Determined to offset charges of elitism and Hollywood superficiality, Democrats last night outsourced their lunch-pail credibility to a token handful of “regular folks” who came straight from central casting. Nothing in the campaign so far has spoken more clearly (and cynically) about the party’s distance from workaday America than the meticulously plucked array of the woeful that paraded across the stage at Mile-High Stadium.
After a handful of uninsured and unemployed Obama supporters reviewed their tales of woe before $1000-a-seat donors and politicos with Botox masks, the pièce de résistance came in the person of Barney Smith. If there is an embodiment of Hollywood’s condescending view of the little guy, it’s Smith. Looking and sounding like Elmer Fudd, the former heartland Republican’s RCA factory job moved overseas and left him unemployed after 31 years of service. Winding down his genuinely moving tale, Smith read the following off the teleprompter to an eruption of applause: “They sent my job overseas. We need a president who puts Barney Smith before Smith Barney.” Feeding extraordinary lines to ordinary people may be the Democrats’ idea of getting back in touch with the base, but turning individuals into public charity cases came off as unseemly to me. So did the old populist mantra about foreigners taking American jobs.
When Obama said the whole event wasn’t about him, but about “you,” he wasn’t kidding. Even he tried to earn his regular-guy bona fides on the backs of others. In his speech, he said,
In the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor…In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own…When I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by and fought for two decades ago after the local steel plant closed. And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle-management…
I don’t know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine.
No, it has not. Obama merely recited the challenges of people around him and claimed their travails as his own. And this gets to the fundamental problem with the night’s proceedings and the campaign’s overall message. Obama is only ever around the issues and sentiments of which he speaks; he’s not of them. This contradiction can’t help but radiate outward from the candidate and infect the whole undertaking with disingenuousness.