Britain’s Daily Telegraph is much the best read for comment on American politics. I guess I’m prejudiced because, having lived over there for 25 years I got to enjoy the Telegraph as the best paper in the world. In this article Toby Harnden points out that President Obama’s tactic of saying the Tea Party right wingers are stupid will probably backfire. He notices that the elitist Obama echoes European liberal anti Americanism, for the ‘intellectuals’ of Europe love to portray ordinary Americans as dumb, Bible totin’, gun slinging, sister marryin’ yokels.
What they don’t seem to get is that Americans actually value the common man. If you want to understand the American view of the blue collar worker take a look at Norman Rockwell’s pictures. Unlike European elitists who still treat their lower classes like unwashed peasants, most ordinary Americans look up to the working man. They don’t look down on him. They think he (and all persons) have an innate human dignity, and the smartest American politicians have always portrayed themselves as ordinary fellows who got lucky. George Bush Jr. was portrayed by the intellectuals as dumb, but he was smart enough to cut away from the East coast, Yale background, move to Texas, marry the local librarian and pretend to be just an ordinary Texan rancher. That’s why Americans liked him, and he didn’t much mind if people in Paris, London and Milan thought him a dumb hick because guess what? They didn’t have a vote.
Obama did best when he tapped into the hopes and aspirations of ordinary African Americans and the mainstream Democrat voters. The more he reveals his true colors as an East coast elitist intellectual the more his political stock will drop.
Intellectuals here and in Europe will never understand the mentality of the ordinary, conservative American voter. The intellectuals love themselves, and they just can’t understand why ordinary folk don’t like them. These people who are supposed to be so smart never actually take the time and trouble to understand people who are different from them. Instead they simply write them off as ‘angry, bitter and clinging to their Bibles and guns.’ Ironically, this famous quote of Obama’s in which he mocks ordinary Americans, pretty much explains the whole thing.
Conservative Americans do cling to their Bibles and guns, and those two things symbolize exactly what the marks them as Conservative Americans. First of all, they cling to their Bibles because they believe in God and his Son Jesus Christ. This is something incomprehensible to the intellectuals in the USA and Europe, and if they believe in God and his Son Jesus Christ, they do so with a passion and fervor which influences everything else they believe and do. Even if they fail, they want to be good Christian folk, and they want to have a society where they can practice their Christian beliefs and values, and they believe that their society will be happier and healthier and safer and better if everyone else did too. They cling to their Bibles because they’re Christians, and their Christian faith gives even the most ignorant of them more of a coherent and consistent world view and philosophy of life than the smuggest atheistic nihilist intellectual who has no philosophy of life but cynicism and no worldview but individualistic hedonism.
Are these good Christian people ‘dumb’? They might have less formal education. They might be prejudiced and ignorant about the wider world, but they’re not stupid. They’re smart, and furthermore, what the intellectuals who dismiss them also miss is that there are plenty of Christian conservatives who are anything but dumb and uneducated. America is full of smart, savvy, shrewd, highly educated and articulate Christian conservatives too.
What about guns? They cling to their guns not because they want to go around shooting everyone, but because they fear somebody else will. In other words, they cling to their guns as a method of self defense because they believe in original sin. That is to say, they believe that there are bad people out there who might want to take what belongs to them, and those bad people might be robbers and thieves and bandits, but they might also be the local militia working at the commands of a tyrannical ruler. It may be that they are given to paranoia. It may be that the extremists among them are dangerous, but their clinging to their guns is their way of expressing their distrust of the ‘big guys.’ The ordinary American conservative doesn’t trust the government. They think less government is always a good thing–no matter who they elected.
If you want to understand where Americans are ask where they came from. Those who came to America were refugees, pilgrims and homeless immigrants. They came from around the world escaping from pogroms, political and religious persecution and the attack of the wealthy, aristocratic, educated elite. It’s deep in the way they’re wired to distrust the big guys.
They don’t trust politicians and bankers and fat cats and all the networked, educated, power elite. They think those people who rule the world are almost always out for themselves and want to control the little guy for their own good. Furthermore, the big guys are the ones who start the wars, control the money and rule the world.
Conservative Americans don’t like them and don’t trust them.
Are they so wrong?
UPDATE: Toby Harnden gives this blog a link on his blog. Nice! Go here.