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.”
The president often clears his throat with “Let me be perfectly clear” and “Make no mistake about it” — as if we, his schoolchildren, have to be warned to pay attention to the all-knowing teacher at the front of the class.
Disappointed progressive pundits also feel this angst over having to deal with childlike Americans. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson recently psychoanalyzed the falling support for the president by claiming that “the American people are acting like a bunch of spoiled brats.”
Thomas Frank’s best-selling 2004 book What’s the Matter With Kansas? lamented that uninformed voters were easily tricked into voting against their “real” economic interests.
When America votes for a liberal candidate, it is praised by the Left as intelligent — and derided as dense when it does not. We were told not to worry that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner did not pay all his income taxes, since we were lucky to have someone so well educated and experienced in high finance.
Note that few Democratic candidates are running on the health-care bill they passed, promising at the time that it would be appreciated by a suspicious American public. More federal borrowing and amnesty are still pushed under the euphemisms “stimulus” and “comprehensive immigration reform.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed that the Tea Party was merely a synthetic, Astroturf movement. Professors and preachers may like such sermonizing. But for politicians, it’s a lousy way to get elected. Again, compare the relative fates of the patronizing Adlai Stevenson and the plain-speaking Harry Truman.
For many of today’s liberals, the fact that the president hasto deal with so many Neanderthal know-nothings explains why he can’t, as promised, close Guantanamo, end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” or do away with Bush-era renditions, tribunals, and wiretaps, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But current polls suggest that these clueless and unappreciative Americans apparently believe that an elite education does not ensure their officials can balance a budget, pay their own taxes, or speak candidly.
What an outrageous “How-dare-they!” thought.
—Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.© 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.