Barack Obama, the President of Ordinary Joes.

Greg Sargent already pointed out the absurdity of this Washington Post article, but there's something else of which we should take note. The article asserts that Obama is "a rare president who comes from the middle class, yet people still perceive him as disconnected from it. As he arrived in Nashua, nearly two-thirds of Americans believed that his economic policies had hurt the country or made no difference at all; almost half thought he did not understand their problems." As Sargent notes, according to the Post's own polling, 57 percent of Americans say Obama "understands the problems of people like you," while 42 percent -- that's the "almost half" -- say he doesn't. Seems pretty good, right?

And in fact, if you look back at their polls on George W. Bush -- remember him, the reg'lar fella who liked nothing more than chewing on some pretzels while watching football after a vigorous session of brush-clearing? -- Obama looks even better. Turns out that the high Bush achieved on that question was 61 percent in January 2002, just four months after September 11. By July of that year he was at 57 percent -- where Obama is now -- and he kept falling and falling, until the last time they asked it, in early 2006, only 37 percent of Americans thought Bush understood their problems (the data can be read at

So the Post could have written a story headlined, "Despite Rough Political Waters, Obama Retains Bond With Ordinary Americans." But they wrote the opposite story. Why? I would argue it's probably the same reason reporters always write this story about Democratic politicians, and almost never about Republicans. It's one of the greatest successes of the conservative campaign of browbeating the press. Reporters have internalized the conservative argument about class: It's to be understood not as a factor of money but of tastes and style. Bush, who went to Andover, Yale, and Harvard, and who had a senator grandfather and a president father, can be a regular guy, because despite his expensive education, he has contempt for book learnin' and talks like a simpleton. No reporter would ever have considered asking whether Bush was an "elitist," despite his impassioned advocacy for the interests of the moneyed class. Obama, on the other hand, despite being raised by a single mother, must be some kind of chardonnay-swilling elitist who can't possibly relate to ordinary people.

The fact that most reporters themselves fit their own definition of "elitist" is precisely the point. The views of regular, real, heartlandish people can just be assumed, regardless of what the polls might say. Go to a diner or a barbershop, interview a couple of angry Republicans, and you've got your story.

-- Paul Waldman

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