Our Yuppie President
For Obama, the stereotype is one of a distant, cool, rather narcissistic yuppie.Our last post was entitled “Our Anti-American President.” And of course, one key characteristic of yuppiedom is belief that one is worldly and cosmopolitan, above narrow patriotism.
Yuppism, remember, is not definable entirely by income or class. Rather, it is a late-twentieth-century cultural phenomenon of self-absorbed young professionals, earning good pay, enjoying the cultural attractions of sophisticated urban life and thought, and generally out of touch with, indeed antithetical to, most of the challenges and concerns of a far less well-off and more parochial Middle America.
For the yuppie male, a well-paying job in law, finance, academia, or consulting in a cultural hub, hip fashion, cool appearance, studied poise, elite education, proper recreation and fitness, and general proximity to liberal-thinking elites, especially of the more rarefied sort in the arts, are the mark of a real man.
For Obama, all the self-referencing about his black heritage and his tough community organizing, the publicly shared confessions about his absent father, the Chicago “bring a gun to a knife fight” tough talk, and the “cool” manner of shooting hoops cannot quite erase the image of an aloof, whiny urban professional of the sort who likes having nice things and kicking back, has not a clue about the lives of the middle and working classes, and heretofore has worried mostly about his own upward mobility.
In that context, for the Obamas, if there were not a Martha’s Vineyard or Costa del Sol, such places would probably have to be invented. Barack Obama — the son of a Ph.D. and a Harvard-educated economist, graduate of a Hawaii prep school, replete with Ivy League education, stylish digs in a good Chicago neighborhood, properly tamed and presentable radical social circles, and the requisite power-couple marriage — appreciates the ambiance of a vacation spot: Who goes there and why, and what others will say and think, alone matter. Otherwise, the sun and surf at Pismo Beach would do just as well.
During the campaign, numerous critics highlighted what we can legitimately call Obama’s yuppie problem — especially after the good times ended with the September 2008 meltdown, and a frazzled public wanted a president who would symbolically appreciate their ordeal. Instead, Obama wondered out loud about the price of arugula. He could not bowl a lick (but foolishly tried), and he scoffed at the gun-owning, white churchgoers of rural Pennsylvania as hopeless clingers, just the sort you would not want to meet at a Bill Ayers book-signing party in Hyde Park.
The media were of no help. So desperate were most reporters and commentators for an Obama presidency (and so insular themselves, as yuppies par excellence) that they naïvely assumed that being half black ipso facto gave one street cred — race alone in some warped sense providing working-class authenticity. After all, how could anyone who mimicked the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s hood cadences be tagged as a yuppie?
The media labored mightily to ignore Obama’s inability to incite passion and to “connect” with the American people. Golfing, complete with polo shirt and shades, was no longer an aristocratic distraction, but now something analogous to the fellas shooting baskets. Celebrity nights at the White House were really the cultured return of a dignified Camelot. Vacations at the in-spots were authentic antidotes to presidential stress, unlike the staged “down on the ranch” chainsawing of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. (The media were wise enough not to expect Barack Obama to try a photo-op chainsawing some limbs.)
All in vain. It has been 19 months now, and a NASCAR-savvy public knows a yuppie when it sees and hears one. Obama has never lived in the path of unchecked illegal immigration, with all its attendant social and cultural ripples; instead, he has lived where even murmuring “Close the borders” is considered Neanderthal. So he foolishly sues Arizona when 70 percent of America wants to emulate the state.
Typical of the yuppie elite, Obama judges administrative talent by Ivy League certification, not business or entrepreneurial experience in the school of hard knocks. A Harvard Ph.D. is always worth far more than an autodidact, jack-of-all trades entrepreneur who created a successful company from scratch. And that shows.
“Green” — as in the now-worn trope “millions of green jobs” — becomes almost a religious mantra, divorced from practical worries during a recession. For a jet-setting Obama, the idea, even the symbolism, of cap-and-trade, not its messy details amid a recession and national insolvency, is what counts.
Hypocrisy is an important attribute of yuppies, safe in the “right” urban and suburban enclaves, and thus free to pontificate in the abstract about the sort of life they studiously avoid in the concrete. Yuppies like teachers’ unions for our children; but they send their own children to charter, private, or prep schools where teaching excellence and results (defined by getting kids into the top private universities) matter.
Yuppies preach racial and class ecumenicalism, but they usually associate with their own kind. Yuppies compensate for their lack of physicality through hyper-expressions of gym- and sport-induced fitness. Put Obama in a pickup truck scrounging for voters, and in comparison Dukakis’s tank ride would seem like George Patton in a Sherman. Reagan knew how to use a Weed Eater; Obama would worry about machine-induced allergies and cite studies on hearing damage.
The earthier David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel are in a dilemma. They know now that the public has caught on, and that they must manufacture an empathetic First Couple, who in times of severe recession understand what the middle and working classes are going through. But they also know that nothing in Obama’s own prep-school, Occidental, Columbia, Harvard, Chicago Law School, Annenberg Foundation past would have imparted such a feel for blue-collar folks. (He is no Bill Clinton, whose studied yuppism was an escape from, and a conscious veneer over, a real trailer-park genesis.)
But of course, priding oneself on one’s cosmopolitanism is in fact a form of parochialism. True sophistication is not arrogant, not intent on asserting distance from ordinary Americans, and willing to be patriotic.
Labels: Barack Obama