Barack Obama has lost the Hamptons.
That sentence is a fat target for ridicule, I know, since the Hamptons are often reviled as the playground of the ridiculously rich and the promiscuously silly — hardly the working-class Democratic base. As is usually the case, there’s some truth to the stereotype, but enough exceptions to that rule to make the White House pay attention. The Hamptons is where the Democratic energy, money and intellectual firepower of Manhattan goes for R&R. It’s just not another beach.
Over the Labor Day weekend, I went to a number of events in the Hamptons. At all of them, Obama was discussed. At none of them — that’s none — was he defended. That was remarkable. After all, sitting around various lunch and dinner tables were mostly Democrats. Not only that, some of them had been vociferous Obama supporters, giving time and money to his election effort. They were all disillusioned.
Let me call the roll. I am talking about are writers and editors, lawyers and shrinks, Wall Street tycoons and freelance photographers, hedge funders and academics, run-of-the-mill Democrats and Democratic activists. They were all politically sophisticated, and just a year ago some of them were still vociferous Obama supporters. No more.
Frankly, I was surprised. The Hamptons are a redoubt of New York liberalism. It is to campaign money what the Outer Banks are to fishermen. I expected more than a few people to defend the president. No one did. Everyone — and I do mean everyone — expressed disappointment in him as a leader. In that area, they thought he was a bust. Some articulated detailed critiques — the nature of his stimulus program, for instance. They argued that more money should have gone into long-term infrastructure programs. Most, though, skipped the details and just registered dismay: Where had their “change” agent gone?
In general, Obama was faulted for lacking political skills. I have long held this view, citing just recently his refusal to take advantage of the Republican leadership’s desire to nickel-and-dime disaster aid and instead give them the gift of scheduling his jobs speech on the night of the GOP debate. Obama held out for an hour or two and then ordered a retreat — an epochal moment in weakness, confusion and brain-dead politics. From his grave, Lyndon Johnson wept.
I grant you that the Hamptons are not America, and I grant you further that some of these people will scurry back to the Democratic fold when they have to choose between Obama and, say, Rick Perry. (Jon Huntsman or Mitt Romney is a different matter.) In the meantime, though, these opinion leaders, these political activists, these people with influence and, yes, money, have bailed on Obama — not just some of them, not just a few of them, but all of them. The early returns are in: Obama has lost the Hamptons.