Friday, September 3, 2010

Obama Misunderstood By Most Americans

Time Magazine published an interesting piece about why President Obama has become Mr. Unpopular as they call him. It seems to me that the Democratic Party exemplified by Obama mainly appeals to some “happy few”, namely wealthy / highly educated Americans living in major urban areas.

Obama has probably kept the black vote too – as Clinton did, which is not surprising as we celebrate the 5th anniversary of Katrina and the Bush administration’s major failure in responding to the disaster.

But who else is on board? A significant portion of the working class has historically sided with Democrats because they were supposed to defend those folks’ interests better. But for those experiencing economic hardships it makes no sense to be behind this Administration: they don’t relate to its leader nor have they not benefited from its actions in general.

I don’t hear much about unions these days, so I am not sure where they stand. But I would be surprised if they were elated with this sluggish economic recovery that comes with few job creations. As I wrote in an earlier piece, I fear that this recovery – even when it gets stronger - unlike others in the past will not bring as many new jobs.

Ironically, those who are disenchanted with Obama’s politics do not like big government according to the Time Magazine piece - and yet they are criticizing the Administration for not getting the economy out of its present mess. Most are in favor of tax cuts which seem to be the one and only remedy they can think of for fixing an ailing economy. Maybe that is their vision of the government’s role…

But my point here is about the disconnection between the President and most people who voted for him in 2008. I can almost feel a “social class” disconnect – at least among non-African American voters.

There is a tremendous danger that the Democratic Party becomes the party of the rich, sophisticated, intellectual people while ordinary Americans - and I don’t like using the term “real people” because it tends to be exploited by populists in politics but that is what I mean – will find very little in common between them and what has become the Democratic Party.

Another sign of that “canyon” between the Obama Administration and most Americans is reflected in the people who came to work for the President. There was an amazing wave of enthusiasm in late 08 – early 09 among “the best and the brightest” (or considered as such by our system) to serve for the Obama Administration. Top schools and most prestigious employers in the country were heavily represented among those who got recruited – so many hailing from Ivy League schools or the likes of Stanford and from powerhouse professional service firms, Goldman Sachs in particular.

In a kind of closed loop transplants from those companies, schools or institutions recruited their kin, a crowd of devoted, smart, and hard-working people happy to forego their big Wall Street or Corporate America salaries to work for the Administration.

But how could this homogenous group be representative of America or can we expect that ordinary people will relate to them? “The best and the brightest” will please the wealthy / highly educated / (faux for some) liberal people – who else really?

The current malaise between Obama and most is also caused by the growing angry undercurrent in the country right now. It is certainly due in part to the economic situation and the hardships it has caused to most. But there is much more to this as evidenced by the success of the Tea Party or, more anecdotally, by most comments to the articles that I read on the Boston Globe web site. Every time I browse those comments – recently on an article pointing to the higher price of cigarettes in disadvantaged vs. wealthy neighborhoods – I am struck by how resentful and almost heinous they are. Where does the hate come from? I first saw that anger come to the front locally during the Skip Gates affair last year (when he was arrested by mistake upon entering his home in Cambridge).

Also, the Administration’s actions go against a lot of people’s deeply embedded values or beliefs, for instance their anti-government stance and individualistic nature. Obama won zero point on the health care reform with those who believe that government can’t fix problems (on the contrary…) and who did not care much that a significant portion of the population did not have health care coverage - since they were not affected directly.

I see another sign of that angry undercurrent in the fact that only 1 in 3 American identifies Obama as a Christian - this is anti-Moslem prejudice and it worries me. Finally there may be some “hangover effect” after the exhilaration of having elected the first African-American President in US history. Some voters I am sure are wondering, how did I exactly benefit from being socially progressive – however good it may have felt at the time?

The candidate Obama electrified crowds during his campaign with his message of hope. The reality of the recession has struck hard – hope is an afterthought for many. The current context may just accelerate the dwindling of the Democratic Party to an ever smaller and marginalized – though powerful – group of Americans.

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