- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mark Twain once joked that Richard Wagner’s music was “better than it sounds.” Obama administration officials say in all seriousness that the economy is better than it seems, if only people were smart enough to get it.

The same condescending attitude pervades portrayals of the midterm election as a “revolt of the masses,” as if peasants wielding torches and copies of the Constitution were marching on the ivory towers of Washington. MSNBC host Chris Matthews is able to dismiss Republican women candidates as brainless cuties without a peep from the professional feminists who undoubtedly agree with him. These commentators, and Democrats in general, are indignant that what they see as a collection of bitter rednecks clinging to guns and Bibles (to paraphrase then-candidate Barack Obama) is set to destroy the largest congressional governing majority in a generation.

Those who think in such terms are seriously out of touch. Polling shows that Tea Party activists have above-average educations and incomes. Many of those who plan to vote against the president’s party are middle- and working-class moderates who voted Democratic in 2008. Others are traditionally conservative voters who sat out the last election but have been newly energized as they see more far-left policies being implemented. Add to the mix a cohort of newly mobilized voters, and the “peasants” begin to look like a broad cross section of America.

If there’s one thing that progressives can never admit to themselves, it’s their own unpopularity. So they seek solace in rationalization. This week, Vice President Joe Biden asserted that it was “just too hard to explain” the administration’s many accomplishments, presumably because he thinks the American people are too unsophisticated to understand. Mr. Obama’s policies are not causing the problem, he explained; rather, it’s the administration’s marketing technique. “[It’s] sort of a branding,” he said, “I mean, you know they kind of want the branding more at the front end.” Meanwhile, Democratic candidates in competitive states and congressional districts are rebranding themselves as “independents” to run far away from the White House record - and, in some cases, their own record.

It’s not so much that the masses are revolting as that we are seeing the return of the traditional citizen legislator, the nonprofessional politician who comes to Washington for a brief round of public service before resuming a private life. It is the model of Cincinnatus and George Washington, of the Minutemen and Davy Crockett. The diverse group of new candidates standing in this election more accurately mirrors the American people than the doddering representatives of the ancien regime.

The coming election is not a contest between an all-knowing ruling class victimized by bad marketing and an ignorant mass of angry, misinformed troglodytes. It is a referendum on a vision of government and society in which the state seeks unlimited power to make decisions at the expense of the liberty of the people. It is a moment of decision on a failed experiment in governance. If the Obama administration’s accomplishments are too complex to explain to the voters, if the beneficial effects of their policies are not self-evident, it may be time for them to question whether they have accomplished anything worthwhile at all.