“If ever a time should come,” wrote Adams, “when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.”
“Vain” in the highest seats isn’t hard to find.
President Obama said the public is at fault if Democrats don’t do well in tomorrow’s election. Rather than blame himself and his congressional allies for ramming through unpopular healthcare legislation and delivering unprecedented levels of red ink, Obama asserted that the voters aren’t thinking straight because they’re too scared — scared stupid, frightened into a lack of clarity.
“Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does [sic] not seem to be winning the day all the time,” said President Obama, “is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared. And the country is scared.”
That’s not unlike how candidate Obama described people in “small towns in Pennsylvania” to a private gathering of his well-heeled supporters at a 2008 fundraising affair in San Francisco.
For people in Pennsylvania’s towns where “jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them,” said Obama, “it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion, or antipathy to people who aren't like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
It’s a condescending portrayal of working class culture, characterized as xenophobic and insular by Obama to his much wealthier and self-assured audience. Too embittered to think straight, small town Pennsylvanians are stereotyped as loading up on guns, clinging to Jesus, and irrationally targeting Mexican illegals, Chinese imports, and any atypical characters who might somehow show up in their ramshackle towns.
Another instance of “vain” in the high seats came from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) regarding his party’s expected losses in tomorrow’s election: “We have an electorate that doesn’t always pay that much attention to what’s going on, so people are influenced by a simple slogan rather than the facts or the truth or what’s happening.”
More than describing today, I’d say that Sen. Kerry inadvertently delivered the perfect account of the 2008 election, an electorate buying the simple slogans of “Hope,” “Change” and “Yes we can.”
In this Obama and Kerry scenario, the people are the problem, not the politicians. We’re either scared dumb or not paying attention, like dumb kids nodding off in the back of the classroom.
Or we’re racist. With the Tea Party likely to have some winners tomorrow, the NAACP has released “Tea Party Nationalism” and passed a resolution condemning “racist elements and activities” in the Tea Party and issued a report that accuses the Tea Party movement of providing “a platform to anti-Semites, racists and bigots.”
Or we’re being manipulated by sacks of foreign money, surreptitiously dropped at the chamber of commerce in order to pay for anti-Democrat campaign ads.
So we’re either nuts, terrified, inattentive, bigoted or just puppets who are being manipulated from overseas — or all five. And also the undeserving beneficiaries of colonial plunder.
It’s a fairytale from the “vain” in the “highest seats in government,” as Adams warned, a story in which the politicians define themselves as fine and the public is portrayed as in need of psychotherapy.
Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.