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Michael Gerson Thinks Americans Are Stupid

I'm not really sure how else to interpret his column from today, which diagnoses one of Obama's primary handicaps as the following:

The Obama narrative is intellectual and ideological (not social) elitism. Humble roots have never been a guarantee of intellectual humility, especially when a mind comes to flower at Columbia and Harvard. Obama's dismissal of small-town views and values as "bitterness," "fear" and "anger"--his dismissal of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a relic of an angry generation--comes across as, well, dismissive. His first instinct--the academic instinct--is to explain and analyze, which is impressive to political writers who share that particular vocation. But this approach always places the explainer in a position of superiority. The arrogance of the aristocrat is nothing compared to the arrogance of the academic.

The issue of the lapel flag pin is a good illustration. Obama's explanation for its absence--that it had become a "substitute" for "true patriotism" in the aftermath of Sept. 11--is perfectly rational. For a professor at the University of Chicago. Members of the knowledge class generally find his stand against sartorial symbolism to be subtle, even courageous. Most Americans, I'm willing to bet, will find it incomprehensible after 20 additional explanations, which are bound to be required. A president is expected to be a patriotic symbol himself, not the arbiter of patriotic symbols. He is supposed to be the face-painted superfan at every home game; to wear red, white and blue boxers on special marital occasions; to get misty-eyed during the most obscure patriotic hymns.

Gerson isn't saying that Obama is actually unpatriotic; he's just saying that Americans will think he is because he doesn't wear a flag pin. But does it really take a University of Chicago professor to understand why he doesn't in less than 20 explanations? And are academics and other members of the knowledge class really the only people who don't expect the president to be a Super Fan? Obviously, no one--members of the knowledge class included--wants their president to be aloof; but I don't think there are that many people who want him to wear Stars and Stripes boxers, either. It's Gerson's extreme rationality in explaining the masses' irrationality that strikes me as arrogant here.

--Jason Zengerle