Jonah Goldberg

Another example of a tactic masquerading as a principle is contemporary liberalism's fixation with the idea that the working and middle class should "vote their interests," by which they mean vote for the most government goodies. This was the point of Obama's "bitter" and "clinging" comments last summer. Those poor deluded souls in western Pennsylvania don't understand that their real interests lie with Obama's economic agenda.

For all the liberal protests claiming that Obama's "bitter" comments were misunderstood, his remarks were, in fact, mainstream on the left. For instance, Thomas Frank, something of a guru to angry liberals, wrote in his book "What's the Matter with Kansas?" that, "People getting their fundamental interests wrong is what American political life is all about. This species of derangement is the bedrock of our civic order; it is the foundation on which all else rests." And, he added at great length, it is the reason so many deluded working- and middle-class Americans vote Republican (or at least why so many did when Frank wrote his book).

This has always struck me as hypocritical, pernicious lunacy. Legitimate election issues are those issues voters decide are legitimate. Americans who cling to religion and guns don't do so out of bitterness, but because they consider such things central to their understanding of the good life and resent what they perceive as hostility to their lifestyle from their own government. And no liberal opposes voting on values issues -- including gay rights -- when they think they're right or if they believe it helps get liberals elected. Liberals denounce rich people who vote their interests as "greedy" and celebrate limousine liberals who vote against their own interests as heroes. And at least some of the folks who voted for Obama did so not because of their pocketbooks, but because of the symbolism inherent to Obama's candidacy.

Regardless, Obama clearly succeeded in convincing enough Americans that a vote for him was in their interest. But he was incapable of convincing even his biggest supporters to vote their interests as he defined them and nothing else. That's because Americans are defined by more than their paychecks, a fact I expect Barack Obama will come to appreciate more and more in the days ahead.

Jonah Goldberg

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