Alter on Fat Cats
Jonathan Alter, writing in Bloomberg View:
This was not, as Mr. Alter would have it, a "generic" reference. The full quote was "fat cat bankers on Wall Street." It was a specific reference to Wall Street bankers.
As for Mr. Alter's argument that this language was necessary for Mr. Obama's re-election, the argument breaks down on three levels.
First of all, Mr. Obama uttered the "fat cat" insult in December of 2009, nearly a year away from the midterm election and nearly three years away from his own re-election. If the fat cat language was so necessary to re-election, why didn't we see it at the Democratic National Convention, or in the presidential debates, or in television commercials in the past three months in the run-up to a close election? I suppose one could argue that the depiction of Mitt Romney during the campaign as a rapacious businessman was a variation of the fat cat theme, but I think that chalking up the "fat cat" quote to cynical electoral positioning rather than genuine feeling makes Mr. Obama seem more politically calculating than he is, or at least than he was in December 2009.
Second of all, assume Mr. Alter is correct, and Mr. Obama's "fat cat" insult was a calculated step intended to help him win re-election. What a case of the ends justify the means. Are there any other minority groups that Mr. Alter thinks it would be justified for a politician to insult in order to win re-election? Gays? Jews? Blacks?
Third of all, even if one accepts Mr. Alter's questionable proposition that Mr. Obama "needed to position himself as the champion of the middle class to get re-elected," isn't it possible to do that without insulting the non-middle class? I'd prefer a politician who runs not as the champion of any particular class — middle, upper, or lower — and who doesn't divide Americans into classes at all, and who runs as the champion of all Americans. But if one is going to run as the champion of the middle class, can't one just do it as a positive case, talking about what one is going to do to help the middle class, without having to insult the members of the other classes? Imagine, again, if Mr. Obama had felt it necessary to build up his pro-middle class bona fides by going on "60 Minutes" and saying he didn't get elected to help some "fat welfare mothers in Harlem." Would Mr. Alter be telling the welfare mothers to "grow up" and recognize that Mr. Obama just needed to position himself as the champion of the middle class so he could get re-elected?
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