It’s no secret that the Obama campaign and its surrogates will continue to portray Mitt Romney at too detached from the lives of ordinary Americans to be elected president.
“Governor Romney’s a little out of touch,” Vice President Joe Biden told Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer in early April.
Or as actress and Obama supporter Jane Lynch put it recently about the nominee-to-be, “the guy does not know how to relate to people.”
But it’s a theme the Obama campaign ought to think twice about before advancing. That’s because President Obama himself exhibits a striking inability to connect with an electorate he seems uninterested in getting to know.
Obama rarely spends time with average Americans, and can seem smug and downright clueless about their lives when he talks about them.
We got a glimpse of this ignorance in the 2008 campaign, when Obama told a room full of San Francisco donors that Midwesterners cling to guns, religion and xenophobia. It surfaced again last year when he told a woman at a town hall event that he found it “interesting” that her unemployed engineer husband couldn’t find work.
Obama’s staff privately concede that their boss has a hard time understanding people. “Surprisingly for someone who led such an inspirational campaign,” a longtime executive branch employee told the Atlantic’s James Fallows, “[Obama] does not seem to have the ability to connect with people.”
Obama’s inability to connect shouldn’t be all that surprising, however. Obama has spent most of his adult life living, working, and socializing in upper middle class suburbs, college towns, and seats of government. Hyde Park in Chicago, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. are fine cities. But they don’t necessarily give residents a clear picture of the way most Americans live.
Granted, the bar for presidential connectedness was set high by Obama’s immediate predecessors. Bill Clinton was in his element around other people, be they powerful D.C. insiders or average voters. Clinton had a natural ability to convince people he could feel their pain.