Politics & Policy

Obama’s Contempt for the White Working Class Is as Strong as Ever

President Obama concludes a press conference at the White House, November 14, 2016. (Reuters photo: Yuri Gripas)
The president never understood those who disagreed with him, and never really tried to.

As his presidency comes to a close, it’s clear that Barack Obama still finds Americans who disagree with him an illogical and inscrutable species, so inherently backward that there’s no point in making much effort to understand them.

Discussing the Democratic party’s troubles in winning the votes of working-class white voters, Obama told Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner that, “Part of it has to do with our inability, our failure, to reach those voters effectively. Part of it is Fox News in every bar and restaurant in big chunks of the country.”

Put aside the question of when Obama was last in a bar — how often have you encountered a bar or restaurant that displays Fox News for its patrons? Surely they exist, but they aren’t common — for a moment. When was the last time Obama watched Fox News?

For the entirety of his presidency, Obama has described Fox as an alien force that exerts an unnatural and sinister level of influence on the public’s views.

In 2010, Obama contended that the channel was potentially destructive to the country’s interests, declaring that it has “a point of view that I disagree with. It’s a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world.” How many television channels does Obama think can affect America’s long-term growth?

In 2015, Obama suggested Fox News makes the American public seethe with resentment against poor people:

I think that the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving, got traction. And look, it’s still being propagated. I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant venue. . . . We’re going to have to change how our body politic thinks, which means we’re going to have to change how the media reports on these issues.

In April, he remarked that, “Republicans, they have their own TV station.”

Contemplate what President Obama must think about working-class white voters to conclude that their vote was determined, or at least significantly influenced, by what was on the television in their favorite bars and restaurants. It implies that if Rachel Maddow had been playing above the pool table or Golden Tee cabinet, Hillary Clinton and Congressional Democrats would have cruised to victory. What kind of fools does he take these voters for? Drones? Zombies? Empty-headed hicks, hypnotized en masse by Bill O’Reilly?

For all of his alleged great insight and empathy, Obama never understood, and never really cared enough to understand, his critics. Contempt and condescension were not difficult to sense. In 2008, he famously described rural and Midwestern working-class voters as “cling[ing] to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment” because they were “bitter.”  

In David Mendell’s Obama: From Promise to Power, published in 2008, there’s a moment that reveals the psychological source of such contempt:

“[Obama] always talked about the New Rochelle train, the trains that took commuters to and from New York City, and he didn’t want to be on one of those trains every day,” said Jerry Kellman, the community organizer who enticed Obama to Chicago from his Manhattan office job. “The image of a life, not a dynamic life, of going through the motions… that was scary to him.”

Within a few months, Obama will have plenty of time to wonder why, if he did such a good job as president, those poor souls sentenced to endure the hellish fate of a “not dynamic” life turned to Donald Trump, with his unorthodox style and his apocalyptic assessment of the country, in November. Perhaps he’ll do so over a beer at his favorite watering hole. One imagines the bartender would give him control of the remote.

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