In a new Gallup poll, 25% of respondents say that Barack Obama looks down on working class Americans.
Actually that result isn’t so bad. John McCain scored 24%, and Hillary Clinton “won” this contest with a decisive 32%.
Nonetheless, the charge seems to be hurting Obama in the Democratic nomination process. For example, read Noam Scheiber‘s interesting analysis of suburban Philadelphia from a socio-economic perspective. Here’s a soundbite:
The biggest reason Obama didn’t perform as well as we’d have expected in the affluent, educated, politically-moderate Philadelphia suburbs is that they’re not nearly as affluent and educated as we’d assumed.
Both McCain and Clinton have derided Obama as “elitist”. Related insults include “arrogant” and “out of touch”.
In response to Obama’s detractors, I’d like to offer an excerpt from Obama’s first book, Dreams from My Father. Note: Obama was being raised by his (white) grandparents during the time he describes here.
They had sold the big, rambling house near the university and now rented a small, two-bedroom apartment …. Gramps had left the furniture business to become a life insurance agent, but as he was unable to convince himself that people needed what he was selling and was sensitive to rejection, the work went badly. Every Sunday night, I would watch him grow more and more irritable as he gathered his briefcase and set up a TV tray in front of his chair, following the lead of every possible distraction, until finally he would chase us out of the living room and try to schedule appointments with prospective clients over the phone. Sometimes I would tiptoe into the kitchen for a soda, and I could hear the desperation creeping out of his voice, the stretch of silence that followed when the people on the other end explained why Thursday wasn’t good and Tuesday not much better, and then Gramps’s heavy sigh after he had hung up the phone, his hands fumbling through the files in his lap like those of a cardplayer who’s deep in the hole.
Eventually, a few people would relent, the pain would pass, and Gramps would wander into my room to tell me stories of his youth or the new joke he had read in Reader’s Digest. If his calls had gone especially well that night, he might discuss with me some scheme he still harbored — the book of poems he had started to write, the sketch that would soon bloom into a painting, the floor plans for his ideal house, complete with push-button conveniences and terraced landscaping. I saw that the plans grew bolder the further they receded from possibility, but in them I recognized some of his old enthusiasm, and I would usually try to think up encouraging questions that might sustain his good mood. Then, somewhere in the middle of his presentation, we would both notice Toot [Barack’s grandmother] standing in the hall outside my room, her head tilted in accusation.
“What do you want, Madelyn?”
“Are you finished with your calls, dear?”
“Yes, Madelyn. I’m finished with my calls. It’s ten o’clock at night!”
“There’s no need to holler, Stanley. I just wanted to know if I could go into the kitchen.”
“I’m not hollering! Jesus H. Christ, I don’t understand why—” But before he could finish, Toot would have retreated into their bedroom, and Gramps would leave my room with a look of dejection and rage.
Such exchanges became familiar to me, for my grandparents’ arguments followed a well-worn groove, a groove that originated in the rarely mentioned fact that Toot earned more money than Gramps. She had proved to be a trailblazer of sorts, the first woman vice-president of a local bank, and although Gramps liked to say that he always encouraged her in her career, her job had become a source of delicacy and bitterness between them as his commissions paid fewer and fewer of the family’s bills.
Not that Toot had anticipated her success. Without a college education, she had started out as a secretary to help defray the costs of my unexpected birth. But she had a quick mind and sound judgment, and the capacity for sustained work. Slowly she had risen, playing by the rules, until she reached the threshold where competence didn’t suffice. There she would stay for twenty years, with scarcely a vacation, watching as her male counterparts kept moving up the corporate ladder, playing a bit loose with information passed on between the ninth hole and the ride to the clubhouse, becoming wealthy men.
More than once, my mother would tell Toot that the bank shouldn’t get away with such blatant sexism. But Toot would just pooh-pooh my mother’s remarks, saying that everybody could find a reason to complain about something. Toot didn’t complain. Every morning, she woke up at five A.M. and changed from the frowsy muu-muus she wore around the apartment into a tailored suit and high-heeled pumps. Her face powdered, her hips girdled, her thinning hair bolstered, she would board the six-thirty bus to arrive at her downtown office before anyone else.
From time to time, she would admit a grudging pride in her work and took pleasure in telling us the inside story behind the local financial news. When I got older, though, she would confide in me that she had never stopped dreaming of a house with a white picket fence, days spent baking or playing bridge or volunteering at the local library. I was surprised by this admission, for she rarely mentioned hopes or regrets. It may or may not have been true that she would have preferred the alternative history she imagined for herself, but I came to understand that her career spanned a time when the work of a wife outside the home was nothing to brag about, for her or for Gramps ….
I could have chosen plenty of other excerpts that show the same characteristics as this one: Obama’s close observation of ordinary people going about their everyday lives, described from a sympathetic viewpoint. There’s nothing elitist here, nothing arrogant, nothing out of touch. All of those charges have been levelled cynically at Obama for the sake of political advantage.
This is what pisses me off about the “controversies” which were the primary focus of the ABC debate in Pennsylvania. Journalists used to pride themselves at digging beneath politicians’ posturing to get at the hard facts. Formerly prestigious institutions have now sunk to the lowest common denominator — what used to be called “tabloid journalism” — in which the goal is to be as sensational as possible.
Getting at truth is no longer the goal; sensationalism is the goal.
And so ABC piles on: Clinton smears Obama, McCain smears Obama, and ABC’s response is, Hey, this is pretty juicy, we want in on that action!
It’s a fact: Obama respects working class people. The 25% of Americans who think otherwise are mistaken.