I went to one of those prestigious Eastern colleges that turn out the bureaucrats who populate President Obama’s administration so I have an unusual perspective on his supporters. I know these people very well, yet I can’t figure out their motivation.
As class secretary, I spend quite a bit of time gathering news for the Alumni Notes. When I call to chat, nearly all my former classmates are staunchly liberal, enraged at the Tea Party and alarmed at the possibility that President Obama may not be re-elected. This is kind of strange. Forty years ago, many of these people were football jocks or party animals who had very little concern for politics. Yet they have someone “matured” into staunch liberals. All this was summed up by one alumnus who wrote in the class notes a few years ago, “I continue to prosper while moving rapidly toward the angry left.”
One of the classmates I contacted this year is a Washington tort lawyer. He told me how he recently represented an entrepreneur who got a permit from the Department of Interior to develop a coal mine in Tennessee, spent $3 million developing infrastructure, and was then told by the bureaucrats that they had changed their mind — the mine was too close to a national forest.
“I won a $300 million settlement before a federal administrative judge, working on contingency,” he said. “But when it went up to the appeals level, the three-judge panel threw it out. They said the government can do anything it wants. It makes me sick.”
“Isn’t that the sort of thing the Tea Party is complaining about?” I asked.
“Tea Party!” He was astounded. “You’re not one of those Tea Party people, are you? They’re all crazy.”
Another class member is now a prominent professor at the University of Wisconsin. I asked him what it was like in Madison during last summer’s demonstrations and he said, “Heck, I was in them. We’ve got an absolutely insane governor in this state, Governor Walker. The man is crazy. He wants to gut the entire system. We were out there to stop him.”
In the next breath was telling me about his second home in the Caribbean. “We have a little compound down there,” he said. “We got hit by a hurricane ten years ago and I had to go down to rebuild the place. There are only about 100 people on the island so we all helped each other out.”
Somehow the incongruity of an affluent college professor with a hideaway home in the Caribbean who is also a member of the oppressed working masses who must demonstrate against an insane governor who is foolish enough to be upset because his state is going bankrupt did not register in his head.
I’ve had several conversations with liberals lately and they have one simple explanation for the President’s current troubles — “racism.” “What’s really going on is these Tea Party people can’t stand the idea of being ruled by a black man, don’t you think that’s it?” Nine percent unemployment, 20 million people out of work, a 27-year-high in unemployment among African-Americans — if George Bush were President, he would be being charged with racism.
So I’ve composed a letter to my liberal friends who are beginning to realize that Obama may be a one-term President. We’ve seen this before — Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush both tripped over the economy and failed to get re-elected. Nobody argued it was because Carter was a Southern Baptist or Bush was Skull-and-Bones. So why should it be hard to fathom that 43rd President might face the same experience?
“Dear Liberal Friend,
“We are facing what could become a very ugly election. At this point it seems quite possible that Barack Obama may be voted out office. The charge will immediately be raised that all this represents ‘racism’ and America has reverted to type. That they elected Obama as the first African-American over an Old White Male in 2008 was just an accident.
“I think it should be clear to you now, before the election really picks up steam, how wrong this perspective is and how harmful it will be to the country to make such a charge. If Tea Party Republicans succeed in electing a President, it won’t be about race. It will be about class. Specifically, it will have been a revolt of what might be called the lower reaches of the middle class against the upper-educated-going-on-aristocracy that you represent. Tea Party people are not rich. They are working people, small business owners, people who went to state schools and agricultural colleges where they learned to make a living rather than to collect law degrees and become “policymakers” telling other people what to do. Most of all they are people who are tired of having these “policymakers” interfering in their lives and telling them that they must therefore surrender larger and larger portions of their income so that the government can build a separate but equal economy.
“Rick Perry is prototypical. When asked to define the difference between himself and George Bush, Jr., he responded, ‘George Bush went to Yale, I went to Texas A&M.’ Conan O’Brien immediately picked up on this and announced, ‘So his main qualification is that he’s not as smart as George Bush.’ That completely misses the point and only shows how parochial the precincts and Manhattan and late night television can be. There are places in this country, believe it or not, where having a Yale degree is not an automatic sign of superior intelligence. It often suggests something more like snobbishness. ‘You can always tell a Harvard man but you can’t tell him much.’ Did you ever hear that expression?
“If Obama fails to win re-election, it will not be because all those poor folk in the hinterland who didn’t go to Ivy League colleges are inherent racists and not properly respectful of an Ivy League degree. It will be because their Ivy League-educated President has proved a rather one-dimensional individual with a very constricted view of the world — one about as broad as the view outside the faculty lounge.
“Or maybe it’s because he’s still fairly young and hasn’t been around long enough to see the world ‘from both sides now.’ Our most successful Presidents have been those who have been sensible enough to realize that, even though your party’s side is fixed and predictable, the other side often has a point. President Nixon was one of the world’s most rabid anti-communists in his younger days but by the time he came to office he was smart enough to realize that his perspective was restricted and it made no sense to ignore a country of a billion people on the other side of the world. The result was the greatest diplomatic maneuver of the 20th century. President Clinton was a solid liberal but after three years in office he had seen enough to realize that conservative criticisms of the welfare system was valid and that it was one of the most destructive social programs ever invented. That made him a successful President.
“Even now, Obama could rescue his administration by doing one simple thing. He could admit that Keynesianism is wrong. The premise that you can cure the economy by coming down to Washington and spending as much money as you can on your favorite programs has to be one of the biggest academic frauds of all time.
“But he won’t. He won’t because everything he knows has been picked up in some graduate seminar. He has no idea that there’s a big world out there of people who didn’t go to Ivy League college but who know something about themselves and the world. Those are the people he most despises because those are the people academics most despise.
“Instead, the President is going to sound one note from now until next November — ‘Hate the rich.’ Never mind that he has Jeff Immelt and Warren Buffet and Bill Gates and the entire board of directors of Goldman Sachs are kowtowing to him — the enemy will be those amorphous ‘millionaires and billionaires’ who mysteriously retain the sinister power to will the economic devastation that Obama’s faculty-approved policies have caused.
“I hope you take all this into account before the election next year.
“Sincerely, Green Lantern”
WHAT WORRIES ME about these people is that, if Obama loses next year, they will go off the deep end. They will never be able to accept the idea that their guy had two years in Washington when he could do whatever he wanted and still screwed it up by pursuing bad ideas. It will be all the Tea Party’s fault. They sabotaged the economy so that Obama would lose. Environmentalists, now embarrassed about being arrested in front of the White House for opposing their favorite President’s policies, will be right back where they want to be — throwing their bodies at the juggernaut of the American economy. Young fanatics will be blowing up pipelines and power plants because they are unable persuade 300 million Americans to give up prosperity and live on wind and sunshine.
In the current of City Journal, Heather Mac Donald reports asking an Ivy League professor about his experience in recording one of the Great Courses with the Teaching Company. The professor was responsive until he realized she was with the Manhattan Institute. Then he refused all further communication on the grounds that there is an “undeclared civil war” in this country.
Such a war exists now only in the fevered imagination of academics. With the un-election of Obama, however, it could become much more tangible.