Saturday, February 09, 2008


Not only are Republicans gradually falling into line behind John McCain, they're gradually backing away from Barack Obama -- right on schedule, as he inches closer to possibly winning the Democratic nomination, or at least a spot on the ticket. Yesterday,David Brooks fit Obama into some old familiar right-wing pigeonholes for Democrats, in a column structured as a mock conversation with "Dr. Retail." Dr. Retail tells us that Obama and Hillary Clinton are products, and Obama is a frou-frou product:

...Listen, the essential competition in many consumer sectors is between commodity providers and experience providers, the companies that just deliver product and the companies that deliver a sensation, too. There's Safeway, and then there is Whole Foods. There's the PC, and then there's the Mac. There are Holiday Inns, and there are W Hotels. There's Walgreens, and there's The Body Shop.

Hillary Clinton is a classic commodity provider. She caters to the less-educated, less-pretentious consumer. As Ron Brownstein of The National Journal pointed out on Wednesday, she won the non-college-educated voters by 22 points in California, 32 points in Massachusetts and 54 points in Arkansas. She offers voters no frills, just commodities: tax credits, federal subsidies and scholarships. She's got good programs at good prices.

Barack Obama is an experience provider. He attracts the educated consumer. In the last Pew Research national survey, he led among people with college degrees by 22 points. Educated people get all emotional when they shop and vote. They want an uplifting experience so they can persuade themselves that they're not engaging in a grubby self-interested transaction. They fall for all that zero-carbon footprint, locally grown, community-enhancing Third Place hype. They want cultural signifiers that enrich their lives with meaning.

"Educated people get all emotional when they shop and vote." This is where Brooks's seemingly genial pop sociology turns nasty and Maureen Dowd-like. Brooks isn't wrong when he says that a lot of well-educated people want socially responsible products. But the phrase "all emotional" takes the argument to a different place: Upscale consumers are just silly girls.

Of course, this is nonsense -- everyone, or at least everyone in America, gets "all emotional" while doing at least some kinds of shopping. Tell me that the (mostly) boys and men lining up for the latest game console are just there out of a grim sense of obligation. Tell me that people without a lot of money don't savor finding what they want at bargain prices. Hell, I bet even jes'-folks Mike Huckabee feels his heart racing when he walks into a first-rate guitar shop.

But Brooks wants to send the message that Obama voters are frivolous little flibbertigibbets. And that's one way the right is going to try to beat Obama -- by going after his voters.

Even with Obama's Ivy League background, it's going to be hard attacking him the way George H.W. Bush shamelessly attacked Michael Dukakis -- by saying his ideas were "born in Harvard Yard's boutique." Obama's life story is too well known. So the alternative will be to update the dirty-60s-hippie stereotype, and turn into a post-hippie stereotype -- effeminate, self-involved, metrosexual, elitist.

The alternative, of course, is a Real Man.

Enter John McCain.


(Another name for the alternative, by the way, is "retrosexual." Go read "The Retrosexual Code," which just happens to have been posted at Free Republic yesterday, if you want to see precisely what they're going to say Obamaites aren't.

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