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Obama the Snob Talking Point Returns for Midterms

October 22, 2010

During the 2008, the campaign of multimillionaire and multiple home owner John McCain tried and failed to paint Barack Obama as "elitist" and "out of touch." But now that moribund Democrats are showing some signs of life as Election Day nears, the right-wing Obama as Snob meme is back with a vengeance.
Over just the past three days, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson ("Obama the Snob") and former psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer ("Obama Underappreciation Syndrome") have taken to the pages of the Washington Post to decry the President's "liberal psychology" and "neocortical" leadership. And as it turns out, Gerson and Krauthammer point to the same Obama statement about what they deemed the "primitive irrationality" of the "American peasantry."

"Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now," he recently told a group of Democratic donors in Massachusetts, "and facts and science and argument [do] not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we're hard-wired not to always think clearly when we're scared. And the country is scared."

Returning to Obama's infamous "guns and bitter" remark from 2008, Gerson concluded of the President, "Interpreting Obama does not require psychoanalysis or the reading of mystic Chicago runes. He is an intellectual snob." For his part, Krauthammer declared, "The peasants have seen the future -- Greece and France -- and concluded that it does not work."

No fanciful new syndromes or other elaborate fictions are required to understand that if you try to impose a liberal agenda on such a demonstrably center-right country -- a country that is 80 percent non-liberal -- you get a massive backlash.

Of course, there is only problem with the armchair analyses from conservatives like Krauthammer and Gerson: Hard-wiring aside, President Obama is undoubtedly right that "facts and science and argument [do] not seem to be winning the day."
And that reign of error, that triumph of know-nothingness is the defining achievement of the furious Tea Party movement and its willing media accomplices.
Never has a modern political movement been so utterly wrong on simple matters of fact. After all, majorities of the Tea Party faithful doubt Barack Obama was born in the United States and up to a third wrongly believe he's a secret Muslim. The Tea Baggers' refrain of "keep your government hands off my Medicare" only makes sense if you believe, as 59% of self-identified conservatives and 62% of McCain voters do, that the program that provides health care for 46 million American seniors is not in fact run by the federal government. It's no wonder three in 10 of the elderly still believe what PolitiFact deemed the 2009 Lie of the Year, government "death panels."
Then there are the Tea Party's cognitive problems when it comes to basic math. In the telling of the Tea Party faithful and their media echo chamber, the 70,000 marchers at their 2009 "9/12" event in Washington became an army of 2,000,000. As political statistician extraordinaire Nate Silver diagnosed this case of wishful thinking in a piece aptly titled "Size Matters; So Do Lies":

The way this false estimate came into being is relatively simple: Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, lied, claiming that ABC News had reported numbers of between 1.0 and 1.5 million when they never did anything of the sort. A few tweets later, the numbers had been exaggerated still further to 2 million. Kibbe wasn't "in error", as Malkin gently puts it. He lied. He did the equivalent of telling people that his penis is 53 inches long.

(As the Washington Post noted in its report on the One Nation march, Glenn Beck put the tally for his August "Restoring Honor" rally at 500,000 people, over five times the low-end estimate of 87,000.)
But the Tea Party's war on numbers isn't merely self-delusional; it threatens financial ruin for the country. Conveniently ignoring that Ronald Reagan doubled the national debt and George W. Bush doubled it again, the Tea Party Contract from America demands both that the Bush tax cuts be made permanent and a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. These posing deficit hawks like Rand Paul ("I'm not seeing it as a cost to government") play dumb about the Bush tax cut windfall for the wealthy accounting for half the debt added during Dubya's tenure and, if made permanent, contributing more to the U.S. budget deficit than the Obama stimulus, the TARP program, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and revenue lost to the recession combined. And while they are only too happy to back another $700 billion, 10-year payday for the richest 2% of Americans, the same frothing at the mouth Tea Partiers furious about "no taxation without representation" don't know that President Obama cut their taxes. As CBS noted:

Of people who support the grassroots, "Tea Party" movement, only 2 percent think taxes have been decreased, 46 percent say taxes are the same, and a whopping 44 percent say they believe taxes have gone up.

As former Reagan Treasury official Bruce Bartlett lamented, "For an antitax group, they don't know much about taxes."
Or virtually anything else.
And that, to quote Krauthammer, is what is known as "empirical reality."
Also writing in the Washington Post, Katrina Vanden Heuvel acknowledged that "Gerson is on target when he writes that snobbery isn't exactly the best way to court voters, let alone ideological opponents." Of course, that never posed a problem for George W. Bush.
Candidate Bush described his supporters this way the October 2000 Al Smith dinner:

"This is an impressive crowd - the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elites; I call you my base."

As President, Bush justified his upper-class tax cuts, arguing in 2004, "The really rich people figure out how to dodge taxes anyway." And while pitching his Social Security privatization scheme in February 2005, President Bush told a 57 year-old woman who described working three jobs to make ends meet that her story was "uniquely American" and "fantastic." Now, on the eve of Election Day and one day after the Wall Street Journal reported the massive benefits cuts the GOP privatization scheme would entail for retirees, George W. Bush emerged from hiding to announce that "sees not reforming Social Security as his greatest failure from the eight years he served in the White House."
As for the likes of Krauthammer, Gerson and their amen corner on the right, they will continue to snipe at Obama the "blinkered intellectual" and his "pseudo-science." But their mythmaking notwithstanding, explaining that facts are not winning the day isn't elitism.
It's called telling the truth.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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