Last Tuesday night on Charlie Rose, Jacob Weisberg offered grim insight re Obama. He said that Hillary had just done to Obama what Republicans do to Democratic presidential candidates in the general election: portrayed him as elitist and out of touch. This was more damaging to Obama than the 3 a.m. phone call or the Rev. Wright stuff, for it undermines his ability to lead ordinary people and is reminiscent of what the Republicans did to John Kerry and Michael Dukakis. Only this time it’s been done by a Democrat in the spring, and the Republicans need only refine the tactic through the fall to knock Obama down.
It’s a good insight, but needs to be countered.
1, It’s not true. Obama is clearly from an elite background but he’s not elitist. This distinction is everything. He has anger and passion in him and has thrived politically by taking on the interests of people far less fortunate than he is. There is a great tradition of this in American politics, JFK, FDR, even RWR, another detached type.
2, To the extent it is true, Obama is changing. As Charles Keating has observed, Obama’s first book was all about blackness and then he condescended to poor whites in his San Francisco speech about "bitter" clingers. This is not dispositive. Obama is all about growth, development. He comes from a narrow subculture and is bound to expand to a larger definition of American, is doing so by the day. (And as Weisberg noted, he was probably "pandering" to his San Francisco elitist audience that day, saying what they wanted to hear.)
3. Chi– that’s the New Age word for life force. Obama isn’t prone to self-pity. He’s like JFK, FDR and RWR that way, a big spirit, and like all of them, he’s suffered and is tough. (Time to show it!) Kerry and Dukakis were far more limited personalities. George McGovern says the same thing of his appeal vs. Obama’s–I didn’t have his reach.
4. It’s April. There are six months to go. The narratives of Democratic
elections of the recent past won’t be the pattern this time
round. Historians say that one thing history teaches is that historical analogy is never predictive. Obama is protean, Hillary is teaching him how to fight.