Coulda Been a Contender

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Politics is only part policy. It’s also a large part psychology. This is a point that policy-minded libertarians need to remember. We complain about the glaring elitism of Barack Obama and other establishment statists; but we fail to grasp the important aspirational quality of their elitism. Just recently, at a cocktail party, I spent some time speaking with a small-town potentate. As the talk went on, he made some boozy boasts about his heavy connections with Democratic Party big shots in the state capitol. Now, generally speaking, this fellow had quite a bit to boast about. He is “self-made,” having attended one good state university for his undergraduate degree and another for graduate school. (He doesn’t understand . . . or doesn’t readily admit . . .that government subsidies had a lot to do with his education and certification.) He’s done well in his career — owning one of the finest houses in town and being appointed and subsequently elected to a high-profile local-government job. Full of this, perhaps, he confided in me that the big people in the capitol were passing his name along for an appointment in the Obama Administration. A more sociable person would have let the boast slide; but I couldn’t. In my wittiest tone, I said: “Really? But you don’t fit the profile. You didn’t go to an Ivy League school and you’ve never worked at Goldman Sachs.” He was stunned for a moment. And then crestfallen. Literally, he looked at the ground. But when he looked up again, there was a sneer on his face. He muttered something indecipherable that included the word “fucking” and walked away. Obama’s political power — and Clinton’s, before him — had a lot to do with the fact the petit bourgeois identified with him. He’s like them. He made it “on his own.” The student loans that he and his wife struggled to repay weren’t a subsidy from a generous country; they were a hassle. If the Obamas made it all the way to the White House, well, maybe smalltown potentates can, too. I don’t mean, entirely, to ridicule this aspirational identification. It’s democratic, in the good sense. But it’s also selective. And self-serving. There’s another mainstream American politician who taps into aspirational identification. That’s why Sarah Palin drives the statists insane. She’s encroaching on their psychological franchise.

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