I've been cheering for Barack Obama in his Democratic war with Hillary Clinton for both positive and negative reasons. Positive: He's a terrific talker, he didn't seem antagonistic toward Christianity, and we could use a president who inspires college students and twentysomethings not to be so cynical. Negative: A been-there, done-that feeling concerning the Clintons.
But now I have that déjà vu sense concerning Obama as well. For 25 years I've taught at the University of Texas and seen the arrogance of academia and the belittling of the purportedly benighted masses. Obama's San Francisco comment about small-town (and small-minded) people clinging to religion out of bitterness does not indicate any change from standard-issue college liberal thought—or from the attitudes of most Democratic nominees since 1972.
Obama has publicly regretted his wording—"I didn't say it as well as I could have"—while standing by the substance of his indictment of non-Obama America. As a result the picture is becoming clearer. Pieces of the puzzle include the Rev. Wright's jeremiads about "the U.S. of K.K.K.," Michelle Obama's critique of a broken-souled, "just downright mean" America, and Obama's voting record that, according to National Journal, shows him to be the furthest to the left among 100 U.S. senators.
I originally thought (or hoped) that Obama had something new to say, but all he is offering are imprecations familiar on any major college campus. He is channeling Herbert Marcuse, who saw Americans in the throes of "false consciousness"; John Kenneth Galbraith, who saw middle-class Americans as preyed upon by corporate advertising; and historian Richard Hofstadter, who saw non-liberals as paranoid.
Obama is also emerging as a more eloquent version of four recent Democratic presidential candidates—Mondale (1984), Dukakis (1988), Gore (2000), and Kerry (2004)—all of whom polled well early in their campaigns but faltered as they failed to understand and convey the truth that the United States is a country founded on ideals rather than tribal ethnicity or simple economic interests.
That idealism moves some millionaires to vote Democratic for environmental reasons and some poor folks to vote Republican for pro-life reasons. And those voters who do put economics first often think long-term. William McKinley beat William Jennings Bryan in 1896 and 1900 because many workers cared more about opportunity for their children than maximization of current income. George McGovern in 1972 was surprised to find the working poor opposing his guaranteed income proposal because they saw themselves as upwardly mobile and wanted others to compete as well.