Last week’s discussion of America’s perception of itself as a meritocracy, and whether Obama’s election helped spur more envy and appetite for scapegoats, prompted Jeff Dobbs to remind me of this observation from 2008:
In the fallout over his remarks about small town Pennsylvanians, Obama challenges the notion that he is elitist:
“I am amused about this notion of elitist, given that when you’re raised by a single mom, when you were on food stamps for a while when you were growing up, you went to school on scholarship,” he told a town hall meeting of U.S. military veterans in western Pennsylvania. […]
“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.
I think it all makes sense.
No matter their actual economic station in life, the Obamas perceive themselves as being lower than they deserve. If they are making a quarter of a million dollars in 2001, they have crushing student loan burdens. If they are living in a three bedroom condo in Chicago, they don’t have a garage. If they are getting over a million dollars in book royalties, Michelle complains about the struggles of making due on $10,000 a year for extracurricular activities for their kids.
So when Obama says that folks in small town Pennsylvania have become bitter, clinging, among other things, to religion and antipathy for those not like them – what we may be seeing is projection.
There is a remarkable capacity for self pity in this administration. I’m thinking of remarks like this:
Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.
It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”
Maybe he watched too many episodes of “24″ or “The West Wing,” but President Obama complained last night about the phones in the Oval Office, portraying them as antiquated technology.
“I always thought I was gonna have like really cool phones and stuff,” he said during a Q&A session with contributors to his re-election campaign.
“We can’t get our phones to work.” Acting out his exasperation, he said: “Come on, guys. I’m the president of the United States! Where’s the fancy buttons and stuff and the big screen comes up? It doesn’t happen.”
He said the White House is “like 30 years behind” when it comes to technology.
“Our IT purchasing is horrible,” said the president referring to Information Technology throughout the government.
“I just miss – I miss being anonymous,” he said at the meeting in the White House. “I miss Saturday morning, rolling out of bed, not shaving, getting into my car with my girls, driving to the supermarket, squeezing the fruit, getting my car washed, taking walks. I can’t take a walk.”
If you look around your life, looking for signs that you are blessed and unimaginably lucky, you will find those signs. If you look around your life, looking for signs that you have drawn the short end of the stick, that you’re being unfairly denied, that forces are conspiring against you, and that you always have it rougher than everyone else – well, chances are, you’ll be able to find those signs, too.
UPDATE: Campaign Spot reader Fritz observes, “The revealing thing about the t-shirt anecdote is that Obama’s and Emanuel’s idea of stress reduction is that other people should have no choices.”