During a lecture at the New York-based Modern Language Association in the immediate aftermath of President Richard Nixon’s landslide re-election in November 1972, the late American film critic, Pauline Kael, made a memorable statement.
“I live in a rather special world,” the outspoken movie reviewer acknowledged. “I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where [the rest of them] are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes, when I’m in a theater, I can feel them.”
Though the quote has been bastardized a bit over the years, its gist remains intact — and not only in the United States. What it illustrated nearly five decades ago still holds in Western societies: That no matter how widespread a stance, if it is antithetical to the sentiment and sensibilities of the so-called “intelligentsia” (and of those aspiring to the title), it is rendered invisible.
It is also seen, or at least portrayed, as frightening in some way. Kael admitted to knowing only a single Nixon voter, but said that she could sense others lurking, almost threateningly, in the rows of seats around her in darkened cinemas.
Imagine her amazement, then, when the faceless figures “outside [her] ken” turned out to be a majority of the electorate. After all, no such people ever had graced her table — unless, perhaps, they were serving the meal or cleaning up after it.
Make no mistake, however. Her confession, of existing in an insulated bubble, was neither apologetic nor uttered with embarrassment. It didn’t even indicate an epiphany on her part about the real world and her relation to it.
On the contrary, it revealed an aversion to the American people whose choice at the ballot box was incomprehensible to her and her tiny, albeit disproportionately vociferous, circle.
For the likes of Kael at the time, Nixon was bad enough. But the fact that he won big, even after serving a four-year term in the White House, meant that the country was made up of right-wing idiots who were equally, if not more, flawed and dangerous.
The same attitude prevails today towards supporters of President Donald Trump. What his detractors say about him pales in comparison to the mud that they sling at the voters who put him in the Oval Office the first time, and to the vitriol that they hurl at those who plan on doing so again in November.
The Israeli chattering classes are no different when it comes to their disdain for the majority that continues to favor the Likud Party and its leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Unlike Kael and her crowd, however, the self-anointed “elites” of the Jewish state have been unable to avoid hobnobbing with the right-wing riff-raff. Having their nemesis re-elected repeatedly — and become, as a result, the longest-serving premier in the country’s history — will do that.
Nevertheless, they cannot accept, tolerate or fathom the situation. This makes them more vicious with each passing minute. Even Kael and her liberal ilk wouldn’t have gone as far as Israeli Channel 12’s “Meet the Press” host Rina Matsliah did over the weekend.
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During her popular broadcast on Saturday evening, Matsliah went beyond her usual rant against Likud supporters, unabashedly claiming to have heard them say during interviews that “even if Netanyahu raped their daughters, they would still vote for him.”
The outcry that ensued was so fast and furious that Matsliah’s bosses had no recourse but to suspend her — for a whole week. No member of the political majority would have survived such a scandal, let alone retained employment. Yet Matsliah has on her side the advantage of high stature in the small pond that dominates the culture. It’s a powerful position, to be sure; it’s just not one that is evident at the polls.
Like Kael before her, Matsliah does not grasp the huge difference between rejecting a politician and debasing his voters. The former is legitimate. The latter is not merely inexcusable; it has the exact opposite of the desired effect.
By now, she ought to have figured out that insulting the public is neither the best way to keep her audience nor a recipe for toppling Netanyahu. It is, rather, more likely to strengthen the conviction of those she attacks, while abetting the slow and steady downfall of her own side.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the Arab Spring.