Over at his web site, noted author (er… “writer of stuff”) Peter David poses an interesting question: why is it so bad that Barack Obama essentially said “I’m smarter than you?” Don’t we want a president who’s smarter than we are?
The problem is that PAD (that’s what we fans of his call him) doesn’t quite get the question right. When he’s discussing Obama’s discussion of the folks who “cling” to their religion and their guns out of fear and bitterness, Obama isn’t saying “I’m smarter than you.”
The proper translation is “you’re dumber than me.”
That’s a fine distinction, but a significant one. I, personally, don’t mind people telling me they’re more intelligent than I am. (Well, OK, I do mind it a little, but it helps a bit if they show me rather than just tell me. “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up” and all that.)
But I, like most people, get irritated at being told “you’re dumb.” It rankles a bit, it engenders resentment and anger and tends to provoke a backlash of some sort. “Oh, yeah? Up yours, you arrogant prick!” is one of the more common ones, and the one I tend to have.
I’ve said before that the most powerful lesson I ever learned about writing was “show, don’t tell.” It swings both ways — Obama didn’t just tell some people they were dumb, he tried to show how they were dumb. That makes the message that much stronger, and that much harder for him to back away from.
Yes, Hillary Clinton and John McCain’s responses are interesting, but largely irrelevant. They are trying to exploit Obama’s statements for their own gain, and it’s unknown how well it will work. But they wouldn’t have anything to exploit if Obama hadn’t made the statement — utterly unprovoked and of his own will — to those fatcats in California while trying to explain us small-town hicks to the movers and shakers.
This has tremendous potential to hurt him, and I really don’t see a good way he can dig himself out of it. He didn’t just “misstate” what he said. He didn’t just say the poor folks were dumb, he showed it through examples — and that’s not something one does by accident.
Either he was pandering to the people he was speaking to, or he let his mask slip and show his true feelings. And that’s old politics, not the politics of hopey changefulnesss.
And the last thing the country needs is an old-style Chicago Democratic machine party boss in the White House.