Anybody who has tried Starbucks’ new blue-collar coffee called Pike Place will notice that it is, in a word, bitter. Now, I don’t want my words to sound as if they are coming from an elitist, so let me qualify my remark.
I am not a coffee connisseur. I only recently learned that that quality of Starbuck coffee which I had always called “smoky” was in fact “over-roasted”.
As a matter of fact, I don’t much like coffee to begin with. I drink it because one part of me feels drawn to do it, as if the working world where I spend my days wouldn’t be complete without the act of drinking it. So, drinking coffee is part of the world I inhabit, and to that extent, it is a part of me. I am divided.
You know, when I mention to co-workers (who seem to inhabit that world serenely without any turmoil) my thoughts about coffee, I always seem to be straddling a fence between two worlds. I have to make remarks as if I like coffee — which I do — at least, in part. And yet, part of me is watching myself bridging the gap, and it is quietly aware that if it weren’t for working every day, I wouldn’t be drinking coffee at all.
It is a unique and formidable challenge every day to address a different world-view. You not only have to respond to what it says when it says something to you, but you have to respond to its assumptions as well. Otherwise, it will be clear that you’re not really a participant, that you’re faking. Then communication would be impossible.
Now, when I return home, I have to address my girlfriend, who knows I don’t like coffee, and suffer her suspicious looks when I casually mention I went ten minutes out of my way to get a cup of coffee that morning. Suspicious — either because I am lying about disliking coffee, or I am insane because I am doing something naturally that I do not like, which would be unnatural.
This being divided is very much against the standard view of responsibility: that there is an ‘I’ who inhabits one world, commits a single act with a single meaning. And yet, America is a collection of different worlds which only here and there overlap.
Barack Obama has gotten himself in trouble, which is to say, created an hysterical media reaction, over words to a group of elitists (for the sake of argument) about another group (hillbillies, rednecks). This in and of itself is enough to get him in trouble with the latter, because to speak to any group about another group in their absence seems to violate the bizarre grammatical second-person obsession of our political discourse. (Always, you, you, you; never he, she, or they without it being strongly framed in a context of you.) So for those already suspicious of Obama because he is an outsider, ‘exotic’, and now an ‘elitist’ (which is just a coded way of saying the same thing), he has triumphantly confirmed their suspicions.
In particular, in the view of some very nuanced analyses of his statements, which still seem to miss the ultimate point, his biggest crime was not even what was mentioned above — communicating with outsiders on their own terms, which is tantamount to being an outsider. It was the way he included religion and guns together with anti-immigrant bias, bigotry, and racism. This “confirms” that he is an elitist.
Well, the only problem with such a nuanced analysis is that it fails to credit Obama with simply this: having the intelligence to speak to elitists about things which are foreign to them *on their own terms* and attempting to portray them as understandable. To Hollywood elitists, guns and God are just as foreign and out of their everyday experience as bigotry and anti-immigrant status. Not because they are saints: their everyday lives simply have a different configuration (insulated from poverty and crime, it is easy not to be racist; no hunting means no guns; affluence and decadence usually means a flaunting of anti-church or atheist ideals).
So Obama, used to straddling the fence between worlds, simply might have been too adept at making a tactical point, appealing to the assumptions of one group, in order to create an opening for understanding, a tiny crack through which light could shine through, when there was none before.
What Obama should do now is *not* give a speech on guns and God in Pennsylvania, as some have suggested. Instead, he should attempt to make the Hollywood and liberal elites understandable and human to Pennsylvania rednecks:
* He should explain how conditions of wealth, affluence, and luxury, and the absence of honest hard work often result in moral and spiritual confusion and even suffering; how a person like Michael Jackson is really a person fallen prey to his own wealth and isolation, and that the predilection for little boys and the facelifts would likely never occurred had he stayed in humble, regular environment.
* He should explain how across the board, the lives of elites (left and right) express themselves in the form of excess, ambiguous morality, bizarre sexual practices and neurotic personality traits.
* He should mention how wealth creates a sense of entitlement and a vanity and usually results in the ill-treatment of one’s fellow man.
* He should mention how the liberal elite is still shaped by an outdated Marxist heritage, and so is still prone to ideas of social engineering which almost always fail. Society is complex, and chaos theory illustrates just how unintended consequences can be. Only an open and honest commitment to fairness has any hope of uplifting an entire group: trying to rig the lives of citizens by experimenting willy-nilly with the stuff of their lives is in the final analysis more about power than anything else.
* He should say that the liberal elite is no wiser, no more intelligent than everyday people, but that it has simply co-opted the images of intelligensia, just as conservatism has co-opted images of nationalism.
* He should mention how liberalism has a neurotic abhorrence of anything related to authority, even when it is the basic authority that sustains society, or even the family; that as a result, a perverse wish to subvert these institutions is often less about fairness or right than it is a desire to harm the cherished institutions of those that are different (everyday people).
A number of points can be made. If Obama were to start from the world-view of the “common man”, and tell the hidden truth about the liberal elites to them in terms that would humanize them, then he would truly be a great leader.