The Adversary President: Obama vs. America

As we approach the November elections after two years of the Obama presidency, oddly enough, a burning question is still, “Who Is Barack Obama?”

That question was the title of a Richard Cohen column, but practically since Obama’s first day in office, the public has been asking, Is he a socialist? A Marxist? Anti-American? Anti-colonialist? (the last term suggested in Dinesh D’Souza’s new book The Roots of Obama’s Rage). 

But there is one category that encompasses all of the above—and reveals how serious the diagnosis is.

The category Obama fits best is what scholars call the “adversary culture.”  Coined by literary critic Lionel Trilling, the term describes intellectuals and artists who feel alienated from Western society and hostile to its fundamental features. 

The adversary culture took root in the 19th century when an avant-garde began to define themselves by defiance of established norms. They castigated the bourgeoisie as philistines caring only about material profit. They denounced the growing capitalist class as vulgar money-grubbers.

They latched onto philosophies like Marxism that gave them a platform of moral superiority from which to castigate the West. And Christianity—well, whatever was popular among the uncultivated masses warranted only contempt. 

These attitudes soon congealed into a class consciousness. Sidney Hook, in the foreword to The Survival of the Adversary Culture, describes many intellectuals’ “hostility to American institutional values and practices.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan notes that “the cultural elite have pretty generally rejected the values and activities of the larger society.”

There’s little doubt that Obama considers himself part of that intellectual elite. The current New York Times Magazine quotes a prominent Democratic lawmaker saying that Obama “always believes he is the smartest person in any room.”

Many seem to agree. When Obama was elected, Newsweek trumpeted, “Brains Are Back.” The New Scientist hailed him as “the intellectual president,” “a former academic who is deeply familiar with the world of thought.” New York Times columnist David Brooks marveled that Obama’s cabinet consists of Ivy League grads “twice as smart as the poor reporters who have to cover them.” 
In short, the adversary class is now in power. Todd Gitlin, former president of the radical Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) famously said that after the 1960s student protests, the Left began “marching on the English Department while the Right took the White House.” We now know which was the more effective strategy.

The Left made their way up through the universities, became professors, and inculcated their radical ideas into the minds of generations of young people.

As a result, those who marched on the English department are now in the White House, bringing with them the adversary stance they imbibed in the classroom. They disdain ordinary Americans as racists, chauvinists, sexists, xenophobes, homophobes, religious bigots, and fanatical “clingers.”

The adversary culture explains Obama’s self-declared desire to fundamentally change America. It explains the constant apologizing for his own country, the Washington take-over of key industries, the move toward socialized medicine, the 20 year’s acceptance of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s black liberation theology, with its Marxist rewrite of Christianity.

These are not idiosyncratic views that require psychological explanations involving a father he barely knew (pacé D’Souza). As John Kelly writes in American Thinker, Obama’s philosophy is held by the majority of university faculty members: “He promotes, with near perfect predictability, their left-wing, collectivist, counter-American viewpoint. There are thousands and thousands of academics out there gripping a similar playbook.” 

The sobering implication is that even when Obama is no longer in office, there are thousands of others ready to jump in with the same playbook.

And they come from both political parties. In an American Spectator article that was widely read (after Rush Limbaugh featured it), Angelo Codevilla writes that America’s “ruling class” includes both Democrats and Republicans. “Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas” and gave them a remarkably uniform playbook.

The Tea Party represents a grassroots resistance to the adversary culture in both parties. It has mobilized millions who recognize that the ruling class is imposing a regime contrary to the liberating ideals of the American Founders.

To be intellectual does not require one to be alienated and oppositional. After all, America was “founded by intellectuals,” notes historian Richard Hofstadter. The Founders were “sages, scientists, and men of broad cultivation.” To recover their vision is to revive a genuinely American intellectual tradition.

November 2 is an opportunity to oust members of the adversary culture from power—and the first step to voting out the adversary president in 2012.

The White House should always be a friend to American freedom.

This is the sixth and final column in a series based on Nancy Pearcey’s just-published book, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning.