Obama and Jefferson strike down ‘too uppity’ smear
By Rev. Jack Van EnsSpecial to the DailyCritics smear Barack Obama because they allege he sounds snooty. Thomas Jefferson fended off similar savage attacks during his 1800 presidential campaign. Our third president was branded an elitist, a “Frenchified” aristocrat because he savored their wines more than relating to common folk. Caustic critics are clearly wrong when judging both politicians. Obama mirrored Jefferson’s strength by using his Ivy League education to aid common folk. Graduating from Harvard Law School, he worked in rough and tumble Southside Chicago. He helped communities organize protests when the elite took advantage of them. He heard firsthand their rage. The common folk Obama helped were denied the American dream of owning a home, holding jobs that supported families and had schools in ghettos that didn’t offer first-class education to their children.Tapping this experience, he described blue-collar anger to a group of San Francisco residents who attended a fundraiser April 6.”You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest,” Obama discerned, “the jobs have been gone now for 25 years, and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate, and they have not.”And it’s not surprising, then,” he concluded, “they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”These insights get twisted into barbs. Critics accuse Obama of putting down blue-collar workers with uppity slights he learned at Harvard. He’s allegedly too refined for them. Rush Limbaugh chides Obama for not mingling with Joe six-pack. He won’t bond, smirks Limbaugh, with the guy who sports a gun rack in the back of his beat-up pickup. Here’s a God-fearing hunter who bags a few rabbits Saturday evening so that his family has some grub for Sunday dinner after church. Then, with bloated bellies, he and buddies swill a keg of beer as they burp favorite drivers to the victory lap on the NASCAR circuit. Such gibberish sells well on talk shows that detest Obama.The made-up story goes that gun-toting, God-fearing Americans live in flyover zones, portions of the country Obama avoids as he jet sets from Manhattan to San Francisco.Opponents contrived similar irrational canards against Thomas Jefferson, too. The Federalist Party, priding itself on attracting Christians who were “good, wise and well-bred,” despised Jefferson. They made him into a toy persona, which they delighted in manipulating for political advantage.Federalists lied, accusing Jefferson of being won over by Aristotle, who taught snob appeal. This Greek philosopher liked a society where aristocratic haves ruled over the servile have-nots. Aristotle advised students to achieve a high station, where a titan who buys a mansion is better than the carpenter who builds it. A feast’s host ranks higher than the chef who cooks it. The musician who plays the flute is better than the artisan who makes it. A bidder at auction on a venerated statue is nobler than the sculptor. A collector who pays millions for a portrait is a connoisseur compared with the artist who paints it.By temperament and training, Jefferson stood out as a Virginia aristocrat. He dined on French cuisine and loved Burgundy’s choice wines. He treasured expensive books. His cultivated tastes rejected what’s boorish or boisterous.Like Obama, though, Jefferson applied his considerable talents to helping those less so. He acted on a perspective that had a leveling effect on society. His Democrat-Republican Party enrolled rascals, ragamuffins and unruly frontiersmen that the high-fallutin’ Federalist Party rejected. Jefferson offended a British minister by receiving him in casual attire – worn slippers and frayed dress. At the 1801 Inauguration, he humbly walked from Conrad’s Boardinghouse to take the oath of office in the Senate chamber of the not-yet-completed Capitol. Our third president in social style didn’t mimic the lower classes he represented. He raised tobacco but never smoked it. He didn’t waste time playing cards. He bred stallions but didn’t bet on them at the racetrack. Dueling was for immature dullards, Jefferson said. Though mentally aristocratic, Jefferson’s heart tilted toward those not well off.Like Jefferson, Obama speaks elegantly. He gives no hint of Southside Chicago street slang. His verbal excellence soars, as did Jefferson’s refined literary style.Obama reminds critics that his single mother subsisted on food stamps. Scholarships made possible his private school education. He and his wife, Michelle, finally paid off their college loans only six years ago.”I know what it’s like to see a mother get sick and worry that maybe she can’t pay the bills,” Obama said at a Washington, D.C., trade conference. When Jesus went to synagogue, the religious elite assumed they were on the Lord’s side. Jesus declared, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father,” Matthew 7:21. Obama and Jefferson took Jesus’ warning to heart, bolstering those brought low. Like our third president, Obama lacks snob appeal as he serves those in need. The Rev. Jack Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries, which enhances Christian worship with storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.
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