I was talking to some supposedly liberal teachers not long ago and was surprised at their animosity to Obama. "Distant. Arrogant. Slick. Thinks he's better than regular people." For a second I thought the next word to be uttered would be the dreaded "Uppity." Well, we haven't gone that far. (Well, maybe we have - look upper left.)
Now these are people active in the UFT. Has the Clinton machine been aided in the onslaught on Obama in more subtle ways by UFT underground propaganda? (ie. Randi Weingarten's hint at the April DA that they tried to reach out to him but have been ignored. It was more the way she said it than the actual words that made me take notice.)
I headed home with the intention to write about this but it seemed best to stay away from such a volatile topic. But I now feel free to put my toe in the water after Maureen Dowd used the word today in her column in the NY Times. Quoting Bill Clinton, she wrote:
“The great divide in this country is not by race or even income, it’s by those who think they are better than everyone else and think they should play by a different set of rules,” the former president said. “In West Virginia and Arkansas, we know that when we see it.”
Oh, well, at least Bill didn’t use the word uppity. And don’t you love this paean to rules coming from a man so tethered and humbled by rules that he invented an entirely new sexual etiquette to suit his needs in the Oval Office?
Why does Obama, the one with the bumpy background and mixed racial heritage, the one raised by a single mother who was on food stamps, seem so forced when he mingles with the common folk?
Karl Rove and other Republicans say he comes across as the snooty product of a Hawaiian prep school, Cambridge, Columbia and Hyde Park, and that is what led to the damaging anthropological “bitter” disquisition. Yet George H. W. Bush’s attempts to paint over his patrician style with a cowboy veneer was a silly sort of masquerade, obviously engineered by Lee Atwater, who brought the props of pork rinds and country music.
Voters also don’t seem to mind Hillary, with her $109 million bank account, selling herself as the champion of the little people. The blue-collar queen shared her thoughts about the “outrageous” Rev. Wright with the blue-collar king, Bill O’Reilly, last week. In reality, as first lady, Hillary was renowned for her upstairs-downstairs tussles in the White House, and her high-handed treatment of the little people in the travel office, on the switchboard and on the residence staff. The reports were legend about the Clintons’ problems with the Secret Service, and I once saw Bill dress down an agent in a humiliating way over a couple of autograph seekers who got past a rope line in Orange County, Calif.
Obama, on the other hand, may seem esoteric, and sometimes looks haughty or put-upon when he should merely offer that ensorcelling smile. But he is very well liked by his Secret Service agents, and shoots hoops with them. And I watched him take the time one night after a long day of campaigning to stand and take individual pictures with a squadron of Dallas motorcycle police officers on the tarmac.
It must be hard for Obama, having applied all his energy over the years to rising above the rough spots in his background, making whites comfortable with him, striving to become the sophisticated, silky political star who looks supremely comfortable in a tux. Now he must go into reverse and stoop to conquer with cornball photo ops.
“I do think that one of the ironies of the last two or three weeks was this idea that somehow Michelle and I are elitist, pointy-headed intellectual types,” he said, adding sincerely, “I filled up my own gas tanks.”
It’s hard not to be who you are, but it’s doubly hard to be who you’ve strived not to be. Obama not only has to figure out how to unwind with a Bud. He has to rewind his life.
If people think the love of the white male working class for Hillary, so many of whom despised her not too long ago, has nothing to do with racism, they are ignoring something endemic to American society. That the Clintons have chosen to exacerbate it all will cost them dearly in the short and long run.
Dowd touches on points of personal relationships in comparing Obama and Clinton. I remember a friend almost not marrying a guy because, though he treated her very well, he demeaned waiters and other help on a regular basis. There are lessons about character in the way people treat others at all levels. Abraham Lincoln was the master (Dorris Kearns Goodwin is a MUST read.) When some people compare Obama to Lincoln, that is part of what they are talking about. (Check out George Schmidt's personal reflections of Obama that we posted on norms notes.)
But there are other areas of comparison. Obama is painted as weak when he doesn't hammer Hillary in a negative manner and he has been forced to respond because he is branded as a wimp if he doesn't.
If Lincoln were out there today, he would be attacked for being weak and indecisive. No matter how badly he was attacked he never struck back. It used to drive his advisors crazy. (But Lincoln had the strength to put every single opponent in his cabinet.) Obama has tried to take a similar tack and has been pushed to show how "tough" he is.
Some more quotes from Maureen Dowd's column illustrate this point:
Paul Gipson, president of a steelworkers local in Portage, Ind., hailed her “testicular fortitude,” before ripping into “Gucci-wearing, latte-drinking, self-centered, egotistical people that have damaged our lifestyle.”
James Carville helpfully told Eleanor Clift of Newsweek that if Hillary gave Obama one of her vehicles of testicular fortitude, “they’d both have two.”
"With malice toward none, with charity for all" were not just words Lincoln used in a speech, but words he lived.
Can't you just imagine the workup Bill Clinton and James Carville would be doing on him?
Lincoln is proof that toughness can take many forms. I have a sneaky suspicion there's a whole lotta more Lincoln in Obama than he is given credit for.
And did Thomas Friedman in essence endorse Obama in his column today (Who Will Tell the People) when he touched on a similar theme:
While you're perusing the Week in Review section, check out Frank Rich's "The All-White Elephant in the Room" which compared how McCain's preacher supporters get a free pass even when they attack the Catholic church.
Much nonsense has been written about how Hillary Clinton is “toughening up” Barack Obama so he’ll be tough enough to withstand Republican attacks. Sorry, we don’t need a president who is tough enough to withstand the lies of his opponents. We need a president who is tough enough to tell the truth to the American people. Any one of the candidates can answer the Red Phone at 3 a.m. in the White House bedroom. I’m voting for the one who can talk straight to the American people on national TV — at 8 p.m. — from the White House East Room.
Who will tell the people? We are not who we think we are. We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. We still have all the potential for greatness, but only if we get back to work on our country.
I don’t know if Barack Obama can lead that, but the notion that the idealism he has inspired in so many young people doesn’t matter is dead wrong. “Of course, hope alone is not enough,” says Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, “but it’s not trivial. It’s not trivial to inspire people to want to get up and do something with someone else.”