The bookish, twice-unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson once sighed that if most thinking people supported him, it still wouldn’t be enough to get elected in America because “I need a majority.”
For some reason, Democrats have chosen to follow the disastrous model of Stevenson and not that of the feisty, man-of-the-people Missourian Harry Truman — though the former nearly wrecked the party and the latter got elected.
Former president Jimmy Carter likewise seems to feel that he’s still too smart for us. Carter, who turns 86 on Friday, is hitting the news shows to explain why he remains America’s “superior” ex-president — and why more than 30 years ago he was so successful yet so underappreciated as our chief executive.
Most Americans instead remember a very different President Carter, who finished his single term with 18 percent inflation, 18 percent interest rates, 11 percent unemployment, long gas lines, and a world in chaos, from hostage-taking in Teheran to Soviet Communist aggression in Afghanistan and Central America.
Now, John Kerry — who failed to win the presidency in 2004 and recently tried to avoid state sales taxes on his new $7 million yacht — is voicing similar frustrations about Americans’ inability to fathom what their betters are trying to do for them. He is furious that an unsophisticated electorate might not return congressional Democratic majorities in 2010. Kerry laments that “we have an electorate that doesn’t always pay that much attention to what’s going on.” Instead, it falls for “a simple slogan rather than the facts or the truth or what’s happening.”
In 2006, Kerry warned students that if they did poorly in school, they could “get stuck in Iraq.” He apparently had forgotten that soldiers volunteer for military service and are overwhelmingly high-school graduates.
In the 2008 campaign, Michelle Obama at one point said of her husband’s burden, “Barack is one of the smartest people you will ever encounter who will deign to enter this messy thing called politics.”
That sense of intellectual superiority was channeled by Barack Obama himself when he later tried to explain why his message was not resonating with less astute rural Pennsylvanians: “And it’s not surprising, then, that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
During the recent Ground Zero mosque controversy, Obama returned to that Carter-Kerry sort of condescension. When asked about the overwhelming opposition to the mosque, the president felt again that the unthinking hoi polloi had given into their unfounded fears: “I think that at a time when the country is anxious generally and going through a tough time, then fears can surface, suspicions, divisions can surface in a society.”