The Magazine

Baked in the Cake

Everything you needed to know about Obama could have been learned from his campaign.

Aug 2, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 43 • By PETER WEHNER
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What’s more, Obama constantly places himself above his country; the text and subtext of his remarks send an unmistakable message: President Obama understands the grievances other nations (including our sworn enemies) have against America, and he’s acting as swiftly as he can to move us from darkness into light. If we “occasionally confess to having strayed from our values and our ideals,” Obama has said, “that strengthens our hand.” But the president’s more-than-occasional confessions are why dictators such as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez have applauded Obama’s portrayal of America.

‘It’s not surprising then 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.’

Obama made this off-the-record comment about people in small towns in Pennsylvania and the Midwest to a group of wealthy donors in San Francisco on April 6, 2008. What we learned is that Obama is an elitist. He feels superior to and sorry for the unenlightened masses. And sometimes, when they oppose his policies, he and his top aides get downright nasty.

Consider the White House and Democratic reaction to the town hall meetings in the summer of 2009, when Americans registered their strong opposition to Obamacare. These citizens were described as “angry mobs,” as Nazis and clones of Timothy McVeigh, who employed “un-American” tactics. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said the contrast between Obama—whom Emanuel described as “reasoned, calm, looking like an adult in the room”—and the protesters would work to the administration’s advantage. “I think the public looks at screaming, swastikas, attacks.  .  .  .  It’s not a persuasive argument,” Emanuel said. “If anything, it is the opposite.”

Then, in August 2009, a USA Today poll showed that the town hall meeting made Americans more, not less, sympathetic to the protesters’ views—with the margin a staggering 2-to-1 among independents. In response White House adviser David Axelrod questioned the survey’s methodology.

Obama’s comments in San Francisco also revealed a man who views small town Americans as somewhat crude and bigoted, harboring racist sentiments. When things don’t go well for them, they turn on “people who aren’t like them.” Obama’s party has displayed this attitude in responding to the Tea Party movement, which it has repeatedly attempted to link to racism.

The view from Obama and his team seems to be that no rational person could possibly oppose his policies; they are self-evidently and by definition right and wise. And so there must be some other explanation for what is happening—ignorance, foolishness, partisanship, bigotry, or some combination of these. Obama clearly believed it was his job, if he became president, to lead people out of their benighted state to broad, enlightened uplands.

Doubtless many factors have contributed to shaping the Obama outlook. But if there is one thing above any others that explains it, it is that he is a product of the academy—in his case Columbia University, Harvard Law School, and the University of Chicago.

It is hardly a secret that the ethos of modern universities is hostile toward America and in favor of redistributing wealth and centralizing power. The academy is inhabited by people of considerable, if insecure, arrogance. They are often closed to alternative points of view. The predominant view among academics is that we should transcend country, nationality, and religion. They tend to be contemptuous of mainstream American values and of the general public.

By academic standards, Barack Obama is mild in his views. He is no Ward Churchill or William Ayers. No successful national politician could be. Still, Obama’s years on elite campuses left a deep imprint on him. They helped shape his attitudes, his mindset, and his presuppositions. And so it is not surprising that Obama is drawn to a negative narrative of America’s history and its role in the world; that he has an instinctive antipathy toward business and the free market; and that he is emotionally distant from, and in his unguarded moments somewhat contemptuous of, small-town Americans—the kind of folk who cling to their guns and their Bibles in times of distress. 

The warning signs were all there. 

Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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