Obama is getting flack from his own party for lacking the common touch, failing to connect with ordinary voters, and struggling to identify with Middle America. The mainstream media is baffled because, they say, he came from a middle-class background. What’s the problem? They are stumped.
Much of the problem is that his background isn’t so much middle class as it is academic. A large chunk of his adult life has been spent attending, teaching in, and living in close proximity to elite universities. The intellectual bent (e.g., disdainful of American exceptionalism, ignorant of the workings of free-market capitalism, infatuated with the public sector) and the posture (e.g., remote, condescending) of liberal academics are evident in Obama’s persona and governing style. And his saturation in Left-leaning elite schools certainly explain much of what ails him.
Jeffrey Anderson spots some evidence of this in Obama’s Super Bowl interview. Anderson recounts Obama’s explanation of the unwinding of his beloved health-care proposal:
Look, I would have loved nothing better than to simply come up with some very elegant, you know, academically approved approach to health care [that] didn’t have any kinds of legislative fingerprints on it, and just go ahead and have that passed. But that’s not how it works in our democracy. Unfortunately what we end up having to do is to do a lot of negotiations with a lot of different people.
Yes, all that grubby democracy and so much compromise are such annoyances. If only they would swallow his prescribed syllabus whole, we’d be able to move on to the next round. (Micromanaging all carbon emissions, perhaps.) Anderson comments:
Our democratic process, our separation of powers, and our federalist design frustrate Obama. But, far from being unfortunate, the negotiations and multiple levels of approval that they require, from a myriad of different citizens, is largely what secures our liberty — protecting it from those who would otherwise impose their own comprehensive goals from their lofty theoretical perches. The Founders were surely not Obama’s intellectual inferiors, but they were practical men. The Constitutional Convention was nothing if not high-level give-and-take, tinkering and refining. One imagines Obama showing up at Independence Hall with his own plan in hand (probably adapted from Rousseau’s in The Social Contract, with Obama cast in the role of the Legislator) and being surprised when the other delegates resisted his eloquence and, correspondingly, his proposal.
In Obama, that mindset is combined with a prickly personality unaccustomed to criticism. So we get the insular, defensive, and often down-right nasty reaction to criticism from mere citizens and from news or polling outfits who don’t properly reflect the wisdom that the Obami believe is emanating from the White House. We’ve see the smarter-and-holier-than-thou attitude in everything, from the lectures on race in Gatesgate to the demonization of attendees at town-hall meetings.
And, of course, academics don’t do that much but write, converse among themselves, and lecture to unappreciative undergraduates. They aren’t responsible for achieving much of anything. They aren’t obligated to conform their theories to the realities of the world. So too with Obama, we see that his preference for grandiose regulatory and health-care schemes lacks a basic understanding of how private industry operates. He seems oblivious to the incentives and disincentives that motivate employers. And in foreign policy as well, grand theories (e.g., Iran engagement, the effort to put “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel to promote the “peace process”) collide with reality, leaving the smart diplomats bruised and embarrassed (if they had enough self-awareness to be ashamed of their results).
The media was mesmerized by an elite-credentialed author and law professor who seemed so very cool and so intellectually compatible with themselves. But the Harvard Law Review and Con Law 101 don’t prepare one for the presidency. Indeed, it turns out that those who are attracted to such endeavors may lack the stuff of successful presidents — common sense, appreciation for the private enterprise, toleration of criticism, attention to the bottom line, etc. Next time, maybe we should look for someone who fits less well into the Ivy League and more comfortably into the private sector and Middle America. The better presidents, after all, can hire academics — and learn when to ignore them when their advice proves impractical or downright foolish.