The Magazine

To Tell the Truth

Will the real Barack Obama please stand up?

May 5, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 32 • By FRED BARNES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Obama is equally emphatic in denying he's an elitist. To be fair, "elitism" is a somewhat amorphous charge, based particularly on his comment at a San Francisco fundraiser last month that small town Pennsylvanians are "bitter" about their circumstances and "cling" to issues like guns and religion as a result. Obama has said he was misunderstood, but he hasn't repudiated his statement.

He took Hillary Clinton to task for saying, "I'm elitist, out of touch, condescending. Let me be absolutely clear. It would be pretty hard for me to be condescending towards people of faith since I'm a person of faith and have done more than most other campaigns in reaching out specifically to people of faith. .  .  . The same is true with respect to gun owners. .  .  . They have supported me precisely because I have listened to them and I know them well."

Obama told a gathering of veterans in Washington, Pennsylvania, he's "amused at this notion of elitist." He noted he was "raised by a single mom," was "on food stamps for a while," and "went to school on scholarship. .  .  . So when somebody makes that argument, particularly given that I've spent my entire life working with workers, low-income communities, to try to make people's lives a little better, then that's when you know we're in political silly season."

He has a point. Growing up and then as a young lawyer, he wasn't an elitist. But the issue now, for what it's worth, is whether Obama belongs to the educated, sophisticated upper class of urban America, and reflects the attitudes of this class. At least in stolen moments, he does.

So is Obama who he says he is? Of course not. He's a liberal, a bit to the left, and, like most graduates of Harvard Law, a member of America's meritocratic (but nonetheless elite) upper class. He's seized on a big idea--bringing Americans together in a rebirth of national unity--to frame his campaign. Does this make him a phony? I don't think so. But it does make him something else he insists he's not, a conventional politician with a clever spiel.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.