Monday, June 23, 2008

The Politics Of Envy

Via Talking Points Memo, I discovered this piece by Jake Tapper at ABC News, in which Tapper reports second-hand (please remember this, ladies and gentlemen; Rove can disavow this entire thing because Tapper is repeating something another reporter told him) that, at a breakfast meeting, former White House political aide Karl Rove said the following in regards to Barack Obama:
Even if you never met him, you know this guy. He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by.

The easiest criticism to be made against this kind of frame is made by Tapper.
Interesting that Mr. Rove would use a country club metaphor to describe the first major party African-American presidential candidate, whom I'm sure wouldn't be admitted into many country clubs that members of the Capitol Hill Club frequent.

Leaving aside this obvious problem with Rove's comment, let us note something further. It seems to me that what Rove is doing here is attempting to exploit that nastiest and most destructive human emotion - envy. Rove wants Republicans to paint Obama as the guy who was simultaneously class President, chair of the student council, captain of the football team, the steady with the head of the cheerleading squad, and class valedictorian. He wants us to see Obama as the President of the best, most prestigious fraternity who got the full-ride scholarship and answered all the tough questions in class. In other words, he wants to go after Obama for being smart, good-looking, and successful, because most Americans aren't these things.

This might be a good strategy if it hadn't been done before to Al Gore, to John Kerry, to Michael Dukakis. Since John McCain went to Annapolis, was a fighter pilot, married a trophy wife worth a few million bucks, and has been a member of Congress (a pretty prestigious club, no?) for over a quarter century, I'm not sure how well this works. Furthermore, I think part of Obama's appeal is precisely his c.v. as a success, his good looks, his ease on the stump, his obvious affection for his wife (who is also quite attractive, and charming to boot). Rove want to take these positive, however, and turn them in to negatives by whispering in our ear our darkest beliefs about the successful: they have the deck stacked for them; isn't it unfair that everything comes so easy for them; they appear to be our best friend, but snicker at us behind their hands and our backs because we have to work so hard; a person like this deserves to lose, to have his comeuppance, to be dealt a blow to his over-sized ego; such people as this have a certain sense of entitlement to victory that should be pierced by the common folk. The list could go on and on.

I have no doubt that this line of attack will be tried, along with all the others. Envy is far too easy to create, and exploit. Yet, I think it will fall short not because Americans are better than that (we aren't), but because, like everything else Republicans have tried to do for the past eight years, it will fail because the time for this kind of crap is over. Furthermore, that anyone takes Karl Rove seriously anymore is far beyond my own ability to comprehend.

The Republicans used this as far back as the early 1950's, when Joe McCarthy went after Harry Truman's Secretary of State Dean Acheson. 'Twas ever thus, it seems, and it has been a staple of Republican politics since Nixon stole the whole thing from George Wallace's 1968 Presidential campaign; Nixon's "silent majority" nonsense is nothing more than envy dressed up with a haircut and new shoes.

George W. Bush's anti-Midas touch, however, has proved once and for all that electing mediocrity, the quintessential everyman with whom it might be fun to have a beer and tell dirty jokes, is not a good way to choose a President. Personally, I would support the guy who beat me out in the race for class President every time over the class clown who got drunk every weekend and struck out with the cheerleader wannabes at the school dance on the weekend. I want a President who is successful, and smart, and has a record to prove it. Electing a person with a record of failure has only led to, well, more failure. Except the failure now is far larger and far more costly.

Virtual Tin Cup

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