard brain reacts, let’s note that there are many such people around and about. Some of them can ever be seen on the TV machine thingy!

Were we the only ones who saw Rachel Maddow’s “week of dick jokes” in April 2009? (It was really a week and a half.) This was one of the most appalling bits of broadcasting we’ve ever seen. Were we the only ones who saw it? Was it just us and Jon Stewart?

Gingrich is relentlessly full of crap, but he draws on a genuine grievance. When we read Bruni’s column, we thought of a film we watched again last weekend. It’s our least favorite film: About Schmidt.

About Schmidt is a film designed to ridicule average people. We hadn’t seen it for several years; watching again, we were amazed by how much worse it was than we had recalled. It’s set in Omaha (we know!), and it ridicules every character. You see, none of the characters are Hollywood film-makers. This seems to place them somewhere below the status of Mitt Romney’s dog.

Bruni can't figure out who Newt means! Right there you have your problem.


  1. It is interesting that a couple of the most watched programs on TV are Pawn Stars and American Pickers. Both treat basic Americans with real value. They don't make fun of folks, they intead find them interesting.

  2. Funny.

    On a day Mr. Somerby notes candidate Gore was relentlessy misquoted, he misquotes Mr. Bruni.

    Mr. Bruni didn't state he doesn't know who the elites are.

    He clearly wrote he couldn't find a definition of "elite" that didn't include Gingrich, thereby underlining the hypocrisy of Gingrich's rants on the stump and in the debates against a group he is obviously is a member of.

    1. "Misquote" -- It doesn't mean what you seem to think.

      Somerby's pretty clear on this: He claims Bruni is going out of his way to avoid seeing Gingrich's meaning of "elite." Somerby goes on to limn Gingrich's (quite obvious, commonplace, dictionary-based) usage of "elite."

      Given that usage ("the type of people who look down on average Americans and their values"), the burden is on you to show that Gingrich is among the "elite." [Hint: that he cheated in marriage proves nothing at all. That he's got an education or money, likewise.]

      It's a plain fact that many folks don't feel that Gingrich looks down on them, but that other pols do.

    2. "He claims Bruni is going out of his way to avoid seeing Gingrich's meaning of "elite."

      That's the point. Gingrich is clearly using a dictionary the rest of us don't. He lives on planet Newt.

      At the very least Mr. Somerby is willfully misinterpreting what Bruni wrote.

      The article clearly shows how its impossible to see Gingrich as anything but a member of the "elite" with his PhD from a prestigious university and income and net worth in the top 1%. You can throw in his revolving credit account at Tiffany's for bonus points to show Gingrich is among the "elite of the elite" pretending he's not.

      With a national approval rating of around 25%, its clear most of us aren't buying what Gingrich is selling.

  3. I love Bob, but this is ridiculous. The guy who fancies himself a professor doesn't speak down to Americans?
    Try again, Bob.

  4. Indeed, this is very weak work from The Howler. "Elite" has been an empty buzz insult from the right for all of our lifetimes, it's no shock Newt is playing it. Just because Rachel Maddow is an idiot and he didn't like the movie "About Schmit" , it doesn't make Bruni wrong on this point, or even close. Rich people and University Profs are two brands of "elites" people on the right badmouth all time (of course, among the Rich it's only liberals who are suspect). Yes many "elites" around and about, and plenty of them are right wingers. Ever heard of reverse snobbery, Bob? There's plenty of it.

    1. Amazing. Bob's point in this was crystal clear. "Physician, heal thyself." Setting to one side Newt's use of the word, the point was not Bruni's column.

      The point was Bruni himself.

      When you have to explain the joke, it isn't nearly as funny. When you have to explain the obvious point of a blog post like this, I do believe the person to whom explanation is given needs reading comprehension lessons.

  5. I don't know who "the elites" are either, but I think that they got a new junior member with Steve Benen's move to the Maddow show.

    Is it elitist of me to note that, yet again, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose?

  6. Does the Howler have examples that show Gingrich is using the word the way he thinks, and not the way Bruni assumes? Or is he mind-reading?
    I don't see why Gingrich has to be using it in an honest way. Having spent the past 20 years with career Washington pols attacking the "beltway mentality" it doesn't seem at all strange.

  7. My least favorite movie is "American Beauty," for the same reason.

  8. No one said Gingrich has to be using it in "an honest way." He's using it as a well-known and understood republican code-word. Anyone who even casually follows politics should know what he's talking about, but Bruni chose pick semantical nits. If his point was "elite" as rank and file republicans use it is ill defined and nebulous, well, duh.

  9. As usual, you've nailed it, Bob. Gingrich, better than any of the other candidates, tunes in to his audience's sense that the people in charge (code-named 'the elites') are NOT on their side. That, in fact, the people in charge are mocking and hoodwinking them. All the yuk-yuks and outrage dished out by MSNBC simply reinforce the perception that the people with brains or money or both don't share their values and regard them as racist yokels. Sadly, the audience IS being hoodwinked, but by the very champions they are looking up to.

  10. An excellent analysis, Bob.

  11. 'Elites" is, of course, a Republican code word, and has been for years: it means Jew (Saul Alinksy, anyone?), intellectual, foreigner, anyone who knows more than you do and isn't afraid to say so, and increasingly, TV media personalities, apparently by association (wearing nice suits and speaking mainstream American English).

    The *actual* elites who despise the white Republican voter equally despise "liberals". We're talking about Dowd, Collins, Milbank, etc. And "we" didn't elect or hire them.

    One might also ask how best to approach an electorate that can't distinguish the policy positions of its favored candidate from the hated opposition, and frequently gets those positions reversed.

  12. I saw About Schmidt and didn't think that about it. I thought it was about a man who didn't realize what was important for most of his life and seemed to sort of be trying to "get it" in his final years.

    1. Making mundane people and situations funny is looking down on them.

      Ridiculing Republican candidates is beneath us.

      Relating every political event to your book is The Daily Howler.

    2. Exactly, 12:20. If the character of Randy (to name the character most "ridiculed") in About Schmidt was an "ordinary person," then Lord help us.

      And it says a lot more about Bob than it does about the film.

      I urge him to watch the film again and pay particularly close attention to the final scene.

      As for Newt Gingrich, yes it his quite his schtick to bully, look down his nose, and ridicule the rest of the "common" world while pretending he is not among the "elite."

  13. Speaking of elites, Steve Benen is going to work as a producer for “The Rachel Maddow Show” and an MSNBC contributor.

  14. In what world is Newt Gingrich _not_ someone who looks down at average people? That's his whole shtick: I am better and smarter than everyone else. If anything, Gingrich's appeal is that he gives his fans the opportunity to see themselves as more clued-in and superior, in other words, to out-elite the would-be elite.

  15. "When Gingrich talks about “the elites,” who does he mean?"

    he is only trying to evoke the sympathies of the crowd he is appealing to.

    the question is better asked,'who is this audience and who do they think are the elites.'

    the audience is the 'real americans', self described. and the 'elites' to them are those who presumes to have any meaningful control on the governance or culture of this country who are also not one of them, the real americans.

    the real question is: who exactly are the real americans? ive given this a lot of thought over the years and i think the most popular variations of the common wisdom are all wrong. its not: white people; or white people except jews; or whites except jews and catholics. i think a positive definition is more appropriate. 'real americans' are white people whose ethnic heritage is or is thought to be germanic and who are also protestant. this would include people of english descent, as they, wrongly according to the latest gene based research, are thought to derive from germanic tribes (angles, saxons, etc.)

    the real americans drive the bus on the right. the non-realAmericans on board are just tolerated for their vote. they have little say. they are there for a number of possible motives. they may falsely feel they are also real americans. their church may have convinced them they should be there or they'll go to hell. they may believe that they have a duty to a another country which the american right is thought to be more friendly towards than the the 'left' is.

    its a gang thing. their ideologies are fluid, ever changing to suit the goal of elimination of 'non-realAmerican' influence on 'their' country. truth doesn't come easy to them and if you try combat them based on what they say they are about, you/we are sure to lose.

  16. one might question my paradigm simply on the basis of gingrich not being protestant.

    two points on that. you dont absolutely have to be of the controlling group to be accepted by them -- as long it becomes generally understood that he is their boy and will dutifully do their bidding. they will even let him drive the bus within certain parameters and under their watchful eye. of course that would ordinarily make winning an election more difficult but one can imagine circumstances where a house non-realamerican could be nominated to diffuse charges of endemic bigotry or like right now where the dem is to the eye more obviously a non-realameerican.

    second, i think it matters more that gingrich was born and raised protestant than what he is now or whether he obeys the ten commandnets etc. he is in the gang.

  17. and that, of course, would include mr. gingrich himself:

    "He's talking about the type of people who look down on average Americans and their values."

    which was pretty much mr. bruni's point. mr. gingrich has done so publicly since he was first elected to congress. he continues to do so throughout the republican primaries.

    mr. bruni was pretty damn clear about who constituted mr. gingrich's "elites", and pretty damn clear that mr. gingrich is, by multiple definitions, one of them.

    again, this was pretty obvious, to anyone who took mr. bruni at face value. sorry mr. somerby, but i'm afraid you missed the mark on this one.