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.
This election year the telling quote that reveals our wannabe intelligentsia in all its condescension comes from, of course, a newspaper columnist -- Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, who has laid it all out for us simpler types:
"According to polls, Americans are in a mood to hold their breath until they turn blue. Voters appear to be so fed up with the Democrats that they're ready to toss them out in favor of the Republicans -- for whom, according to those same polls, the nation has even greater contempt. This isn't an electoral wave, it's a temper tantrum. ... But there's no mistaking the public mood, and the truth is that it makes no sense. In the punditry business, it's considered bad form to question the essential wisdom of the American people. But at this point, it's impossible to ignore the obvious: The American people are acting like a bunch of spoiled brats."
There. That's telling us. As if there were no good reason for We the People to be disgusted with both parties now that each has had its turn at power, and each has done as dismally as the other.
To some, the public's bipartisan reaction (a plague on both your houses!) might seem perfectly understandable. But to distinguished commentators like Mr. Robinson -- who writes from Washington, naturally -- it's not the politicos who have failed but the people. Here's hoping he feels better now that he's got all that out of his system.
Eugene Robinson's astute analysis of the American mood in 2010 brings to mind the fabled East European parliament that, realizing it had lost popular favor but unwilling to dissolve itself and call new elections, resolved instead to dissolve the people.
In just a few words, this columnist has revealed the true contempt that our leading gliberals have for The People whose true interests they're so sure they're serving.
It's an attitude frequently encountered among those whose only answer to all the assorted grievances aired at tea party rallies is to sneer. It's an attitude that wasn't unknown among Tories toward the first tea party in 1773: Why, those people are incapable of governing themselves. They have no respect for their betters, that rabble. It seems they're angry about taxes and growing government regulation, and they're not taking it any more. In short, they just don't understand what's best for them.
It was the rare member of the British parliament of the time, like Edmund Burke, who could see that "a great empire and little minds go ill together," to quote his prescient address, "On Conciliation With America." Today a great republic goes together no better with minds so small they dismiss any criticism from the people as a temper tantrum.
As the midterm elections approach like a freight train gathering momentum, the leaders of both parties, not to mention us all-knowing columnists, would do well to explore a little conciliation with America ourselves.