I was reading Small Town paper yesterday, specifically an editorial by someone from a think tank. His subject was the current political campaign, which seems to be the subject of absolutely everything these days. You ask someone if we're going to get rain, and he will inevitably turn the answer into something about the damn Democrats or the damn Republicans depending on his opinion.
In this editorial, the writer suggested that some people think Obama talks down to them. He's not the first to say that. "We American yokels can't speak French or Spanish. We eat too much. Our cars are too big, our houses either overheated or overcooled. And we don't even put enough air in our tires," he says.
Obama has also told black men they need to spend more time with their families and take responsibility for them. Bill Cosby and countless preachers have harped on that, so that's nothing new. White men get told the same thing if they put themselves in the way of books or conferences about manhood. When Obama said it, though, people accused him of talking down to black people and separating himself from them.
I don't think Obama has talked down to anyone. I think, if he has really said all of these things, then he is right on all counts, although phrases like "too much" and "too big" are relative. Americans as a whole put little emphasis on speaking a second language. In Small Town, second languages aren't offered until high school grades, and even then, the subject is scarce. You can find a Spanish class, but French is being phased out, and that's about it. No one cares because we speak English, and that's all you ever need to know.
As far as how much we eat, you can hardly dispute the obesity rate in this country. The portion sizes in restaurants are shocking, as if you're meant to make two or three meals out of what's on your plate. That same gluttony shows itself in the cars we drive, too. American car makers who spit out these gas-sucking machines say they're just answering the market, but the Honda Civic (31 mpg) is the top-selling car in this country.
The trend for big houses is waning because they are so expensive to heat and cool, but you can't argue that Americans like big, private spaces. And as for the tire gauge issue, here is what Jeanne Moos, my favorite television commentator, has to say:
I think the issue isn't that Obama talks down to people. I think the issue is that people don't like to be told what to do. I know I certainly don't. Kids don't like when their parents scold them. Students don't like being corrected by their teachers. And if a political leader tells us we're doing something wrong or at least not as well as we could do it, we call him an elitist. Remember Carter's malaise speech? He was right, but it was his undoing.
As hard as difficult change is to swallow or correcting bad habits is to accomplish, I'd rather have a leader who is willing to open him(her)self up to criticism by speaking the truth than one who would prefer to appease us all by saying, "the state of the union is strong. Eat up."