Here’s Slate‘s Melinda Henneberger commenting on small-town political attitudes:
When I went back there, and visited similar small towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, one thing I heard over and over–from registered Democrats!–was that their national party leaders were elitists who couldn’t seem to relate to their struggles. Again and again, they brought up Kerry’s windsurfing and polyglot wife and Hollywood friends and brand spanking new hunting attire as proof positive of the kind of elitism that was turning them into Republicans. Perhaps worst of all in their eyes was his habit of mocking Bush’s intelligence; every time Kerry laughed about how dumb the president supposedly was, they assumed he thought the same of them. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here’s how a high-school teacher in Fairfield, Ill., put it: “I used to be a Democrat, and I’m still very much independent. I voted for Clinton [in ’92 and ’96]. I’m religious but not a fanatic; I see a lot of gray. My mother has Alzheimer’s, so I’m for stem-cell research, and I’m not against people’s right to an abortion.’” But Kerry “just struck me as arrogant,’” while Bush inspired “the feeling that this was a more open person who would not be ‘I’m important and you’re not.’ ”
The occasion for these observations was Obama’s recent tactless (which isn’t to say false) remarks about small-town attitudes.
I think Henneberger’s remarks here are an accurate statement of the political realities faced by Democrats throughout many parts of America. But we really ought to take note of just how foolish and ill-considered these views really are.
Look at Henneberger’s list of particulars for why John Kerry was perceived as elitist. The wind surfing I understand, and likewise for the bit about the hunting clothes. But his polyglot wife? If you speak several languages you’re an elitist? Or if you have friends in Hollywood? I can guarantee you that no one in Hollywood holds it against you if you have friends in small towns.
As for that charming high school teacher, bang-up job psychoanalyzing the candidates. Real man of the people, President Bush. Bush, of course, is the scion of a megawealthy political dynasty, who had his father’s connections to bail him out of one mess after another. Kerry, by contrast, is a decorated war veteran who devoted nearly all of his adult life to public service. On what possible planet is Bush the open soul who understands people’s problems while Kerry is the arrogant elitist?
And how did all that psychologizing work out for him? I’d say “I’m important and you’re not” is quite possibly the best five-word description of Bush’s attitude that I have seen. If Bush understands the woes of small-town America, he certainly hasn’t shown much interest in them. Instead he pursues economic policies that resdistribute income upward, and creates an environment so conducive to corporate abuse and malfeasance that I suspect even a lot of CEO’s can’t believe their good fortune. And when he’s not doing that, he’s starting ill-conceived wars that are fought disproportionately by people like his students.
Right. But Kerry’s arrogant. Thank God we didn’t elect him President.