Obama’s Elitism

The Obama campaign this week accused Hillary Clinton of “peddling fake outrage” about their man’s comments about small-town Pennsylvanians being bitter. But I wonder whose outrage is fake. After all, the charge of elitism is hardly a new one to Obama; it was one of the main narratives of his lopsided loss to Rep. Bobby Rush in 2000.

“Rush painted the largely unknown freshman lawmaker as an out-of-touch elitist,” Todd Spivak recalls.

“As even one of his admirers put it, ‘He was a stiff.’ You think John Kerry looked wooden and condescending on the campaign trail? You should have seen this kid Obama. He was the elitist Ivy League Democrat to top them all,” Edward McClelland wrote recently in Salon.

“Campaigns are always, ‘What’s the narrative of the race?’ ” said Eric Adelstein, a media consultant in Chicago who worked on the Rush campaign,” the New York Times recounted. “In a sense, it was ‘the Black Panther against the professor.’ That’s not a knock on Obama; but to run from Hyde Park, this little bastion of academia, this white community in the black South Side – it just seemed odd that he would make that choice as a kind of stepping out.”

The Times noted that Mr. Obama’s Ivy League education and his white liberal-establishment connections also became an issue. Mr. Rush told The Chicago Reader, “He went to Harvard and became an educated fool. We’re not impressed with these folks with these Eastern elite degrees . . .

“Mr. Rush and his supporters faulted him for having missed experiences that more directly defined the previous generation of black people. ‘Barack is a person who read about the civil-rights protests and thinks he knows all about it,’ Mr. Rush told The Reader.

“Mr. Obama was seen as an intellectual, ‘not from us, not from the ’hood,’ said Jerry Morrison, a consultant on the Rush campaign . . . ‘It was much more a function of class, not race,’ Mr. Adelstein said. ‘Nobody said he’s “not black enough.” They said he’s a professor, a Harvard elite who lives in Hyde Park.

Finally, take it from Abner Mikva:

“Mr. Mikva recalls telling him about advice once given to John F. Kennedy by Cardinal Richard Cushing: ‘The cardinal said to him, Jack, you have to learn to speak more Irish and less Harvard. I think I recounted that anecdote to Barack. Clearly, he learned how to speak more Chicago and less Harvard in subsequent campaigning.”


6 responses to “Obama’s Elitism

  1. Steve,

    You normal criticism of Obama is generally good analysis. But wondering whose outrage is fake, and then linking to columns about the 2000 Rush campaign as evidence of Obama’s elitism makes me cringe for you.

    Let me try to answer your question about why Sen. Clinton’s outrage is fake: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/04/13/bill-clinton-flashback-al_n_96433.html.

    And she’s been peddling that since the episode broke. Why hasn’t she told us of her outrage with her husband’s remarks?

    It isn’t that Obama isn’t elitist, heck I want a president who is an elite. It’s simply that Clinton turns on the outrage act and people like you swallow it up, hook line and sinker.

  2. divisionstreet


    I don’t quite follow your logic. I’m not saying Obama is an elitist and linking to old columns to prove it. I’m linking to old columns about his race against Bobby Rush to show that it is a criticism that his hardly new. For the Obamas to act as if it’s such an outrageous charge (and to raise money off of it; the peddling quote comes from a fundraising e-mail) strikes me as disingenuous.

    And Bill Clinton’s old quote is hardly equivalent, aside from the fact that it comes from Bill Clinton and not Hillary Clinton. It’s a stretch to try to make it os.

    Personally, I’m not all that bothered by Obama’s quote. I haven’t criticized it, even though a number of people outside of Hillary Clinton have taken great offense. (Geez, see today’s NY Times Op-Ed page.)

    But I am bothered by the response of the Obamas and, of course, their supporters, who seem to think they can do no wrong and should be immune to scrutiny and turn around and play the same gotcha politics they complain about.

  3. Thanks Steve,

    In 2000, his elitism was a legitmate criticism and it cost him the election. Today it isn’t.

    Clinton is as elitist as Obama, and given that her husband essentially made the same point, albeit without the clumsy religion/guns reference, I don’t understand why “Obama’s Elitism” is the headline.

    I’m not one who thinks Obama ought to be spared criticism, but you tend to focus your criticism on him and hold back on her. Didn’t Clinton’s response, the shot-and-beer photo op, bother you too?

    The complaining about gotcha politics has more to do with both candidates being subjected to a “debate” that centered on patriotism and personality more than Iraq, the economy and the destruction of the Constitution currently underway.

    All three candidates, and anyone who cares about the presidential race ought to be concerned about those issues first and foremost.

  4. Perhaps Obama is or can be described as “elite” by the Beachwood Reporter and our pathetic millionaire beltway punditocracy(as opposed to those two hardhat wearing labor radicals Hillary and McCain), but when this country had one of their own (or as close as America is likely to get these days) in Dennis Kucinich I don’t recall to many words written in support of/ about his candidacy. Now it”s between these three and considering what has been done to this country the last 30 or so years I am most definately willing to take a chance on the devil you don”t know, which is Obama.

  5. divisionstreet

    Don: The Beachwood Reporter has never, in fact, described Barack Obama as elite or elitist. Here on Division Street, I merely pointed out that this is a long-running criticism.

    Peter: To suggest it’s not or has not been an issue in the current campaign is to have ignored the current campaign and in particular the striking difference in which demographic blocks support which candidate.

    And I am often asked by Obama supporters why I don’t go after HRC as hard as Obama. The first answer is that I don’t cover HRC; this and the BR are Chicago-based sites. You might as well ask why I don’t cover Michael Bloomberg as much as Richard Daley, or why I don’t cover the Kane County board president as much as Todd Stroger.

    The second answer is that I believe that HRC gets a raw deal from the media, while BO gets unprecedentedly friendly treatment. In terms of local coverage, I try to bring a larger perspective than the hometown cheerleaders, and that includes trying to bring to readers a conversation going on in corners of the press corps – Politico, LA Times, The Hill, and the blogosphere – that is not occurring here in the Chicago media.

    I’ll let you two have the last words if you want; I enjoy the back and forth but I hate when bloggers always cut their commenters off or take the last word.

  6. I’m not sure whether either candidate is an elitist. Money and connections don’t make elitists – attitude does. I don’t think either Obama or Clinton look down on others, though I must say that Obama’s awkward caricature of rural Pennsylvania’s makes me wonder just how much he really does know about life in small town America.

    As for Clinton’s shot and beer, politicians have been glad-handing and kissing babies for centuries. Why does Clinton’s continuance of this tradition deserve especial scorn and ridicule? What does it matter to how she will govern?

    (Full disclosure – Clinton went to my high school in Park Ridge some years before I attended. I can assure you that this public school is not a great place to grow elites. Going to Wellesley on merit, not on a legacy enrollment, isn’t the way a real elitist does it either.)

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