Saturday, July 31, 2010


Yesterday, in response to Paul Krugman's column about President Obama's maddening tendency to stroke enemies and rebuff friends, there was this post at Prairie Weather:

Dealing with the brat in the White House

... Bill Clinton, said to be dealing with the psychological damage of growing up in an alcoholic family, spent his presidency testing the limits of others' tolerance. Barack Obama, without the same excuse, seems inclined to tease, test, and often blow off those who believe in and support him....

Just to be clear, progressives would be foolish to sit out this election: Mr. Obama may not be the politician of their dreams, but his enemies are definitely the stuff of their nightmares. But Mr. Obama has a responsibility, too. He can't expect strong support from people his administration keeps ignoring and insulting.

As Paul Krugman says, the Obama administration seems determined to alienate us, but we'd be stupid to stay home in November.

I'd rather we take the brat in the White House in hand and makes sure he works with us, not against us.

I understand (and share) the frustration, but does it really make sense to call Obama a "brat"? It seems to me that, if anything, he's the exact opposite of a brat -- he's being excessively deferential to the powers that be. However, if you see the progressive voters who supported him and the progressive campaign volunteers who helped get him elected as his parents, I suppose you can call him a brat.

But I'd say that's not quite right.

Think of Barack Obama as someone who, for a while, never had a secure home. He bounced around and eventually was taken in by foster parents who were poor but honest. They worked and struggled -- and he thrived. Eventually he was able to go to a posh prep school, and then a posh university.

Those foster parents would be traditional Democrats. And now Obama has made it to the Senate and the White House. He's at the center of power. And what happens?

Back from his posh university, he acts as if he's embarrassed by his foster parents. They don't know how to dress, how to talk, what fork to use. Now he has posh friends -- and they seem to know precisely what to do at all times. In fact, because they're posh, whatever they do is, by definition, regarded as the right thing to do.

So he emulates them, and he feels uncomfortable in the presence of his poor but honest parents. It's not because he's being a brat, exactly. It's because he's developed too much faith in the notion that his posh friends are always right, because his posh friends are certain that they themselves are always right, and the bigger world tends to agree with them.

If he were FDR, if he'd grown up among these swells, he'd know when they were full of it. But he didn't, so he doesn't.


See also Frank Rich reviewing Jonathan Alter's Obama book The Promise in The New York Review of Books:

[Obama] is simply too infatuated with the virtues of the American meritocracy that helped facilitate his own rise. "Obama's faith lay in cream rising to the top," Alter writes. "Because he himself was a product of the great American postwar meritocracy, he could never fully escape seeing the world from the status ladder he had ascended." This led Obama to hire "broad-gauged, integrative thinkers who could both absorb huge loads of complex material and apply it practically and lucidly without resorting to off-putting jargon" -- and well, why not? Alter adds:

Almost all had advanced degrees from Ivy League schools, proof that they had aced standardized tests and knew the shortcuts to success exploited by American elites. A few were bombastic, but most had learned to cover their faith in their own powers of analysis with a thin veneer of humility; it made their arguments more effective. But their faith in the power of analysis remained unshaken.

... he suffers from a cultural class myopia. He's a patsy for "glittering institutions that signified great achievement for a certain class of ambitious Americans."


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