Victor Davis Hanson: Obama the Yuppie

Roundup: Historians' Take

[NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.]

...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 ambience 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....

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.)...

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....

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....

After 2004 we thought that John Kerry — spandex-clad, wind-surfing, at home with the good mansion life, stiff, pontificating, and passionless — had proven that yuppism was a career-ender for a presidential candidate. So it was not easy just four years later to sell a kindred yuppie, but centrist-talking, Obama to the public, as an antidote to George Bush’s Iraq and Katrina — even after the worst financial panic in modern memory, and as a sort of collective penance for past real and purported racial sins.

But those planets will not line up again in our lifetime. And so a country that is deep in a stalled economy and tired of elite bromides is left with our first metrosexual president, Barack Obama. Both the man and the agenda, after nearly two years, are yuppie still to the core.

And it shows.

comments powered by Disqus