Puritanism can grate even more once its practitioners have lost their god. If 19th-century liberals were courageously at the forefront of abolition, religiously inspired college education, and the notion of American budgetary parsimony — in accordance with their notions of religious piety and soulful duty — their descendants have substituted Lord Logos for God. Still, they are now just as zealous in condemning the sins of the supposedly less educated and poorly informed, but on the quite different premise that they are simply smarter, better educated, and more enlightened. In the past, the premise was that they were the more true Christians.
Americans do not like being lectured at, much less when those sermons are misdirected and lead to higher taxes, the creation of a preachy, Ivy-League overseeing class, and legions of federal employees whose prime directive is to vote in more politicians that give them more money with less accountability.
Twanging to the White House
For that reason, it was usually a truism of the latter 20th-century (1964 onward) that after the narrow election of the Cold War hawk and tax-cutter JFK, doctrinaire liberal northerners simply could not win presidential elections. Without a southern accent (cf. LBJ, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore), Democrats fell under the suspicion of being sanctimonious liberal Northerners. And as far as the presidency went, that meant electoral suicide. (Ask Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, and John Kerry).
Thundering from Olympus
Sometimes liberal candidates were quite honest about their sense of self-importance, what Michelle Obama described as her husband “deigning” to run for office for our benefit. Long before John Kerry lamented that “we have an electorate that doesn’t always pay that much attention to what’s going on, so people are influenced by a simple slogan rather than the facts or the truth or what’s happening,” he once blurted out about his failing effort against George Bush: “I can’t believe I’m losing to this idiot.”
Barack Obama, for the reasons outlined last week (e.g., the novelty of the first African-American president, anger at Bush/Iraq, the 9/15/2008 meltdown, an orphaned election without incumbents, a stealthy centrist, money-laden campaign, a weak McCain effort, etc.) disproved that truism. But he did not thereby change at all the fact that, like a Kerry, he had a certain disdain for average folks, which eventually would come back to haunt him. We saw Nemesis at work with his self-destructive dismissals of yokel police, xenophobic Arizonians, and Islamophobic Ground Zero mosque opponents.
Sometimes Obama was quite explicit and rechanneled his infamous condescending campaign putdown of rural Pennsylvanians (e.g., “So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations”).
So for example, the Tea Party, far from having legitimate grievances, actually owes Barack Obama’s a favor: “So I’ve been a little amused over the last couple of days where people have been having these rallies about taxes. You would think they would be saying thank you.”
Are you disappointed with Barack Obama’s leadership so far, and worried about building an Islamic center near the site of the 9/11 attacks? If so, you are, well, captive to your fears: “At a time when the country is anxious generally and going through a tough time, then, you know, fears can surface — suspicions, divisions can surface in a society. And so I think that plays a role in it.” We have here a reincarnated Massachusetts churchman railing about the sins of those south of the Mason-Dixon line, but this time without either a god or a noble cause.
Perhaps you are worried about record annual deficits, federalized take-overs of everything from health care to the auto industry, or the specter of 10% unemployment, and therefore might question the present policies. No problem, you simply do not “always think clearly” when “scared.” Note the following: “Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does [sic] not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we’re hardwired not to always think clearly when we’re scared. And the country is scared.” (A confession: actually I am scared. The Obama deficits are unsustainable. I think health care will be ruined. The demonized job-hiring classes are in hiding. An entire generation of young people is relegated to second-class employment status. The world abroad is heating up in expectation that the U.S. is tired and through. And race relations under the divisive Obama have worsened.)