MAY 20 2008 13:09h
Charges of elitism in American presidential politics dates back to the very first election.
Senator Barack Obama rolls up his sleeves to show he's a man of the people. His rivals have tagged Obama an "elitist" after he said small town folks turn to God and guns because they're bitter about losing their jobs.
But the charge of elitism in American presidential politics is nothing new.
Professor David Birdsell of Baruch College in New York says it dates back to the very first U.S. election.
"There's a unique American story about breaking away from a monarchy. The worst thing you could say about a public servant in the early years of the republic was that that person wanted to be king. Washington was attacked."
In modern times, John F. Kennedy had to fend off the charge that his rich father had engineered his path to the White House.
And such attacks aren't confined to the United States. European candidates will go to soccer fields to play to the crowd.
But Berlin-based analyst Constanze Stelzenmuller of the German Marshall Fund says elitism is less of an issue for European candidates than in the United States .
"There's just not as many Texas billionaires in Europe or their equivalent. And so, the extent to which you have to reach out very far to each side of the divide is much larger than it would be in Europe."
The "you're out of touch" charge often plays like a silly sideshow. But it's important because it can help sink a candidate.
"The elitism charge becomes damaging if the person is typed and unable to wriggle free of that charge. John Kerry - in 2004 was dubbed an elitist and he fed those elitist lines, he fed them by the way he chose to take time off from the campaign windsurfing off his compound."
It's not stupid to be seen as smart, so long as you're not seen as an intellectual snob as Al Gore was branded for sighing loudly during a debate with George W Bush. Kerry and Gore both lost.
Like Gore and Kerry, Obama attended elite schools, including Harvard, but his childhood - raised in modest circumstances by a single mother - is hardly a story of the upper crust.
Two ways experts say Obama can avoid being tarred as elitist: choose a running mate who relates well to the working class ... playing basketball ... and keep shooting hoops. It beats rolling gutter balls.