Archive for September 17th, 2008

Are We Being Smug?

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Say this for Times columnist David Brooks: He has the uncanny ability to make me think.

As a cursory perusal of his recent columns will attest, he is firmly in McCain’s camp. But in his column yesterday, he made a strong case that Sarah Palin lacks “prudence,” which he defines as: “the ability to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation …  the ability to absorb the vast flow of information and still discern the essential current of events — the things that go together and the things that will never go together … the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight.”

Still, he argues, she has tremendous appeal for many conservatives as a common-sense, practical populist. There is a serious argument to be made, he writes, for electing leaders who are “rough and rooted” like Palin. Moreover, he writes:

Her followers take pride in the way she has aroused fear, hatred and panic in the minds of the liberal elite. The feminists declare that she’s not a real woman because she doesn’t hew to their rigid categories. People who’ve never been in a Wal-Mart think she is parochial because she has never summered in Tuscany.

Look at the condescension and snobbery oozing from elite quarters, her backers say. Look at the endless string of vicious, one-sided attacks in the news media. This is what elites produce. This is why regular people need to take control.

Is there anything to this condescension charge, which has lately been leveled at us from so many quarters? Are we feminist supporters of Barack Obama truly being smug — as the conservative punditry charges? Is it our barely-concealed moral indignation, registered by our Republican friends in bars and supermarkets and emails from coast to coast, that has swung the tide toward McCain-Palin?

It’s a good question.

Before I answer it, though, I should state for the record, that my wife and I do shop at Wal-Mart. And Target, particularly when we need Triple Paste for the kids’ diaper rash, or bulk items like toilet paper (which, I’ve heard, even those who summer in Tuscany are wont to use). Periodically, we even shop at T.J. Maxx, though — I must confess — I do prefer Banana Republic and Macy’s at the mall. If that makes me an oozing, snobby elitist, well, then, guilty as charged, I guess.

Though I should note that the weather has turned here in Akron — it’s been lovely and cold in the mornings; fall at its best — and when I recently went to look at my stash of jeans, I noticed that all of them had worn holes in the crotch, and were just generally ratty-looking, hems frayed, in part because I actually don’t go clothes shopping very often any more, in part because I don’t like it, and, in part because we have two children under four, so who the hell has time to shop? (By the way — you want to see condescending? Watch my 3-and-a-half-year-old, who doesn’t willingly share, tell my 19-month-old, who does whatever the hell he wants, that his new Batman toy: “Isn’t for little kids.”)

While I’m in the mood for confession, I should note, I haven’t actually summered in Tuscany, either. Growing up, I summered with my Mom, Dad, and sisters in a pop-up camper, at Buck Pond in Upstate New York. (When you wake up in the middle of the forest after a night of torrential rain and see a puddle so vast, your father immediately dubs it “Lake Rolnick,” can you really call it “summering” in the first place?). We collected water in a big jug from a nearby spigot, took our clothes to a Laundromat, and whittled sticks for the sheer love of it. When not camping, we spent a lot of time at our beach house on Long Beach Island, N.J., a bastion of exclusivity not, I’m sure, unlike Brookside Country Club in Canton, OH, where, my pro-Obama dentist told me yesterday, more than 100 Ohio Republicans just paid $25,000 a pop to have dinner with Sarah Palin.

This summer, we spent most of our time away from Akron at Lake Chautauqua, in Western, N.Y., a gated facility that is unquestionably a festering sore of superiority — but don’t tell that to my 3-and-a-half year old, because I taught him to fish at a small pier there, with a Spiderman Zebco and a cup of earthworms that we bought at the Wal-Mart near Jamestown. (Before entering the Wal-Mart, we played for a half-an hour in the Little Tikes playhouse they’d situated on the sidewalk outside. My son found a screw on the sidewalk and was pretending it was money, passing it to me through the play store window. We elitists start our kids off young.) That afternoon, my son caught (no joke) five yellow perch and a sunny, all of which we released, just like the fanciest, Orvis-clad fly-fisherman.

(I think this was the same day, by the way, that I went to K-Mart to buy my wife two packages of replacement underwear — in her haste packing for herself and both kids [I know, right? What was she thinking! She should have had the nanny pack!] — she’d forgotten to bring them. Warning for all men who have never attempted this before: If you wish to retain your dignity, ask your wife ahead of time exactly what style she wants. It’s not easy. There are 72 kinds of women’s underwear. Have her also specify color, size, and quantity, and then commit this to memory before walking into the store.)

I have no doubt that, at times, our anger at what our country has become does come out in conversations with our Republican friends. (Oh — there it is! Coming our right now!)  If I’d have to venture a guess as to why, I’d say it’s because we thought that this time around — after eight devastating years of Republican leadership; a plummeting economy (thanks in part to GOP de-regulation); a morally repugnant, strategically boneheaded, and economically devastating war for which the Administration continues to present false rationales; and a sitting president with approval ratings in the low 30s — most of us were on the same page. We weren’t going to hand the keys back to the party that brought us here.  Maybe, as we’ve seen that party take the lead in the latest polls, as we’ve seen excitement and support coalesce behind an unkown, Karl Rovian, loyalty-over-competence-style vp candidate, we’ve had a little trouble containing ourselves.

I’ll say this — David Brooks is right about one thing. Regular people do need to take control!

David — believe me when I tell you — and I’m truly sorry if this sounds smug: We’re trying.

MY OBAMA MINUTE: I held my first house party yesterday, at the request of the Ohio Democratic Party, which asked me to convene a group of Jewish Obama supporters in Akron. I started making phone calls inviting people just a few days ago — I was still making calls up to a few hours before the meeting — and yet 35 people showed up and crammed into my living room.

Matt Ratner, who is leading the Jewish outreach effort in Ohio, spoke about Barack Obama’s strong support for Israel, and staunch support from the Jewish community in Chicago, including from pro-Israel stalwarts Lestern Crown and Penny Pritzker. He passed out Jewish community talking points, which note that Obama was the primary sponsor of the “Iran Sanctions Enabling Act” (he drafted the act after consulting former Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu), to contain Iran and prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon. The fact sheet showed clearly that Obama was aligned with the majority of the American Jewish community on issues including a woman’s right to choose, health care, and separation of church and state.

After Ratner spoke, people asked questions on a variety of topics, including one woman who wanted clarification about Obama’s position on Jerusalem (Two principles: Jerusalem must remain the Jewish capital, never again divided by barbed wire — and those two principles should apply when the parites work out “final status” details at the negotiating table). This event was not a fundraiser — it was organizing and informing the Jewish community at the grassroots, encouraged in every aspect by the Obama campaign. Before we adjourned, we discussed how we could broaden our outreach as Jewish Team Leaders for Obama.

It was an incredible meeting, made so by the engaged, passionate people who showed up — most of whom I really didn’t know. For the hour-plus that we spoke about Obama and the Jewish community, everyone was rapt. There were people there in there 20s, right up through senior citizens. And there was a kind of intensity in that room that you don’t often see. We heard every word. People nodded in agreement, or raised their hands with questions. There was laughter and good humor, but, overall, there was a deep sense of commitment and seriousness, and concern for the future of the country we all love.

If that room was in any sense a microcosm of the effort Obama supporters will be putting forth nationwide in the campaign’s final 48 days, then I’d say we’re in great shape.