Some of my conservative friends are mystified by the apparently enduring appeal of Robert Francis O’Rourke, a.k.a. “Beto,” the faux-Hispanic progressive from El Paso who failed to unseat conservative stalwart Senator Ted Cruz in spite of a flood of money and a tsunami of media adulation. “He lost, didn’t he?” they ask, perplexed.
There is an answer to this riddle: snobbery.
The Democratic party is the political home of snobbery, a word and a concept often misunderstood. Snobbery does not refer to the cultivated preferences of those refined persons who order the ’82 Bordeaux because it is their mothers’ milk or who have an iTunes library full of Liszt because the sound of Cardi B fills them with discomfort and anxiety. The genuinely refined — particularly those cocooned by wealth — usually are not much interested in the enthusiasms or tastes of others, whereas the snob is obsessed with his own discernment relative to the low and vulgar tastes of those around him. The snob is the kind of man who sees a pair of Wranglers and sneers at the life he imagines they represent: $42,000 a year, tract house, SUV, work boots, Garth Brooks, Donald Trump. The snob isn’t a man of exacting tastes, but a poseur: The word derives from an older English word for a shoemaker’s apprentice and is intended to convey contempt for vulgar social climbers who aped the manners and tastes of the upper classes.
There is a peculiar paradox at the heart of modern progressivism: Progressives, especially Democratic candidates for office, claim to speak for the poor, the low-income, the marginalized, those born and raised without the benefits and (inevitable word) privilege of a Bush or a Romney or a McCain. But, at the same time, there is nothing they hate worse than somebody who comes from such a background entering public life: You’ll recall the sneering at Sarah Palin’s education — six years spread out over four colleges, none of them very good ones. There are many good criticisms to be made of Sarah Palin and the shtick into which she eventually sank, but she is a self-made woman who entered public service in one of the least glamorous and least lucrative ways, as mayor of a small city — as thankless a job as there is in elected office. She was ridiculed as a “snowbilly” and worse.