I think Michelle Obama’s stump-speech message of the unfairness of “moving bars,” opportunity-killing debt burdens on college graduates, families having to move away from great aunts, and the fear engulfing the “vast majority of Americans” is not going to resonate with most voters.
This is the rhetoric of resentment and victimization, and as I played her speech from May 2 on yesterday’s program –and it is very similar to the speech she made the previous Friday night– the radio audience reacted with a combination of astonishment and anger. Michelle Obama discounts all the good that is going on in the country, skips over the deep generosity of Americans, and ignores the astonishing economic and social progress made in the U.S. since the close of W.W.II as she indicts aspect after aspect of American life.
Her very grim vision chills those who do not share it, which I guess to be the “vast majority” of Americans. One caller asked that if Obama couldn’t raise the spirits of his wife, how will he raise the spirits of the country? Aside from the pithiness of the remark, it illuminated that Michelle Obama sounds like Pastor Wright and Bill Ayers when talking about America, making our country sound like a land of sharks and vultures.
Now, some people believe that, especially those who have had a rough go of it. Lots of people on the far left believe it as well.
But most Americans don’t. Most Americans think their country exceptionally wonderful, a force for good in the world, and a place of enormous opportunity for everyone who studies hard, works hard, and invests in their family, church and community.
This “American pride gap” is a powerful problem for the Obama campaign. The young people he is attracting might not think much of the country their parents and grandparents built, but those over 40 are certain to have a deep pride in their efforts. Those over 70 must be astonished to hear Michelle’s musings. Every broad-based measure speaks to economic progress across a wide front in this country. Home ownership increased from 55% of Americans in 1955 to 66% of the country in 2000. The percentage of the population 25 years or older with a college degree went from 6.2% in 1950 to 24.4% in 2000. The percentage of Americans living in poverty has been cut in half in the last 50 years. The country’s population increased by 80% between 1950 and 2000, but the most basic of American indicators of possibilities and opportunities –car ownership– soared by 383%!
The experience of the African-American population has not been that of the rest of the country, though significant progress has been recorded within that demographic as well, but so too have significant problems especially when it comes to family structure. The marriage rate for African Americans has been dropping for more than 30 years, and many other measures point to a general disadvantage among African Americans vis-a-vis the rest of the population.
But extrapolating those obstacles into an indictment of the entire country is not persuasive, and worse, it is deeply offensive to those who work hard, succeed, and give a great deal back to their communities without regard to race or gender. The “vast majority” of Americans are good and generous people who think the country is a pretty special place and are deeply proud of it. Not only do they not identify with Michelle Obama’s vision, they reject it.
When Obama loses Indiana tonight, and struggles in North Carolina, it will be because of Pastor Wright in part, but also because the bitterness Wright feels towards America has at least in part seeped into Michelle Obama’s rhetoric.