Roger’s Rules

Announcing the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Bow Ties: Or, Obama Studies redux

What is it about the humble bow tie that drives leftists to distraction? It would probably take Carlyle’s Diogenes Teufelsdröckh to supply a satisfactory disquisition on the subject. I certainly can’t explain it. But I have long noted, and not infrequently delighted in, the phenomenon. Procure a modest strip of colored silk. Knot carefully under your collar, taking care to achieve the sprightly butterfly effect that Bertie Wooster cherished: Presto! You reduce the sweaty masses to jabbering incoherence. If you really want to cause pain, wear spectacles and drop in a literary allusion or a Latin phrase or two. Really, it drives them wild.

I can’t remember when I first noticed this gratifying Pavlovian response. It was quite some time ago, and it certainly prompted me to stock up on bow ties and eschew the ordinary long variety. But while I have long been aware that the bow tie acts as a ferocious irritant upon the politically immature, it is only recently that I have noticed that the combination of a bow tie and a dissenting perspective on some contentious subject produces instant frenzy. Last autumn, when Norman Mailer went to his reward, I posted here a highly critical piece on the old, wife-stabbing egomaniac. Result? A cataract of abusive comments, many of which seemed to be vastly more offended by my bow tie than by anything I had actually written.

My comments about Barack Obama’s Bitter Pill gambit have sparked an even more amusing outbreak of anti-bow-tie animus. Alas and alack, your faithful correspondent sadly reports that neither he nor his bow tie — his “snobby little yellow bow-tie” as one reader eloquently apostrophized — is popular among the Obamamaniacs. Even his eyeglasses — “intellectual round glasses” in the words of the same authority–failed to delight.

Well, Pol Pot didn’t like people who wore glasses either, and if he failed to make Cambodia safe from bow-tie-wearing chaps, that was probably only because he had inadequate exposure to that enlightened fashion accessory.

Watching the herd of independent minds in the grip of a tantrum is always amusing, and this little episode certainly offered some splendid moments. What struck me most powerfully, however, was the fact that many of my correspondents seemed to think I was criticizing their totem for being “elitist.” In fact, I meant to praise elitism. How can you tell? Well, clever hermeneuts will have noticed that the post is called “In Praise of Elitism.” That was the first hint. And then there was the fact that while I allowed that Obama’s bitter-small-town-gun-and-God-lovin’ remarks were “smug,” “self-righteous,” etc. (“blinkered, bigoted, emotionally impoverished, and otherwise odious”), I concluded that they were “not in any normal sense of the word ‘elitist.'”

To repeat: In my book, elitism, properly understood, is a positive thing. Although there was, in my view, plenty wrong with what Obama said, his offense was not elitism but anti-American animus. (As William Kristol observed, in San Francisco, Obama’s “mask slipped” and, for a moment, we all saw the unvarnished anti-American contempt his Harvard polish usually refracts.)

What I actually wrote didn’t matter, though. The script required that a bow-tie-and-glasses white fellow just had to criticize Obama for being elitist. If he failed to do so, no matter: just follow the script and pretend that he did.

There are so many gems of inarticulate rage among the responses that I hesitate to single out any one for special praise. All have their distinctive delights. But there really was something special about “bethincary” who concludes that “Your bow-tied, elitist self–may have heard condescension–pretty much because you’re a HRC supporter.” How can I break the news to her?