The term “latte liberal” eclipsed its predecessor, “limousine liberal,” years ago. The phrase is used, usually by conservatives, to describe lefties who profess to care about the poor from the comfort of a cushy, privileged perch, where presumably, they are sipping a foamy mug of steamed milk.
But the political lexicon is always evolving, and last night, at a rally in Louisiana for President Trump, Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) introduced a new-new label to slap on those out-of-touch elites. “I stand before you tonight a proud Deplorable,” Kennedy said, using the descriptor that Hillary Clinton famously employed for Trump supporters in the 2016 campaign — one that the Trumpers have since proudly adopted. “Unlike some of the folks in Washington, D.C. — I’m talking about the ‘cultured,’ cosmopolitan, goat’s milk latte-drinking, avocado toast-eating insider’s elite — as a Deplorable, I believe that everybody counts.”
So Kennedy added a new flourish to an old phrase, conjuring up an imaginary coffee shop order that’s even fancier than a regular old latte — this is one that swaps in (gasp!) goat’s milk for the usual dairy. First of all, senator, goat-milk lattes aren’t really a huge thing. Now, if he had instead dropped a reference to an oat milk latte, he would be slightly closer to tapping into the cool-kid zeitgeist.
In 2014, former House speaker Newt Gingrich used a similarly foamy metaphor when he mocked Bill de Blasio’s “small-soy latte liberalism” after the New York mayor promoted a tax plan that he said would raise taxes only by the cost of a steamed-milk drink at Starbucks.
And Kennedy’s invocation of avocado toast was also an … interesting one. That particular dish has become all but synonymous with millennials since it rose to Instagram-fueled popularity more than five years ago. The younger generation’s collective obsession with it was famously singled out as the reason they can’t afford to buy homes today (never mind bigger factors like rising prices and stagnating wages). But it’s pretty much gone mainstream now (ok, boomer?): It’s even on the menu at the Cheesecake Factory.
Politicians, particularly those on the right, have long used food metaphors to smear their opponents. “Safire’s Political Dictionary” notes a few of these. “The ‘wine and cheese set’ and the ‘brie and chablis set’ ” marked the 1980 third-party campaign of John Anderson, William Safire noted. “A generation later,” he wrote. “The set was derogated as the ‘chardonnay-sipping, bicoastal hipster crowd.’ ”
Former senator Fred D. Thomson (R-Tenn.) even brought the 1980s phrase back in 2008, when he used it to decry those attacking Sarah Palin when she was the Republican vice presidential candidate. “They are now parachuting in dozens of warriors and investigators and scandal-mongerers and representatives of cable networks, all into Alaska to turn over every rock they can find,” he said at a rally in Virginia. “I hope they brought their own Brie and Chablis with them!” The crowd, per the Wall Street Journal, ate it up.
And who can forget the way conservatives dunked on President Barack Obama for talking about the price of arugula during the 2008 race? The leafy green became shorthand for the then-candidate’s perceived aloofness and urbanity.
The food-shaming phenomenon isn’t unique to U.S. politics: The French have their gauche caviar (the caviar left) and the Brits their champagne socialists, or as they’re sometimes called, Bollinger Bolsheviks, a reference to a pricey, bubbly quaff.
Food has the power to make profound distinctions, notes Diana Mutz, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. She says politicians and others who use these labels often do so to “otherize” their opponents. “It’s a way to draw lines between themselves and others — which is a shame, really,” she says. “But these kinds of things do the trick when they are trying to differentiate and divide.”
Mutz says Kennedy’s comments can be seen as a knock on economic elites who presumably have enough money to pay a premium for fancy restaurant items. But there’s also a tendency among conservatives, according to her research on latte consumption across the political spectrum, to shun what they view as foreign products. (Lattes are from Italy; avocado toast has its origins in Australia).
She seized on Kennedy’s reference to goat milk as particularly interesting. She conducted an experiment several years ago in which people were shown a newspaper article about immigration policy. In some versions of the story, immigrants were described as eating chicken wings and mozzarella sticks; in other versions, they are eating spicy goat meat.
Readers, Mutz says, were more sympathetic to the people consuming what they saw as all-American-style dishes. “If they were eating goat,” she says, “they wanted to throw them all out.”
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