Barack to Rural Voters: I Can't Believe in You

Mary Katharine Ham
|
Posted: Apr 15, 2008 1:44 PM

I've got a column up on the "bitter" brouhaha. In 2004, when desperate liberal Democrats were trying to figure out how the defeat at the hands of Bushitler could possibly have happened again, they chose the wrong political pied piper to lead them: Thomas Frank of "What's the Matter With Kansas?" over Mudcat Saunders of Mark Warner's gubernatorial campaign:
The fact that liberals chose Frank’s handbook for condescension over Mudcat’s more constructive message is telling. It’s a proposal for a fundamental shift in American politics—from a center-right nation to a center-left one—without any movement required on the part of the Democratic Party. It’s a plan built on wooing rural voters by first questioning their sanity, motives, and moral fiber.

To many liberals, views as detestable as conservative ones cannot be explained by anything other than mental illness and ill will, false motives and false consciousness. The “Blame America first” crowd became the “Blame the voter first” crowd, and the relatively sanguine results of 2006 seemed to validate their theory. It’s a political strategy without personal responsibility born of a political philosophy that eschews the same value, and it was always destined to fail.

Obama’s comments about small-town America, delivered to a group of rich liberal donors in San Francisco, were the utterly unsurprising culmination of a electoral plan built on disrespecting the very voters needed for election.

This was not the beginning of liberal snobbery, of course. George Will walks us down the path from Adlai Stevenson to the Obamas:

When a supporter told Adlai Stevenson, the losing Democratic presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956, that thinking people supported him, Stevenson said, "Yes, but I need to win a majority." When another supporter told Stevenson, "You educated the people through your campaign," Stevenson replied, "But a lot of people flunked the course." Michael Barone, in "Our Country: The Shaping of America From Roosevelt to Reagan," wrote: "It is unthinkable that Roosevelt would ever have said those things or that such thoughts ever would have crossed his mind." Barone added: "Stevenson was the first leading Democratic politician to become a critic rather than a celebrator of middle-class American culture -- the prototype of the liberal Democrat who would judge ordinary Americans by an abstract standard and find them wanting."

Stevenson, like Obama, energized young, educated professionals for whom, Barone wrote, "what was attractive was not his platform but his attitude." They sought from Stevenson "not so much changes in public policy as validation of their own cultural stance." They especially rejected "American exceptionalism, the notion that the United States was specially good and decent," rather than -- in Michelle Obama's words -- "just downright mean."

The emblematic book of the new liberalism was "The Affluent Society" by Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith. He argued that the power of advertising to manipulate the bovine public is so powerful that the law of supply and demand has been vitiated. Manufacturers can manufacture in the American herd whatever demand the manufacturers want to supply. 

And, dang right, McCain better push this through November. Obama was being perfectly authentic when he spoke his now famous words. Too bad authentic liberalism never wins elections.

Update:  From Obama himself: "You know whose fault this whole controversy is? The voters'!" (emphasis mine)
"I know that there's been a lot of fuss over the last couple of days because I said that people were bitter," he said in addressing the Buildings and Trade Unions Conference this morning. "People seemed to misunderstand what that means."