Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Live With The Elite, Die With The Elite

Sam Smith, The Progressive Review

Sure, Obama is an elitist. I thought it the first time I saw him. The tone, the dress, the moves, the constant pretense of being in deep thought, the patronizing explanation replacing impassioned argument. Another smart-ass from an Ivy League law school. The ones that talk grandly and carry a little feather. We've got a lot of them in Washington.

That's why many white liberals went for him. He was comfortably familiar in all but hue. They treat him like a prophet but in fact he's just another of the black ivies who are riding the political waves these days. For Obama and Patrick Deval it was Harvard, for Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia it was the Wharton School at Penn, for DC's Mayor Fenty is was Oberlin and for Newark's Cory Book it was Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. Not bad if you can't have a mother who was Irish or latino.

But it's not as politically wonderful as it seems to some. St. Barack still can't get comfortably past one of the sleaziest politicians in his party's modern history and shows up weakly in matches against a guy who hasn't done anything worth remembering since Vietnam. His purported magnificence somehow fails to make the same impression at the polls as it does at the rallies and fundraisers of the well committed.

That's not surprising but it's worth noting and suggests a bit more humility in the Obama camp wouldn't hurt.
Of course, humility is not highly valued there. After all, it takes something beyond ordinary self-confidence to move from state senator to presidential candidate without even finishing your freshman term in the Senate.

On the other hand, Obama's not a corrupt and conniving cad nor a decrepit warrior looking for another dogfight, so it looks like he's the best we're going to get.

And it's not totally his fault that he sees himself as God's gift to his party and his country. His elitism is not really the problem; it is the elitism of those who convinced him of this: the white liberals.

These are the people who couldn't stand John Edwards, the candidate who came closest to the New Deal and Great Society values of any Democratic leader in decades. But his policies didn't move them, only his accent and haircut.

This is not a new problem. I wrote about it almost two decades ago:

Today's liberals seem to lack a sense of politics as war, in which one constantly rearranges the order of battle to win one's ultimate objective. They see politics more as a secular form of religion in which success is judged not by societal change but by the rigor with which the faith is maintained. They are political fundamentalists and, like religious fundamentalists, as far removed from their liberal heritage as Pat Robertson is from Jesus.

As with the religious fundamentalists, the liberal true believers often miss the point. The canon becomes particularized and heavily a matter of style and form. They know how to speak like liberals to other liberals but not how to talk to the rest of the world.

The result is a strange distortion of liberal priorities. Gut issues of immense potential popularity such as health, housing, job creation and education are left by the wayside in favor of issues that, no matter how worthy they may be, are most likely to alienate liberalism from the largest number of Americans.

This then is Obama's problem now: not so much that he's an elitist but that he's surrounded by them, funded by them, guided by them - and for too long has been trying to imitate them. If Ed Rendell was not so foolishly infatuated with the latest pretender to the Bush-Clinton duopoly, he might take Obama aside and give him a few lessons in talking like a real person again. Look at what a good job Rendell is doing making Clinton sound like one.

But Obama doesn't seemed blessed by that sort of advice. Both his white liberal and black constituencies love him too much for getting this far and wouldn't think of suggesting that he dismount his great stallion and reach out beyond the Ebenezer Baptist - Harvard Law axis to people who are seeking something more.

It wouldn't be hard. He could join a majority of doctors in this country and support single payer health insurance. He could go after usurious interest rates. He could propose a housing policy in which the government become equity partners with less wealthy homebuyers and recovered its share at sale.

Hell, he could take just one position without a dozen conditions and it would probably help.

But instead, it looks like he will continue to be the man his fans adore and the rest can't quite figure out.

That's not the best way to win an election.

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