That does not mean this White House is fatally elitist, or as some hyperventilating conservatives suggest, contemptuous of the masses. The problem, as I originally argued last fall, is that the otherwise diverse Obama team is intellectually and culturally monochromatic. There are no recovering Bubbas or James Carville types who grew up in Sarah Palin’s version of the real America and who were acculturated to engage with and win over blue-collar workers. Nor are there policy mavericks like former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, or deal-cutters like former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, who are programmed to think outside the box, reach beyond their circles–or at least tell the president the difference between Elena Kagan and Joe Sixpack.
I believe this lack of diversity has at times shaped the Obama administration’s policymaking decisions for the worse–and thus hurt its standing with the white, working-class voters who were wary of Obama from the beginning. But I think the most obvious and damaging impact, as we’ve seen with the Kagan case, has been on how the White House communicates and connects with the public. Too often they speak as if every voter is a member of the Sierra or Harvard clubs–and as if no one, other than rabid Republicans, questions whether the first black president with the funny name and trillion-dollar health care bill shares their values. As a result, they’ve too often exacerbated those suspicions instead of assuaged them.