Anti-Bush Snobbery II

Matthew Yglesias rebuts Mark Steyn’s thesis, which I quoted approvingly, that much of the elite reaction to Bush is a form of snobbery.

James Joyner endorses the thesis that Bush-bashing is all about snobbery. No doubt at some level that’s right — some of the people who hate Bush do so in part because they’re snobs. As anyone who’s familiar with public opinion research can tell you, the overwhelming majority of voters do not make up their minds on the basis of a coherent ideology or a great deal of information about the candidates. On another level, this is obviously wrong. Like all “liberals are effete snobs” sorts of arguments it neglects a few minor facts about the nature of the Democratic Party electorate. Like most poor people vote Democrats. As do most high school dropouts. I seriously doubt that the high school dropout vote is so dead-set against Bush because their a bunch of snobs. Likewise (and not totally unrelatedly) Bush polls terribly among African-Americans and non-Cuban Latinos for reasons that certainly have nothing to do with snobbery.

Elitism certainly isn’t a singular explanation for Democratic voting behavior. Sure, Bush polls poorly among groups that are reflexive Democratic voters just as Kerry does poorly among groups that would never dream of voting for a Democrat. There are all sorts of reasons why people might want to vote for John Kerry and why roughly 45% of the country will vote for any Democratic (or Republican) candidate. Most of these have to do with some combination of ideology or self-interest.

Steyn is seeking to explain (and making fun of) media elites who want to attribute Bush’s support to anything but Bush. Why are people who are supposed to be professional commentators on politics unable to grasp Kerry’s flaws and Bush’s strengths? Most conservatives readily admit Bush’s weaknesses, notably his weak oratorical skills, and acknowledge Kerry’s polished delivery and the appeal of a Vietnam War hero. But most media analysts seem befuddled to think that any intelligent person could actually prefer Bush, the idiot with degrees from Yale and Harvard, to the erudite Kerry. These people understand the appeal of a John McCain or a Rudi Guiliani, who at least have the common decency to agree with the intelligensia on a few issues, but not a Bush or a Reagan.

And of course one could turn this around. Looking at the two BlogAds on James’ sidebar, one would think that support for Bush is motivated by a combination of homophobia and misogyny (the “don’t be girlie-men” ad) and xenophobia (the “foreign leaders for Kerry” ad). And, just as snobbery plays a role in some people’s anti-Bush views, there can be no doubt that homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia all play roles in some people’s pro-Bush views.

Case in point. The “girlie man” schtick has nothing to do with sexual orientation or hatred of women, it’s about the traditional manly values exemplified by John Wayne and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Self reliance. Honor. No whining. The “foreign leaders” jibe is along the same lines. One can scarcely imagine Teddy Roosevelt or John Kennedy asking France for permission to go to war. A majority of Americans gravitate towards leaders who come across as somewhat brash and ornery. Indeed, one of the ironies of American politics is that, for years, Democrats and their supporters have expressed their scorn for guys like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush by labeling them as “cowboys” who “shoot from the hip,” not realizing that those qualities are exactly what many Americans want in their leaders.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004, Media, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    Yglesias graduated from Harvard University in 2003 with a B.A. magna cum laude in Philosophy, where he was editor-in-chief of The Harvard Independent, a weekly newsmagazine, as well as a contributor to several other campus publications.

    Ahem. One wonders why Matt doesn’t see the point of Steyn’s rapier. perhaps because it is aimed so squarely at him.

  2. James — if you seriously don’t understand why using the phrase “girlie-men” to express a lack of certain admirable virtues is a manifestation of homophobia and mysogyny, then you really need to think harder. You’re a thoughtful guy, you can do better than that.

  3. Attila Girl says:

    For Schwarzennegger to utter the phrase “girlie men” shows little more than his ability to laugh along with those who make fun of him (as you’ve pointed out in other posts, the Hans und Franz schtick was directed at Arnold, and everyone knew it at the time).

    Arnold’s co-opting of the phrase *does* imply an endorsement of traditional masculine virtues.

    Women might choose to be offended by the term, arguing that little girls have their own challenges growing up, and need to show perseverence, patience, and fortitude as much as little boys do. But they’d be wasting their time and thought on a joke. A joke.

    And the term has *nothing* to do with homosexuality. Anyone who sees homosexuality in the phrase “girlie men” has a problem with homophobia himself.

  4. Brian says:

    Matt has turned off comments at his playpen after becoming extraordinarily vulgar with his own comments. So, just let him play with himself.

  5. Teri says:

    Matt said “I seriously doubt that the high school dropout vote is so dead-set against Bush because their a bunch of snobs.”

    If he’s going to be snotty about high school dropouts he probably shouldn’t rite like one.

  6. James Joyner says:


    I don’t deny that those are components of the term’s etymology. I just don’t think that’s what’s behind its current use. It was originally used on Saturday Night Live to make fun of Arnold and he’s now turning it around as a joke. But to call someone an economic girlie man isn’t to imply that they’re tantamount to homosexuals.

    The term is homophobic and/or misogynistic in the same sense that the use of the words “balls” or “cojones” to describe courage is.

  7. capt joe says:

    Attila girl,

    Exactly, much as the gay community co-opted the terms queer and dyke to reduce the effect of those words.

  8. Attila Girl says:

    Co-opting the word “queer” was the idea of Christopher Isherwood, among others. He called it “verbal judo.”

    The original intent of the joke was to make fun of air-headed Austrian bodybuilders. The fact that Arnold’s willing to use this term shows . . . . balls.

  9. McGehee says:

    The fact that Arnold’s willing to use this term shows . . . . balls.

    It shows that he’s more secure in his fallibility than … others I could name.

  10. Dan says:

    The “girlie man” schtick has nothing to do with sexual orientation or hatred of women, it’s about the traditional manly values exemplified by John Wayne and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Self reliance. Honor. No whining.

    While I’m sure that you don’t mean that women are whiny and absent of honor and self reliance, your defense of the ad reads more like an endorsement of Matt’s POV on the matter.

  11. Boyd says:

    Fer cryin’ out loud, Dan, get a grip. “Manly” wasn’t used as a contrast to “Womanly.” Its actual contrast is something along the lines of “wussy.” It’s a contrast among men, and has no contemporary reference to women.

  12. Hal says:

    Boyd, riiiigggghhhhttt. That’s why the contrasting phrase girly man was used. So “wus” == “girl”. And I’ve never heard phrases like “you throw like a girl” or “he cries like a girl” or any of the other zillions of phrases that men use to compare wusses to girls.

    I’m stunned that your thought processes.

  13. Dan says:

    First of all, my grip is fine, but thank you for your concern.

    Look, if James had made the point that the ad was merely meant to remind everyone of the famous SNL bit, that would be one thing. But why the gender distinction? It is just a simple fact that qualifying something as “manly” is the same as saying “not womanly”, at least from a logical perspective. And frankly, I’ve always felt that “wussy” was the PG way of saying a word that ascribes to a woman’s sexual organ (pussy), especially so when I accused a dude of being one. I can’t prove it, but I think its another gender distinction. I would be more receptive to the argument that gender distinctions based on stereotype are less important than most people think, but I think that, in this argument, they clearly exist.

  14. James Joyner says:

    Dan: Sure. But it’s neither homophobic nor misogynistic. Presumably, gay men can exhibit those qualities as well. And it’s undeniable that the social ideals for men’s behavior and women are different. It doesn’t demean women, let alone display contempt for them, to say that a guy should be “manly.”

  15. As a liberal intellectual, I would assert categorically that my distaste for Bush is directly rooted in the intellectual basis of his philosophy. Yes, I think he has one and the “cowboy” label is a shorthand for it.

    I also think that the liberal cantankerousness about it is not only because is it a BAD philosophy, it is also because Bush, and the people who support him, are too lazy minded (or perhaps too politically shrewd) to state this philosophy plainly and categorically. Nobody likes to do one’s enemy’s intellectual work for him.

    But since, without it, we cannot rebut the charge of “intellectual snobbery”, I’ll take it on. The George W. Bush philosophy is as follows:

    The rules of law and reason apply only to people who are not inherently evil.

    “Terrorists” are inherently evil.

    THEREFORE: We can do anything we please and need follow no rules whatever when we deal with “terrorists”.

    I use quotation marks around the word “terrorists” because you can insert ANY noun you don’t like in there and the logic remains the same: enemy combatants, Islamofacists, baby-killers, marriage-destroyers, feminists, secular humanists, ect. ect. ect.

    The moment you deny the rule of law and reason to any group of human beings, you have potentially denied it to any or all of them. THAT is why it is a bad philosophy.

    We are under no illusion that there aren’t many Americans who think this philosophy is just fine. There are many Americans who believe in all sorts of extraordinary things.

    But we don’t think its fine. We think it is a contemptable abandonment of basic American values. And that is the true souce of our rancor with George W. Bush.

    And then, of course, there is the actual state in which for years of his arbitrary and capricious rule has left the country….

  16. Gosh I hate how age makes letters just vanish when you type. My sincerest apologies.

  17. Dan says:

    Oh, it isn’t you, its society that says women are dishonorable and dependent on others (not to mention the whining). Come on.
    I’m not saying you’re homophobic, and I’m not saying you aren’t (although your use of the word presumably gives me pause). Same goes for misogynistic and sexist. But your choice of words is suspect.