OKAY, so, first, nice catch, Rumproast. But after I'd seen it bruited about for the better part of a day I began to realize that the left, and not The Left, had absolutely no idea how to handle this. I've scribbled a few notes. I'd be happy to share them.
First, the joke is this: On CNN yesterday, Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild said she didn't like Barack Obama. "He's an elitist," she explained.
Now, by "this is the joke" I am not trying to explain what started the general merriment. I'm telling you that's the joke. Once you begin tacking on personal details about Lady Lynn, her dwellings, her jet-set chums, and her social import on both sides of the Pond you are doing what I believe comedy professionals describe as explaining the joke. Which, and again this is my understanding of expert opinion, is generally held to reduce the humor quotient considerably. Ditto linking to every article you can find which describes her rugs or notes she has servants. Believe it or no, most people actually get it that someone called Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild likely belongs to The Snooty Set, eats off real plates, and doesn't worry much about her bank balance. And in fact the audience is rather more likely to experience some sort of general bonhomie and fellow-feeling towards Lady de Rothschild upon gaining details of her opulent surroundings, since we--and I include most members of the one-time labor party of the U.S.--have turned out to be a nation of natural-born hat-tippers. So long as we're whittlin' on the Bill of Rights, we might cast a glance at modernizing the Seven Deadly Sins. Americans do not like envy. Americans feel much warmer towards covetousness.
No, assuming Lady de Rothschild does not spend her time bathing in the blood of Christian virgins, her bio is not much likely to outrage. But this is mere Brooksian whimsy (although, look, really, you ruined the joke). Hypocrisy is not a sin in modern-day America. It's expected, in the same fashion that another culture might expect hospitality or careful social stratification. And elitism surely has had nothing whatever to do with the Latin eligere, elect, since sometime in the Nixon administration; thinking about it now I suspect that elite maintained its use as a measure of typewriter key size longer than the notion of The Quality survived political expedience. "Elitist" now means "smart", with a hint of "-ass". You'd imagine that liberals, who've been the main target of its use as a slur for so many decades, would understand this by now.
In fact, this dovetails with the earlier point: the reason being noted as a "Lady" is sufficient to get the humor across is that all such titles imply to Americans that the holder knows the difference between a soup spoon and a desert fork, the sort of thing which is considered a risible example of overeducation, unless one actually operates a chain of discount flatwear dealerships across the Southwest. It is certainly not the case that the modern American finds anything in common with his sacred forebears, who threw these scoundrels out two-and-a-quarter centuries ago. The modern American stands in line for two hours to view that Spencer dame's shoe collection at a traveling exhibit.
So it is perhaps understandable that the real blow to the solar plexus was not delivered, despite its ready availability. It simply wasn't recognized. Lady Forester de Rothschild is not an elitist.
She's an arriviste.
She's no Rothschild. Rothschilds are smart, and possessed of wit. Rothschilds do not tout their political opinions in public (on FOX!) like a greengrocer displays his kohlrabi. If there's been another "Rothschild" from either side of the sheets who refers to the sainted Lafite as "the family wine"--to a reporter!--I'll use that bottle of '90 I have in the basement to make chili.
Real Rothschilds had style, not just $100 M fortunes from telecom holding companies:
• Nathan Meyer Rothschild, the First Baron Rothschild (he didn't use the title) departed a hansom cab one London evening. The driver eyed his tip distainfully. "Your Lordship's son always gives me a good deal more money," he said.
"I daresay he does," the Baron replied. "But, you see, he has a wealthy father. I haven't."
• The Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith once spent the weekend at Alfred Rothschild's estate. The butler approached him at tea.
"Tea, coffee, or a peach from off the wall, sir?" he asked.
"China, India, or Ceylon, sir?"
"Lemon, milk, or cream, sir?"
"Jersey, Hereford, or Shorthorn, sir?"
• In the 1980s Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Grand-Prix driver (under an assumed name), poet, and probably the single most important figure in the history of wine, was interviewed at a tasting of every vintage of Mouton-Rothschild back to 1924, the year he invented estate bottling. "Which was your favorite vintage?" he was asked.
He paused to consider. "The '59, I think," he said, then added, "If you like young wine."