Defending Barack Obama
The Republican party has gotten very good at attacking Barack Obama. When the election season began, he was regarded as a political god—Oprah called him “the One,” young people flocked to his rallies, and Obama managed to defeat the powerful Clinton family with just a smile and a speech.
Since then, the Republicans have changed all that. They have not been kind to Obama—McCain has released some blistering anti-Obama ads, the conservative media has expertly punctured Obama’s change rhetoric, and the Republican National Convention has been all about bashing Obama. One line of conservative attack attempts to portray Obama as a messianic, inexperienced celebrity. This is perfectly acceptable—one can disagree with it (I don’t), but it is based on fact. Another line tries to paint Obama as an elitist un-American. This isn’t acceptable.
I have always thought that the elitist label, as applied to Barack Obama was a) unfair, and b) irrelevant. The charge seems to rest on only a few Obama statements: there was the “have you seen the price of arugula at Whole Foods” line delivered in Iowa (a state without a single Whole Foods store), and the “bitter/clinging” controversy. To be honest, I can’t get too excited over the “arugula” line—Obama has money, and criticizing him because he buys expensive food is seems dangerously close to class warfare.
As for the “bitter” line (summarized: bitter Americans cling to guns and religion), it was monumentally stupid, but not beyond the pale. It is basically a standard Democrat talking point—conservative Americans are uneducated rubes. An unfair assessment, to be sure, but hardly something unusual.
I happen to agree that many Americans are bitter, but rather than clinging to guns or religion, I think that most clinging Americans cling to protectionism or “change.” These statements are not proof of some overriding elitism on the part of Barack Obama.
And even if they were, is elitism such a bad thing? Both John McCain and Barack Obama are probably far smarter than most Americans. (Disagree? Remember, one out of four Americans can’t identify the United States on a map). Why must they pretend to be regular Joes who just happen to be running for president? John McCain is rich, and Barack Obama graduated from Harvard. Both candidates should be proud of these things, not smeared as elitists for them.
Some would argue that Obama’s (or McCain’s, depending on who’s making the argument) elitism ensures that he cannot appreciate the struggles of ordinary Americans. No presidential candidate can, since no presidential candidate can be an ordinary American. Presidential candidates are, almost by definition, wildly successful and rich men. The better candidate is the more competent one, not the one who can better fake being “in touch” with ordinary Americans.
A far more insidious charge, in my mind, is the accusation of un-Americanism. Obama is a poor presidential candidate—but his life story cannot be described as anything other than inspiring. He did what conservatives have spent decades advising minorities to do—he worked hard, got through college, and became a successful man. And this despite being born into an extremely difficult situation—a man caught between two races, two countries (remember, Obama spent much of his childhood in Indonesia), and two families. It would be a tough situation for anyone to overcome—yet Obama overcame it, and flourished.
He has carved out a good career in politics, written two books (okay, they were both memoirs; maybe he’s a little self-centered, but still, that’s more books than most people have written), raised a beautiful family, and provided all Americans with an inspirational story of determination. Obama’s life is far from un-American; on the contrary, it is a quintessential American success story.
Barack Obama is the enemy—but conservatives should ensure that their attacks on him are ethical. John McCain says that it is better to lose an election than to lose a war—and perhaps is also better to lose an election than to unfairly smear a candidate. There are more than enough legitimate arguments against Barack Obama to win the election.