Politics & Policy

Candidate Superior Jumps the Gun

He doesn't prove his worth, he assumes it.

If Obama’s remark about voters’ clinging to God and guns because they’re bitter isn’t a disaster for his campaign, Obama and his fellow travelers seem to be spinning overtime to make sure it’s as damaging as possible. Asked about the comment at Wednesday’s debate, Obama still couldn’t address the controversy head on. “I think there’s no doubt that I can see how people were offended,” he told ABC’s Charlie Gibson. That’s a lot of qualifiers to pack into a supposed apology. Thinking you can see how people are offended is a far cry from acknowledging that they are, in fact, offended, and with good cause.

You’d think he could see how he should have been better prepared for that moment in the debate. Obama was already testing voters’ patience at an appearance on Tuesday, when he called criticisms of the remark “political silly season.” Unfortunately, he couldn’t leave it at that and bring himself to put down the shovel:

“We lived for the first 13 years of our marriage up until three years ago in a three-bedroom condo without a garage so if you live in Chicago that means you’re scraping ice every morning,” he said in rejecting the elitist label.

Tell me he’s kidding. Even with the real estate market in the tank, a three-bedroom condo in most urban areas is still insanely expensive. Two, given that he’s pleading relative poverty here, how’d he afford that $1.65 million house in the suburbs he currently occupies? We know he got a really good deal, but highlighting the circumstances of how he wielded political influence to get the best value for his current digs isn’t exactly salt-of-the-earth stuff that plays well in Western Pennsylvania. Despite their current acrimony, between Rezko and Whitewater, Obama and Hillary can probably make a killing teaching real-estate seminars on Capitol Hill, should this whole president thing not work out for them. MAKE A KILLING IN REAL ESTATE WITH NO MONEY DOWN! ONE SATURDAY ONLY! COME ON DOWN TO 253 RUSSELL SENATE OFFICE BUILDING!

But as unintentionally hilarious as this is, Obama is failing to offer up a proper apology because he’s missing the point entirely. He can plead that he can’t be elitist because he’s from a single-parent household and his family was once on food stamps all he wants, but this is about attitudes, not money. (Though I think it’s fairly demonstrable that when it comes to money and elitism, Michelle Obama is from Mars and poor people are from, well, “the reality-based community.”)

When William F. Buckley Jr. — himself a well-off man — made his famous remark that he’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than the faculty at Harvard, this is what he was talking about. It’s not the wealth of the faculty that insulates them, but rather the sense of entitlement that comes with inhabiting an enclave where everybody thinks they’ve got the world figured out.

Whatever you want to make of Obama’s diverse background prior to his adult forays into the Ivy League, liberal activism, and politics, his remarks seemed to suggest that it is this latter experience with those elitist institutions that define the world Obama inhabits. One where he’s certain of what’s best for people, and if only they weren’t so distracted by this First and Second Amendment nonsense, they could hand him the reins of power tomorrow. And if you think you know how to take care of yourself any better, well, stop deluding yourself. You’re not a charismatic, Ivy League-educated senator with a firm grasp on what ails America. And if you were, you’d be the one running for president, not stuck in that steel mill in Western Pa. Got it?

In case struggling workers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere didn’t get the point about their obvious inferiority, The Daily Show’s got Obama’s back. They went out of their way to defend Obama and make it clear that not only are these bitter God-and-guns types inferior, they’re bad people. You can watch Stewart’s whole rant here, but here’s the crux of Stewart’s take on the situation:

These people do not turn to God and guns and mistrust of foreigners because of a downturn in the economy. Those are the very foundations those towns are built on.

That was a joke. And one that got a huge amount of applause. But it’s Stewart’s summation that is the most revealing:

I know elite is a bad word in politics and everybody wants to throw back a few beers and go bowling, but the job you’re applying for? If it goes well, they might carve your head into a mountain. If you don’t actually think you’re better than us than, what the [bleep] are you doing? . . . In fact, not only do I want an elite president, I want someone who’s embarrassingly superior to me.

That’s right. Vote for Barack Obama because he’s better than you struggling xenophobes in Pennsyltucky. Never mind that his comments evince no empathy or understanding of blue-collar Americans and what they need or want. Especially if what they want is the freedom to do things like worship how they see fit or hunt on weekends without having to think about Washington, D.C., meddling in their lives based on their leaders’ highly suspect and deeply personal value judgments — judgments that, more often than not, stem from their own sense of superiority.

Of course, only Jon Stewart would see someone make an obviously smug assumption and see evidence that that person is “superior.” It’s also telling that after he gets done putting down those inhabiting depressed towns in Western Pennsylvania, he then wraps himself in faux humility, pretending to be just another part of the electorate dying for a President Superior to save him, rather than a wealthy and influential opinion leader with his own agenda. At the height of the 2004 campaign, Stewart made a name for himself during his now famous appearance on CNN’s Crossfire where he declared that cable-news hosts, and those on that show in particular, were “partisan hacks” who were “hurting America” and “helping the politicians.” Well, with his defense of Obama’s superiority over the values of middle-American workers, I think we all know where Stewart stands relative to the journalistic standards he professes to decry. Now who’s going to go on his show, and tell him the jig is up?

But in his defense of Obama, Stewart’s blithe assumption of his candidate’s superiority is as much an inadvertent bit of truth-telling as Obama’s original remark. I’m not one to buy into the red and blue divide; there are two kinds of people in this world — those who divide the electorate into two groups and those who don’t overgeneralize. But if Obama and his liberal liegemen want to explain away his original gaffe by contextualizing America into superior and inferior, the electorate will see that for what it really is — the heartland pitted against the smug bastards breathing the rarefied air at the top of our political and journalistic institutions. Fortunately, there’s a lot more of the former then the latter, and they will vote accordingly, for a candidate who proves his worth rather than assumes it. Based on what we’ve seen so far, that’s not going to be Obama.

– Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.


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