On the drive down, we stopped at a TGI Friday’s and I ordered a cheeseburger. When the waitress brought the food I asked her if she had any Dijon mustard. Dan [legislative aide Dan Shomon] shook his head.
“He doesn’t want Dijon,” he insisted, waving the waitress off. “Here”—he shoved a yellow bottle of French’s mustard in my direction—”here’s some mustard right here.”
The waitress looked confused. “We got Dijon if you want it,” she said to me.
I smiled. “That would be great, thanks.” As the waitress walked away, I leaned over to Dan and whispered that I didn’t think there were any photographers around.
—Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope
Well, there were cameramen around this time, Mr. Ooh-La-La-I-Eat-At-T.G.I.-Friday’s! And after President Obama stopped for a burger with Joe Biden and asked for “spicy mustard”—maybe even Dijon mustard!—Sean Hannity was able to nail him for it: ”I hope you enjoyed that fancy burger, Mr. President!”
Oh, that elitist is so never getting elected.
In the heat of the “real Americans” fooferaw in the election last year, I wrote my arugula column, and the same argument applies here. Part of Hannity’s swipe here was about old-fashioned faux-populism, of course, trying to establish the enemy as less in touch with the common man than advertised. But it’s also—like the bogus “he eats arugula” argument—an example of an old nonpartisan journalistic tradition: the outdated pop-culture reference.
There was a time, decades ago, when Hannity’s criticism might have been equally weak but at least in one sense factually accurate: average Americans did not eat Dijon, or arugula, or yogurt. But just as there are some quarters of journalism where Macarena jokes will never go out of style, just so the perception lingers that the average Joe eats nothing but ketchup-topped cheeseburgers dipped in more ketchup. Whereas in fact the common man eats Dijon mustard and arugula, at fancy-ass liberal restaurants like T.G.I. Friday’s (Obama’s anecdote, in which TGIF had Dijon, was from 1997) and the Olive Garden. (Whereas only a few are able to eat rarities like mooseburgers.)
These old divisive signifiers linger, in fact, precisely because of elitism—because of journalists who are out of touch with American mores and how they’ve changed. Elites like Sean Hannity probably don’t get out enough to have any idea what Americans get on their burgers or in their salads anymore. Which—and maybe I’m showing my bias—may be why people voted for Obama anyway. Or maybe they actually saw some appeal in the idea of a President who didn’t give a crap what people thought about what he put on his hamburger.
I mean obviously this whole notion of authenticity-via-condiments is insulting to anyone of any party, but if you’re going to do it, at least freshen up your populist buzzwords. In the meantime, Sean, I’ve got a scoop for you: the socialists at Burger King are trying to push croissants on Americans! Probably to try to make us go gay!
Which, by the way: Burger King? What, Burger President wasn’t good enough for them?