“Pauline Kaelism.” A criticism named for the longtime New Yorker film critic and directed at those who make bad political judgments because they’re seen as living in a bubble.
When it comes to movies, Kael – who died in 2001 – is known as perhaps the most influential essayist of all time. But when it comes to politics, she’s remembered for a statement she made about Republican President Richard Nixon’s landslide 1972 victory – she only knew of one person who had voted for Nixon.
An admirer of Kael’s, James Wolcott, said her remark should be understood in context. Writing in Vanity Fair in 2012, Wolcott noted that the critic – a resident of Manhattan and Massachusetts – also said, “I live in a rather special world … Where [Nixon voters] are, I don’t know. They’re outside my ken.” As a result, he said, “Rather than showing out-of-touch insularity on Kael’s part, the quote actually shows Kael is perfectly aware of that insularity and is in fact making light of it.”
But political observers have used the term to describe how supposed know-it-alls can be completely misinformed. In many cases, those know-it-alls are left-wing elites. After last month’s terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., National Review’s Jonah Goldberg looked at why arguments in favor of gun control haven’t resonated with the public at large.
“The absence of guns in urban liberal environments leads to a kind of Pauline Kaelism … Many urban liberals only hear about guns when they’re used in crimes, and simply can’t imagine why anyone would want one. As a result, they’re tone-deaf in their arguments,” Goldberg wrote.
And earlier this week, the Washington Examiner’s Byron York talked to numerous New Hampshire GOP activists and found that many didn’t know anyone who supports Donald Trump.
“Given Trump’s big lead in the polls,” York wrote, “if so many politically active Republicans don’t know even one Trump supporter, either the polls are wrong or there is some serious GOP Pauline Kaelism at work in the nation’s first primary state.”
The criticism has been applied to other Republicans as well. After President Obama’s emphatic 2012 reelection, Jonathan Martin – then of Politico – examined how some younger Republicans blamed the party’s “self-selected media universe” for being so startled at the result after it had expressed so much confidence in challenger Mitt Romney’s chances.
“GOP officials have chalked up their electoral thumping to everything from the country’s changing demographics to an ill-timed hurricane and failed voter turn-out system, but a cadre of Republicans under 50 believes the party’s problem is even more fundamental,” Martin wrote. “The party is suffering from Pauline Kaelism.”
Chuck McCutcheon writes his "Speaking Politics" blog exclusively for Politics Voices.