Several readers have written to say I’m missing the point. Obama’s making the case that McCain is out of touch with the working man. Others say I’m missing the point because McCain’s policies are bad for the working man. The upshot of a lot of this is that it’s okay if you’re rich so long as you support liberal economic policies. This is a very old argument. TR and FDR were both “traitors to their class” and all that.
However, having now read the excerpt of Obama’s comments and watching the ad, I agree that he might get better traction than I suggested for the “out of touch” stuff. Such attacks worked a bit against the first President Bush. But that’s a slightly different argument than what I’m getting from a lot of liberal readers. My point is that wealth – i.e. being a member of the economic elite – doesn’t hurt you politically the same way that being a perceived member of a the cultural elite does. There was a time when there really was a rightwing cultural elite that could be described as “the rich.” The old money crowd of blue bloods, fat cats and the like had a powerful cultural presence, often fueled by anti-British sentiment. But those days are largely over, thanks largely to the democraticization of wealth and also in part to the cultural implosion of the old aristocracy of wealth. Old money foundations – and lots of old money rich people – are culturally liberal today. The remaining nominally conservative old guard has no real presence in the culture save perhaps as clichés in novels, TV shows and, of course, in the liberal press. So when liberal politicians attack “the rich” as culturally alien, it really doesn’t work the way they think it should. Which rich? The Kennedys? The Kerrys? George Soros? Warren Buffet? Hollywood producers and directors? Manhattanites?
Marxists may think that “the rich” are a single class who act cohesively and in concert to protect their interests, but Marxists are wrong and Americans don’t think like Marxists.
Indeed, what I reject and what I think McCain should reject, is the idea that more socialized medicine, more anti-growth policies and more protectionism make Obama better for the middle class. Maybe McCain is out of touch, but so is Obama who’s bitterly clinging to ideas he formed in leftwing academic environments. The question is who is right, and I think McCain can win that argument.
Last, Obama is more vulnerable on this stuff than he thinks. Not only because of Rezko but because of Jim Johnson, his former go-to-guy on veeps who was instrumental to the mortgage crisis we have today as Chairman of Fannie Mae. McCain’s claims to be a reformer – despite his wealth – can withstand scrutiny because he’s actually done things. Obama’s claims of being a reformer (and a different kind of politician) rely almost entirely on his word, because he’s done very little. By opening up this whole house thing, he may be opening himself up to a whole new line of attack.