SAN DIEGO – In an election already marred by racism and sexism, the first presidential debate brought to the surface another “-ism”: classism.
During the debate, Hillary Clinton rattled Donald Trump by mentioning Alicia Machado. The former Miss Universe says that Trump, who owned the rights to the pageant, body-shamed her for gaining weight after she won the crown. She says that he referred to her as “eating machine” and “Miss Piggy.” Trump hasn’t denied that he made Machado’s weight an issue. He’s even suggested that he helped save her title by forcing her to lose weight.
But there’s more. According to the Venezuelan beauty queen, Trump also called her “Miss Housekeeping.”
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Gee, Donald, racist much? The real estate tycoon obviously likes to insult people he considers beneath him, and anyone who works with his or her hands, or waits on people, fits the bill.
But this tendency to look down on fellow Americans based on class isn’t limited to the Republican nominee. It runs deep in our society. Even among liberals, there is plenty of shame to go around.
Let’s not forget that cringe-inducing story – recalled in the book, “Game Change” by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann – about Bill Clinton going to the late Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy for his endorsement in 2008, when Hillary Clinton was battling Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. According to the authors, when discussing Obama, Bill Clinton told Kennedy: “Ted, a few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.” The authors said Clinton declined to comment on the claim.
And then, there is what happened after the debate when CNN’s Anderson Cooper gathered the network’s usual suspects – a “diverse” panel of eight analysts and commentators that included one Latina, two African-Americans and five whites.
The breakdown matters because these sessions have, during this election, often digressed into attacks on Trump for being racially insensitive. But media companies rarely look in the mirror and ask themselves if they reflect the racial and ethnic breakdown of America.
At one point, while discussing the birther issue, CNN contributor Jeffrey Lord brought up Reggie Love, an African-American and Obama’s former special assistant and “body man.” In a book that he wrote last year, Love indicated that, in 2008, Obama suspected that rumors suggesting that he was anything less than 100 percent American were coming from inside Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Love detailed a confrontation between Obama and Clinton on the tarmac at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, where Obama challenged his opponent to control her aides and put a stop to the fear-mongering.
This isn’t breaking news. The story has been out there for a while, and – while you don’t often hear it repeated by the Clinton-friendly media – no one has ever challenged Love’s memory, veracity or credibility.
Yet when Lord mentioned Love, another panelist – former Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod – smiled and said this, in a dismissive and condescending tone: “He was [Obama’s] body man. He was the guy who carried his bags and stuff. So let’s not get carried away here … “
Catch that? According to Axelrod, who supports Clinton, Love was just “the guy who carried [Obama’s] bags and stuff.” Given that Love is African-American, that comment was really inappropriate.
Here’s what Axelrod was really saying: This isn’t a credible source. This is a little person, an insignificant peon. Nothing to see here. Don’t bother listening to him. Listen to me. I don’t carry people’s bags. I shovel verbal manure on TV. That’s more honorable.
This may come as news to Axelrod, but Love graduated from Duke University with a degree in political science and public policy and then went on to get his MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
I await the outcry from the diversity police, those overly sensitive, politically correct monitors of personal behavior who quickly label people “racist” when they step outside the line. Axelrod did just that.
Granted, the Democratic strategist is not running for president, and he doesn’t have a documented history of racism.
But what he said, and how his fellow panelists just brushed it off, tells us a lot about why people have so much disgust for the media and the spin doctors that now pollute it.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.