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We're All Eggheads Now

Reading John Judis' take on the drift of professionals into the Democratic camp, I’m reminded of Paul Begala’s dismissive description of Barack Obama’s base: "Eggheads and African-Americans." Obama, the logic went, would flounder outside the combined population of one minority ethnic group and the nation's roster of assistant professors of anthropology.

But one thing the results show, I think, is that eight years of Republican rule changed the definition of "egghead." Obama's ability to flip states like Indiana and Ohio and North Carolina was based in large part on his improved margins among college-educated professionals in the suburbs outside Columbus or Charlotte or Indianapolis. Not long ago, your average rational, suburbanite PTA-joining middle-manager at Eli Lilly may not have thought himself an egghead. That was before the Bush administration and the braying campaign-trail crowds of Palinite "Real Americans," with their angry sneers at empiricism and expertise and worldliness moved the line of demarcation between egghead and everyone else. By election day, it seemed like a basic belief in competence and science and planning was enough to brand you an egghead in the world of the angry GOP base. The newly-enshrined eggheads of 2008 got the message, and voted for Obama.

In retrospect, the Republican campaign, and 2008's Republican politics in general, look like an exercise in drawing perpetually smaller circles around the "us" group--an unwise electoral strategy for those who want to, like, get more votes than the other guy. Thus residents of the essentially unhip suburbs of Northern Virginia were suddenly informed that they were exotics who lacked some sort of Old Dominion authenticity. Drinkers of a hot-milk-and-espresso beverage popular at the roughly 10,000 Starbucks outlets in strip malls and airports across the country were told that they were elitists. Ditto anyone who favored tax-policy discussions that weren't focused on the hypothetical returns of a single Ohio plumber. Obama supporters’ fervent hope is that the election served as a repudiation of us-versus-them politics. It might be, though, that it was simply a repudiation of those who would practice us-versus-them politics while engaging in bad mathematics. But that's sort of an eggheaded thing of me to say, isn't it?

--Michael Schaffer