Paul Greenberg

Rarely does a single remark in the news, whether from politician or pundit, sum up the attitude of a whole class, in this case our betters. Call them the elite, the anointed, the ruling class -- if we would only recognize their superior insight and follow their lead. For they know us better than we know ourselves, at least to hear them tell it. And they do keep trying to tell us. At length. They seem intent on explaining our mysterious refusal to follow their enlightened leadership. But how sum up their whole worldview in a single quote?

It can be done. Just such a remark came in the 2008 presidential campaign, when Barack Obama, one of our elite if there ever was one, was talking confidentially -- how was he to know he was being recorded? -- at a fundraiser in, of course, San Francisco. Explaining why he was meeting such resistance when he ventured into the American heartland, he offered his supporters this little gem of socio-economic insight:

"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Any coincidence between this oh-so-deep psychoanalysis and reality is of course purely coincidental. It's the sort of thing you hear from cocktail-party types who are always trying to explain how best to appeal to "ordinary Americans." You know, the hoi polloi, the masses, the rednecks -- those poor benighted bigots. The kind of rubes who actually like America. And who can look at it without realizing it's just a vast collection of wrongs that need to be righted. Poor hicks, they're really more to be pitied than scorned.

Those who offer such analyses don't seem to realize that there's no such thing as an ordinary American. For each of us has his -- or her -- own eccentricities. Along with the experiences that shaped them. And it's our delight to fool the kind of pols and pollsters who think they've got us figured. The only sure thing you can count on from "ordinary" Americans is that they'll surprise our oh-so-sophisticated analysts every time.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.