Are you dazed and confused by Barack Obama, the nominal Democrat, whose conduct as president since 2009 has seen him sink from nearly 70 percent to 40 percent or less in national polling, from which he has seemed to learn nothing, but still marches on?
Fear not, the doctor is in: Fred Siegel of the Manhattan Institute, whose latest book, The Revolt Against The Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class, explains all you wanted to know about Obama, and much else. It explains why he never became the new Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson at his best, as he and they belong to quite different wings of their party.
They wished to see the middle class thrive and enjoy their prosperity, but Obama comes from a dissident strain that finds this unnerving. Most conservative critiques of the Left blame the big government-drift, from the progressives to the New Deal to the Great Society, for most of our problems, but Siegel points to an alternative point of dissension: a contempt for the middle class, for commerce, and thus for most of the American culture, that predated the New Deal by more than a decade, and poisons our waters today.
From this angle, the road to perdition (and/or Obama) was paved around 1920, when the best and the brightest, depressed by the Great War and the funk that came after, decided all was not well in the world and the nation, and the great middle class was to blame. In rant after rant, book after book, play after play, H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Sinclair Lewis, and the editors of The Nation and The New Republic heaped scorn on the bourgeoisie and on business as peasants unworthy of those who would lead them and who always knew better than they.
"In the 1920s ... what looked like freedom and progress to most white Americans was an affront to liberals and intellectuals," as Siegel tells us. He quotes Malcolm Cowley as saying much later, "It wasn’t the depression that got me. It was the boom."
The role of the leader was not to lead and/or shape public opinion but to govern against it, fighting the crassness that governs the herd. They loved Roosevelt and Kennedy for their glamor and privilege, but those with the middle-class taint — such as the failed merchant from Independence, Mo., named Harry Truman — came in for a roasting. Their prototype candidate was Adlai Stevenson, who explained his two losses to Dwight Eisenhower by saying the voters were too dim to get him. Until Obama came by.
Your more normal pol, like FDR, Ike and JFK, struggled to win the middle class over, but once one looks at Obama in this liberal context, the reasons behind his more curious choices seem clear.
Of course he ignored the clamor for jobs to waste billions of dollars on green energy hoaxes. Of course he slow-walked the Keystone XL pipeline to please Hollywood backers. Of course he tries to hype "climate change" to change the subject from the havoc Obamacare is wreaking on middle-class households and businesses -- the predictable havoc that was written into the plan.
But the problem is that Obamacare is falling apart from its own inconsistencies, his backers in Congress fear voters' revenge in the midterms, and his plans have been fought by Republicans in the House and in 30 state houses, elected to stop him in 2010. The problem with the intellectuals' anti-middle-class plans is that the middle class votes when its interests are threatened, a detail that they somehow neglected to master. And that they are finding out now.
Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."