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March 2, 2010

Obama and the Arrogance of the Liberal Elites

I'm busy this week with projects, and so have no time to post much original writing. This piece though sums up much that is wrong with the progressive movement

An FDR lesson Obama missed
by Wesley Pruden
The Washington Times

Barack Obama is trying to be the new FDR before the concrete settles around his image as the new Jimmy Carter. History will ultimately decide, but last week's celebrated health care summit made him look more like Mr. Jimmy than FDR.

The president was full of self-righteous talk, mostly about himself, and he twice felt it necessary to remind everyone that he's the president, recalling Richard Nixon's bizarre reassurance that he was not a crook. Some things are self-evident, and if they're not, such things are usually not true. We can stipulate that, like it or not, he's the president.

The Democrats relished the opportunity to portray the Republicans as the wrinkled party of "no," a crabby relic of the 20th century, devoid of anything that anybody could want, and Barack Obama's low-church eloquence would melt skepticism like butter on warm toast. But it didn't happen. Setting out the idea of a plain and simple alternative to Obamacare -- smaller measures to reform, taken step by step -- the Republicans sounded like the party of common sense, purveyors of the kind of kitchen-table solution that would work a lot better than an elaborate welfare-state scheme.

The health care summit was not the demolition derby the Democrats expected, instead it's a pothole the president and his party will have difficulty climbing out of. The first public-opinion polls this week will measure who won and who lost. But the prospect of a lot of changed minds in the wake of the talkfest is a small prospect.

The president was in his favorite role, the long-winded professor trying hard to be patient with half-bright students who hadn't done their homework. Like most liberals, he suffers from a severe occupational hazard. Anyone who disagrees with him must be dumb, unlettered and redneck crazy. If Lamar Alexander, John McCain and Eric Cantor had only gone to the right Ivy League university they could understand the prescription for what's good for them. It's a fatal mindset that afflicts the cult. Jonathan Chait of New Republic put it plainly in a revealing blog post: "President Obama is so much smarter and a better communicator than members of Congress in either party. The contrast, side by side, is almost ridiculous."

The contrast was so stark that he could only liken the professor's summit seminar to basketball, our least cerebral sport, where oversized men in gaudy underwear run up and down a court to stuff a ball down a hole. The president is "treating [Republicans] really nice, letting his teammates take shots and allowing the other team to try to score. 'Nice try, Timmy, you almost got it in.' But after a couple minutes I want him to just grab the ball and dunk on these clowns already."

No one would have confused FDR -- or Harry Truman or Ronald Reagan -- with somebody shooting hoops on a schoolyard. Nor would anyone have confused one of those presidents with a professor showing off his mastery of detail and trivia by presiding over a congressional seminar. Mr. Obama should remind himself that he's the president, not a professor.

The president who would be FDR has squandered much of his authority and mystique in pursuit of something the people clearly don't want. The more he pursues it the more the people don't want it. He has yet to understand any of the parts of "no." He is learning too late, if he is learning at all, that too much of a good thing is too much. The powerful hold a president can have on the public is weakened by too much visibility. "The public psychology," FDR once wrote to a friend, "cannot be attuned for long periods of time to a constant repetition of the highest note on the scale."

Mr. Obama's profligate use of the highest note on the scale follows the example of his immediate predecessors, and it may be that the presidential mystique, with its power to accomplish a president's aims, was gravely wounded by the invention of the jet airplane. Air Force One is not only an impressive presidential icon, it makes every congressional district convenient to visit, and presidents are tempted to use it ever more frequently. In his 15 years in the White House, FDR, who preferred trains and was the first president to fly, never got around to visiting all the states.

A visit by a president meant something. Now it's often a hindrance and a distraction. Last week, Mr. Obama should have stood in bed. That may be the ultimate lesson from his great health care summit.

Posted by Tom at March 2, 2010 7:00 AM

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This whole anti-elitism stuff is beneath you Tom, come one.

"Kitchen table" solutions? Like Harry & Louise, the 1990s attack ad paid for by the health insurance industry? For GOP pols to pretend that they are like ordinary Americans, that they sit round a kitchen table to come up with their policy solutions, is insulting to the intelligence. Do you think McCain or Bush ever in their life worried about how to pay for their healthcare?

Policy comes either from ivy-league institutions or it comes from DC think-tanks: this goes for either party. Where do you think Reagonomics comes from? The Milton Friedman crowd at Chicago U. It's hypocritical for Republicans to accuse Democrats of being the party of ivy league elites one day, but then cite the Laffer Curve as justification for their tax cuts the next.

Posted by: Mylne Karimov at March 2, 2010 4:05 PM

Actually, Mylne, rule by elite is the very essence of the progressive movement, which (in America) is popularly referred to as "liberal." One of it's roots is the Bismarkian system in Prussia/Germany. Read your Herbert Crowley, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Dewey, and Richard Ely.

No time for the full treatise, but essentially what the progressives want is rule by expert, which is termed 'elite' in the post. What they want to do (their own writings, don't blame me) is move as much decision making power as possible to the courts and bureaucracies.

Indeed, there is almost a "cult of the expert" among modern liberals. Witness how we were told time and again that Hillary was the smartest woman in the known universe. That Obama is oh-so-smart because he was a Harvard professor? And that Republicans/conservatives are stupid?

Of course we on the right have our Think-Tanks. Of course we have our PhDs. But to say that there is some parallel, well, that's just silly. Liberals use degrees and university pedigrees a zillion times more than conservatives when making arguments.

Posted by: Tom the Redhunter at March 2, 2010 9:43 PM

What is wrong with expertise, exactly? Are you worried that experts will be unaccountable to the elected executive? Hardly seems likely in the American case: Bush leant on the EPA so hard it wouldn't even admit global warming was a problem. I think you are using the Jonah Goldberg school of argument. Libs like big government. Fascists liked big government. Therefore libs are fascists. (Or Bismarckians! Obama is no Bismarck.)

To focus on the rhetoric misses the point. Just because the GOP pretends to be the party of the common people, doesn't make it true. Their policies still stem from think-tanks, special interest lobbies and, yes, academic theorists. If you find Obama's professorial affectations unbearable, then I find the folksy, homey, "real American" schtick even worse - because it's fake. At least Obama actually was a Harvard professor. Bush only dressed like a cowboy. And if you'd rather be governed by an oil scion than a law professor, you've got your anti-elitism badly messed up.

Posted by: Mylne Karimov at March 3, 2010 1:23 AM

snake hunter sez,

Mylne - The Founding Fathers set the legal paradigm of Limited Government. Twenty-First Century Progressive-Socialists like Andy Stern & G. Soros believe in nationalizing the medical field, insurance, banking, & auto manufacturing; it's the opposite of every fundamental that gave us the greatest, most innovative & inventive governance in human history.

Your Harvard Law Professor has zero experience in
business or foreign affairs, sat on a Chicago Board with William C. Ayers doing some "community organizing" for A.C.O.R.N., and now he's the Commander-In-Chief of The U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps & Coast Guard!

Are you comfortable with Eric Holder as our U.S. Att-General? Or J. Napolitano heading up our National Security Agency? - reb

Posted by: Ralph E at March 3, 2010 2:41 AM

George Soros is a socialist?

Posted by: Mylne Karimov at March 3, 2010 3:12 AM

Mylne - global warming is not happening so it is not a problem.

Bush got his undergrad degree from Yale (where he got better grades than John Kerry) and his MBA from Harvard.

Goldberg's argument was a bit different, actually, but I suppose it's all part of the same subject.

I never said we should not consult experts. Rather, the accurate statement that progressives have a fixation on the subject, which you proved in your comment about Obama's Harvard pedigree and Bush being a cowboy. More, progressives do want to hand over vast powers to bureaucratic institutions like the EPA, who through administrative law can do things like regulate CO2 without any direct Congressional say-so.

Ok, I'm done. You can have the last word.

Posted by: Tom the Redhunter at March 3, 2010 7:52 AM

You missed my point entirely. Bush only pretended he was a cowboy. Actually he was an oil plutocrat.

As for your analysis on climate change - who made you the expert? ; )

Posted by: Mylne Karimov at March 3, 2010 9:04 AM

I like how so many conservatives have fully bought the talking points from Glenn Beck: progressives are socialists who want to subvert the constitution. Darn it, if only we had left the constitution alone, then only white men who owned property would vote, and Senators would be elected by state legislatures, not the pesky public. The wisdom of the founding fathers was to enable a dynamic system of checks and balances which would allow for progressive change (such as allowing women to vote).

And again the socialist rhetoric is simply astounding. Do you have any idea who George Soros is? Yes, he is a liberal activist, but is history is actually far from a socialist or a fascist. Soros is a Hungarian Jew who hid from the Nazis, traded currency and jewelery during the hyperinflation post WWII period, and then escaped from Hungary when the Communists took over. Then he made his fortune as an entrepreneurial stoke trader and investor (widely blamed for the British currency crisis in 1992, where he made a fortune and the Bank of England lost big). And now he is called socialist because people don't like his ideas? This is an astounding ad hominen attack. It is totally appropriate to disagree with his politics, but this revisionist history is total BS.

Posted by: jason at March 6, 2010 9:14 PM

jason - Funny, I don't watch or listen to Glenn Beck. I'm glad that you do, though.

It's not that we on the right say progressives want to subvert the Constitution, they say it themselves. Their view is that the Constitution is a "living document" that is to be manipulated into whatever they want at the moment.

"...if only we had left the constitution alone, then only white men who owned property would vote, and Senators would be elected by state legislatures, not the pesky public."

Typical straw man arguments. We on the right have no problem changing the way things are done, but we want to go about achieving it the legal way; by amending the Constitution. Progressives just want some court to "reinterpret" it to suit their political goals of the moment. Worse, most want judges to be able to "reinterpret" any law in the way they see fit.

The problems with the idea of a "living Constitution" are many. One, it becomes nothing more than a guide to when we hold elections. Two, no one can have any certainty as to what it or any law means. Three, the Constitution (or any law) can be manipulated by whoever is in power to suit their political goals of the moment.

So I'll say it one more time; if you want to change something in the Constitution, great. There were many things in the original Constitution that I would want to change too. But let's change them by passing amendments. This notion of a court just deciding that a part of it now means something totally different than what it originally meant, or what the plain language of the law says, must stop.

I've noticed that you've adopted this weird line of attack lately, jason, and it seems to mirror what I see in the liberal media. In that post where I disagreed with the global warming agenda you and Mylne accused me of being against all regulation and in favor of pollution. If I disagree with Obamacare I assume you'll accuse me of wanting to see people die in the streets, just like the Democrat politicians and their pals in the media to to conservatives. And if I want to change the way things are done by amending the Constitution instead of having some leftist judge "reinterpret it," I must not want women to vote.

Posted by: Tom the Redhunter at March 7, 2010 6:56 AM

Actually I think Tom is absolutely right here to make a distinction between changing the constitution through legislation and reinterpreting it from the bench.

I still stand by my defence of "green police" units in the UK - which, Tom, you criticised in what appeared to be an attack on "Orwellian" environmental regulation in general.

Posted by: Mylne Karimov at March 7, 2010 9:58 AM

Snake Hunter Sez,

Fascinating comments, left & right, keep it going folks! Freedom of speech & thought is a healthy
political environment that will eventually sink today's elite "Progressivism". I love it! - reb

Posted by: Ralph E at March 7, 2010 5:04 PM

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