Entry from August 31, 2010

Once again, as he did with the Ground Zero Mosque (or non-Ground Zero non-Mosque, as its apologists are all now careful to put it), President Obama continues to show what a political tin ear he has. Glenn Beck comes to town with hundreds of thousands of supporters in the name of “Restoring Honor” and the President goes into full “clinging to their guns and religion” mode. Who can be against “Restoring Honor”? you might ask. He is, apparently. Or rather, in conversation with Brian Williams, he once again chooses to play the intellectual, rather than an American leader, by telling his sycophantic interlocutor that the Beckites who had descended on Washington didn’t really care about honor or religion or patriotism as, simpletons that they are, they thought they did. No, their real concern was with what he has been spending his time on these last 19 months: health care, the regulation of financial markets and the fact that, as he (incredibly) put it, “we”ve slipped in terms of the number of college graduates.”

So, given all those anxieties — and given the fact that, you know, in none of these situations are you going to be fix things overnight. It’s not surprising that somebody like a Mr. Beck is able to stir up a certain portion of the country.

How to explain such pluperfect block-headedness? Even if he really believes anything so preposterous — as many in his prime constituency of academia no doubt do believe it — why would he say it publicly and so reinforce the impression he already gives of being haughty and superior, vain of his reputation for intelligence and out of touch with the feelings of ordinary people? Can he not see how condescending comments like this are?

I think the answer must be, no he can’t. But the problem is not unique to him. It seems to be something in the DNA of the post-Vietnam Democratic Party. Cast your mind back to the Democratic presidents and candidates for president — the fact that there are many more of the latter than the former is not insignificant — of the last 40 years and you observe a remarkable pattern. All of them, with the exception of Bill Clinton — who is also not insignificantly the most electorally successful of them — were guilty of the same kind of intellectual snobbery. All of them welcomed and cultivated a reputation for being intellectuals themselves and for associating with intellectuals and technocrats — people, that is, who were supposed to know better what was good for us than we knew ourselves. President Clinton did too but, alone among his party’s standard-bearers, he managed to keep the eggheads at arms length, at least most of the time. There were a few slips, but he rarely allowed people, including people he disagreed with, to feel that he thought himself smarter than they were, even if he did.

But just look at the others: George McGovern, leading his anti-war students and professors and his hippie cohorts to a crushing defeat; Jimmy Carter the “nuclear engineer” who concerned himself with allocating time on the White House tennis court and thought that the American people who had grown disenchanted with him must be suffering from a malaise; Walter Mondale with his contempt for Reagan’s intelligence; Michael Dukakis with his ostentatious wonkery and apparent inability to feel anything about the speculative rape and murder of his wife; Al Gore with his deep sighs and the slow-speaking manner of a first grade teacher and, finally, the haughty, French-looking John Kerry who made the mistake of believing his own propaganda about President Bush’s stupidity — all were precursors of the Obama style and the Obama blindness to how unattractively that air of superiority comes across to the average voter. And the only one of them ever to be elected president wore his religion on his sleeve like Glenn Beck!

The fact that Mr Beck declared his rally to be non-political should have been taken as an invitation. The President should have called his bluff and offered to speak to the ralliers himself. He’s in favor of honor too! And patriotism! And sincere religious belief! Even if it were not true — as one increasingly suspects it is not — it would have defused the whole issue and denied the other side a propaganda victory. By the same token, a quiet word to the effect that he would prefer the 9/11 mosque not to be built, like 70 per cent of the American people, would have cost him nothing and created much-needed goodwill among those who are too-much disposed already to think he cares more about foreigners — and even native-born Muslims still seem like foreigners to most Americans — than he does about his fellow-countrymen. Instead, he suffers the equally tone-deaf Hillary Clinton to complain to the United Nations Human Rights Council — the United Nations! — about the state of Arizona’s attempts to stem the tide of illegal immigration. If I were a Democratic political consultant I would be saying, as Casey Stengel did of the 1962 Mets, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

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