Condescending -- But Hardly Alone

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Apr 14, 2008 3:44 PM

Howard Kurtz argues in Obama's defense that he's hardly alone (in Democrat circles, that is) in his views about the people in small towns -- and that "journalists should try to paint a full picture here."  Kurtz writes:

[M]ost people (and most journalists) know what he was trying to say. Not that small-towners are gun nuts. Or religious nuts, not from a regular churchgoer. Obama was trying to say that these folks voted on social issues, distracting wedge issues, when their real problem was economic.

He goes on to note that  Bill Clinton made comments "with the same intent" in 1991.  

I admire Howard Kurtz's work a great deal.  But I disagree with his argument here.  

Back during the Wright controversy, I argued that Barack's experience at Ivy League universities  inoculated him from shock at his pastor's more radical comments.  Here, similarly, Barack wasn't voicing any attitudes at his San Francisco fundraiser that aren't commonly encountered on the campuses of America's most elite universities.

A lot of the supposedly "best and brightest" truly don't have a clue about middle America.  As a freshman at Princeton in 1985, as a joke, I had half a dining hall's tqble worth of classmates actually believing that, as a resident of suburban St. Louis, I had been accustomed to slopping the pigs and gathering eggs for breakfast every morning before school.   Put it this way . . . my fables got pretty outlandish before anybody caught on.

The politics and values of flyover country enjoy about the same level of familiarity among many of the educated elites on the coasts.  Only three years later, a fellow editor on The Daily Princetonian, from New York, confided to me -- in what was supposed to be a compliment -- that he hadn't before realized that there were "any educated Republicans."  He was 21 when he had this epiphany.

Many (if not most) of those at Harvard Law School weren't any more clued in.  A female classmate of mine, from Texas, once mentioned to me in passing that she was often treated there like a dumb hick because of her drawl and her more traditionalist views (she was anything but dumb, by the way, and recently became a judge on a U.S. circuit court of appeals).

The point is that no one necessarily thinks Barack was trying to be mean about small town people -- he's just expressing some prejudices that are remarkably common in the circles he comes from.

But even to concede Howard Kurtz's point and agree that Barack was simply arguing that small town people aren't voting in their own best interests -- well, isn't that condescending, too?  Doesn't that imply that someone believes these people are too dumb to know what's really good for them?

And isn't it possible -- just possible -- that some Americans hold their social views very dear, and are willing to forgo the opportunity to vote for more government goodies because of their other beliefs?

After all, even if they vote against (what some consider to be) their economic self interest in order to promote their social views, isn't that what rich "tax me" liberals (like Kennedy, Kerry, and the Clintons, for that matter) do routinely? 

Or is it "principled" when rich social liberals do it, and "stupid" when poor social conservatives do?