Jonah Goldberg

Barack Obama is finally coming into focus.

For a while now, the Obamaphiles have insisted that their candidate represents a profound break with the past. No more culture wars. No more "re-litigating the 1960s," in Obama's own words.

But what about re-litigating the 1980s?

There's always been a certain cultural lag time to Barack and Michelle Obama, a kitschiness that's hard to pinpoint. But I think I've got it: They're self-hating yuppies straight out of the 1980s, which were to the Obamas what the 1960s were to the Clintons.

For those too young to remember, "yuppie" was shorthand for young urban professionals - think Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton in the TV series "Family Ties" - who allegedly represented the collapse of '60s values and the triumph of '80s greed. Yuppies sold their souls for a BMW and a condo.

Ironically, the biggest complaints about yuppie materialism came from self-loathing liberal yuppies - like the Obamas.

The Obamas still seem stuck in that time warp, clinging to '80s-style resentments and political assumptions. Michelle Obama is never so eloquent as when she's complaining about the burden of student loans for her two Ivy League degrees and covering the high cost of summer camp and piano lessons for her kids on her family's half-million-dollars-a-year income.

"Don't go into corporate America," she exhorted low-income working mothers in Ohio in February, even though she is a highly compensated hospital executive. She admits to being consumed with "a constant sense of guilt" over having to balance work, politics and family. "It's guilt, feeling guilty all the time."

It's telling that for the Clintons, JFK defined politics, but for Obama, Ronald Reagan is the role model. Last year, Obama admitted to admiring the Gipper's "transformative" leadership (though not his policies). Indeed, not only did Reagan restore confidence in the nation while reducing confidence in government, he put a stake in the heart of the "Vietnam syndrome" and the blame-America-first ethos of the Democratic Party. The Reagan Revolution moved the country durably to the right - so much so that even Democrats saw the writing on the wall. Obama wants to erase that writing.

As countless commentators have chronicled, Bill Clinton's 1992 victory stemmed from the fact that he was a "different kind of Democrat" - that is, one who understood the lessons of Reaganism, or at least claimed to, and rejected the "brain-dead policies" of the old Democratic Party. He was a pro-death-penalty free-trader who oversaw the triumph of the Reaganite welfare reform.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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