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The Perils of Patronizing



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Michael Gerson in his column today nicely puts his finger on a prominent feature of Obama’s rhetoric: his approach to every opinion with which he doesn’t agree is to make clear how thoroughly he “understands” it — by which he means he attributes it to some underlying factor that explains his opponent better than the opponent himself could — and then to dismiss it without addressing it substantively. This is the character of everything Obama says about abortion, for instance, and so much of what he says about conservatives and their views, most notably in his second book. His “bitter” comment in San Francisco last month was of course a rather extreme illustration of this, but as Gerson points out a much milder form is at play in a very great deal of what Obama has to say and may even, he suggests, have to do with Jeremiah Wright’s recent public challenges to Obama. This is what Obama means when he calls himself a unifier: that he doesn’t denigrate his opponents but rather understands them. But in practice, particularly in the mouth of a Senator who seems somehow always to come out on the left for all his understanding of the right, such condescension can be pretty off-putting.



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