Obama has apologized for his phrasing while defending the substance of his statement. And why not? He was retailing an article of left-wing orthodoxy going back centuries: that the working class is distracted by religion and other peripheral concerns from focusing on its economic interests and embracing socialism. Versions of Obama's insight have been expounded by a world-famous 19th-century economist (Karl Marx), by a 1960s New Left philosopher (Herbert Marcuse) and by a best-selling contemporary liberal writer (Thomas Frank, author of "What's the Matter With Kansas?"), among many others. It's so commonplace that Bubba-friendly Bill Clinton wrote in his memoir that Republicans wanted to undermine confidence in government so voters would be more receptive to "their strategy of waging campaigns on divisive social and cultural issues like abortion, gay rights and guns."
At bottom, this is a profoundly insulting point of view. Consider Obama's formulation. He makes it sound like no one would be a hunter or a Christian absent economic distress, that economic circumstances drive people into such atavistic habits. Has he considered that some people simply enjoy hunting? And view the right to bear arms as a guarantor of American liberty? As they used to say, "God made men, but Sam Colt made them equal."
The assumption is that only liberal attitudes are normal and well-adjusted: If only these small-town people could earn more income, get an advanced degree and move to a major metropolitan area, they could shed their chrysalis of social conservatism.
Obama prides himself on his civility, but it has to go much deeper than dulcet rhetoric. A fundamental courtesy of political debate is to meet the other side on its own terms. If someone says he cares about gun rights, it's rude to insist: "No, you don't. It's the minimum wage that you really care about, and you'd know it if you were more self-aware." But Democrats have an uncontrollable reflex to do just that. Since the McGovernite takeover of their party, they have struggled to work up enthusiasm for Middle American mores. (Since 1980, only Bill Clinton managed it, which is why he was the only Democrat elected president in three decades.)
When the liberal reflex is coupled with a Ivy League-educated candidate who seems personally remote and uncomfortable with everyday American activities, it's electoral poison. After the likes of Al Gore and John Kerry, Republicans had to be wondering, "Could Democrats possibly nominate yet another candidate easily portrayed as an out-of-touch elitist?" With Obama, Democrats appear to be responding with a resounding "Yes, we can!"
Obama brings a special measure of arrogance to the standard liberal critique of Middle America. His candidacy has always been characterized by two paradoxes. How can he be so hopeful at the same time he and his wife, Michelle, portray America as a sink-pit of despair? And how can he claim to be a uniter when he's an orthodox liberal who has risked little or nothing for bipartisan outreach?
Now, we know. Obama defines hopefulness as liberalism, specifically liberalism as embodied by himself. Only with Obama's election will America be redeemed from its harrowing false consciousness. We will be unified, not by Obama reaching out to conservatives to hammer out compromises, but by conservatives shedding their bitterness and becoming Obama liberals. This is the underside of hope: arrogance fading into a secular messianism based on the fallenness of everyone who disagrees with Barack Obama.
Reverend Wrong, Revisited
Post below recycled from Powerline. See the original for links
Reverend Jeremiah Wright is back in the news, denouncing the Founders and Fox News. (Fox is in good company, I guess.) In honor of Wright's retirement, Barack Obama should consider buying him a ticket to some place far away.
Wright's return comes on the heels of Obama's self-revelation in San Francisco. This should remind us that Obama's selection of Wright as his spiritual mentor was also an act of self-revelation. Obama grew up in a secular family, and converted to Christianity as an adult, specifically because he was drawn to Reverend Wright and the theology that Wright preached.
So it is rather stunning to hear Obama explain, in his own words and in his own voice, what it was about Wright that he found so compelling. In fact, it was Wright's denouncing Hiroshima and teaching that the world's problems are caused by "white men's greed" that, by Obama's own account, brought him to tears. Listen to it:
Barack Obama is an extraordinarily divisive figure, not because of who he is, but because of what he says. Does he still find the claim that the "world in need" is caused by "white men's greed" to be credible? No Presidential candidate has run for office on an explicitly racist platform since the Democrats of the mid-19th century. But if Obama still endorses references to "white men's greed," as he did when he wrote Dreams From My Father, he is disqualified from office on grounds of racial divisiveness alone. Can you imagine what would happen to a white candidate who said that he selected a church and attended it for twenty years because he liked the fact that the minister said the world's problems are caused by "black men's [fill in a vice]"?
Barack Obama has a great deal of explaining to do, not just to the voters of small-town Pennsylvania, but to all voters across the United States.
By the way, the audio clip is from Obama's audio book of Dreams From My Father, and is duplicated under the doctrine of fair use. Anyone is free to download or copy it, to put it up on another web site, email it, or whatever.
Candidate on a High Horse
By George Will
Barack Obama may be exactly what his supporters suppose him to be. Not, however, for reasons most Americans will celebrate. Obama may be the fulfillment of modern liberalism. Explaining why many working class voters are "bitter," he said they "cling" to guns, religion and "antipathy to people who aren't like them" because of "frustrations." His implication was that their primitivism, superstition and bigotry are balm for resentments they feel because of America's grinding injustice.
By so speaking, Obama does fulfill liberalism's transformation since Franklin Roosevelt. What had been under FDR a celebration of America and the values of its working people has become a doctrine of condescension toward those people and the supposedly coarse and vulgar country that pleases them.
When a supporter told Adlai Stevenson, the losing Democratic presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956, that thinking people supported him, Stevenson said, "Yes, but I need to win a majority." When another supporter told Stevenson, "You educated the people through your campaign," Stevenson replied, "But a lot of people flunked the course." Michael Barone, in "Our Country: The Shaping of America From Roosevelt to Reagan," wrote: "It is unthinkable that Roosevelt would ever have said those things or that such thoughts ever would have crossed his mind." Barone added: "Stevenson was the first leading Democratic politician to become a critic rather than a celebrator of middle-class American culture -- the prototype of the liberal Democrat who would judge ordinary Americans by an abstract standard and find them wanting."
Stevenson, like Obama, energized young, educated professionals for whom, Barone wrote, "what was attractive was not his platform but his attitude." They sought from Stevenson "not so much changes in public policy as validation of their own cultural stance." They especially rejected "American exceptionalism, the notion that the United States was specially good and decent," rather than -- in Michelle Obama's words -- "just downright mean."
The emblematic book of the new liberalism was "The Affluent Society" by Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith. He argued that the power of advertising to manipulate the bovine public is so powerful that the law of supply and demand has been vitiated. Manufacturers can manufacture in the American herd whatever demand the manufacturers want to supply. Because the manipulable masses are easily given a "false consciousness" (another category, like religion as the "opiate" of the suffering masses, that liberalism appropriated from Marxism), four things follow:
First, the consent of the governed, when their behavior is governed by their false consciousnesses, is unimportant. Second, the public requires the supervision of a progressive elite which, somehow emancipated from false consciousness, can engineer true consciousness. Third, because consciousness is a reflection of social conditions, true consciousness is engineered by progressive social reforms. Fourth, because people in the grip of false consciousness cannot be expected to demand or even consent to such reforms, those reforms usually must be imposed, for example, by judicial fiats.
The iconic public intellectual of liberal condescension was Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, who died in 1970 but whose spirit still permeated that school when Obama matriculated there in 1981. Hofstadter pioneered the rhetorical tactic that Obama has revived with his diagnosis of working-class Democrats as victims -- the indispensable category in liberal theory. The tactic is to dismiss rather than refute those with whom you disagree.
Obama's dismissal is: Americans, especially working-class conservatives, are unable, because of their false consciousness, to deconstruct their social context and embrace the liberal program. Today that program is to elect Obama, thereby making his wife at long last proud of America.
Hofstadter dismissed conservatives as victims of character flaws and psychological disorders -- a "paranoid style" of politics rooted in "status anxiety," etc. Conservatism rose on a tide of votes cast by people irritated by the liberalism of condescension. Obama voiced such liberalism with his "bitterness" remarks to an audience of affluent San Franciscans. Perfect.
When Democrats convened in San Francisco in 1984, en route to losing 49 states, Jeane Kirkpatrick -- a former FDR Democrat then serving in the Cabinet of another such, Ronald Reagan -- said "San Francisco Democrats" are people who "blame America first." Today, they blame Americans for America being "downright mean."
Obama's apology for his embittering sociology of "bitterness" -- "I didn't say it as well as I could have" -- occurred in Muncie, Ind. Perfect. In 1929 and 1937 Robert and Helen Lynd published two seminal books of American sociology. They were sympathetic studies of a medium-sized manufacturing city they called "Middletown," coping -- reasonably successfully, optimistically and harmoniously -- with life's vicissitudes. "Middletown" was in fact Muncie, Ind.
A Living Lie
By Thomas Sowell
An e-mail from a reader said that, while Hillary Clinton tells lies, Barack Obama is himself a lie. That is becoming painfully apparent with each new revelation of how drastically his carefully crafted image this election year contrasts with what he has actually been saying and doing for many years. Senator Obama's election year image is that of a man who can bring the country together, overcoming differences of party or race, as well as solving our international problems by talking with Iran and other countries with which we are at odds, and performing other miscellaneous miracles as needed.
There is, of course, not a speck of evidence that Obama has ever transcended party differences in the United States Senate. Voting records analyzed by the National Journal show him to be the farthest left of anyone in the Senate. Nor has he sponsored any significant bipartisan legislation -- nor any other significant legislation, for that matter. Senator Obama is all talk -- glib talk, exciting talk, confident talk, but still just talk.
Some of his recent talk in San Francisco has stirred up controversy because it revealed yet another blatant contradiction between Barack Obama's public image and his reality. Speaking privately to supporters in heavily left-liberal San Francisco, Obama let down his hair and described working class people in Pennsylvania as so "bitter" that they "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them."
Like so much that Obama has said and done over the years, this is standard stuff on the far left, where guns and religion are regarded as signs of psychological dysfunction -- and where opinions different from those of the left are ascribed to emotions ("bitter" in this case), rather than to arguments that need to be answered.
Like so many others on the left, Obama rejects "stereotypes" when they are stereotypes he doesn't like but blithely throws around his own stereotypes about "a typical white person" or "bitter" gun-toting, religious and racist working class people.
In politics, the clearer a statement is, the more certain it is to be followed by a "clarification," when people react adversely to what was plainly said. Obama and his supporters were still busy "clarifying" Jeremiah Wright's very plain statements when it suddenly became necessary to "clarify" Senator Obama's own statements in San Francisco. People who have been cheering whistle-blowers for years have suddenly denounced the person who blew the whistle on what Obama said in private that is so contradictory to what he has been saying in public.
However inconsistent Obama's words, his behavior has been remarkably consistent over the years. He has sought out and joined with the radical, anti-Western left, whether Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers of the terrorist Weatherman underground or pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli Rashid Khalidi.
Obama is also part of a long tradition on the left of being for the working class in the abstract, or as people potentially useful for the purposes of the left, but having disdain or contempt for them as human beings. Karl Marx said, "The working class is revolutionary or it is nothing." In other words, they mattered only in so far as they were willing to carry out the Marxist agenda.
Fabian socialist George Bernard Shaw included the working class among the "detestable" people who "have no right to live." He added: "I should despair if I did not know that they will all die presently, and that there is no need on earth why they should be replaced by people like themselves." Similar statements on the left go back as far as Rousseau in the 18th century and come forward into our own times.
It is understandable that young people are so strongly attracted to Obama. Youth is another name for inexperience -- and experience is what is most needed when dealing with skillful and charismatic demagogues. Those of us old enough to have seen the type again and again over the years can no longer find them exciting. Instead, they are as tedious as they are dangerous.
Pennsylvania Political Polka
Post below recycled from Blue Crab. See the original for links
An interesting look at political gaffes in Pennsylvania and the effect they have had on the candidates who made them is over at Real Clear Politics. Dr. G. Terry Madonna and Dr. Michael Young look back through history and point out that Pennsylvania has a way of punishing political pratfalls - many less severe than the recent "small town" comments made by Barack Obama.
What these candidates or their handlers did-and what now places them in historical parallel to Obama - was to say things in public that revealed in them political flaws that ultimately undermined their candidacies.
Each did this in his or her own way. For Thornburgh it was his campaign manager who in the heat of the campaign-overcome apparently by a rush of candor- referred to Thornburgh as "the salvation of this sorry-ass state" thereby assuring that the seemingly hopeless underdog Harris Wofford would defeat Thornburgh and retain his Senate seat. Barbara Hafer's version was to dismiss her opponent, then Governor Robert P Casey, as a "red necked Irishman," thus hastening him onto one of the most lopsided landslide victories in state history.
U.S. Senate candidate Lynn Yeakel's sin is illustrative of the genre-for it was not so much what she said as what it said about her. Running in the so called "year of the women," against Arlen Specter and in the aftermath of the Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill controversy, she was thought by many to be the one to retire Specter. But her candidacy collapsed after she made herself seem like an out of touch elitist by mispronouncing the name of a Pennsylvania county when visiting there.
Finally the latest example of state politicians' succumbing to an advanced stage of lapsus linguae came during the 2006 gubernatorial contest. Locked in a tense GOP nomination fight with Lynn Swann, the African-American all-pro former Pittsburgh Steeler wide receiver, the campaign manager for former Lt. Governor Bill Scranton described Swann as "the rich white guy in this race." Scranton fired his manager and soon withdrew from the race.
Their judgment of the Obama remarks accusing small town Americans of bitterly clinging to guns, religion, xenophobia and (Obama's favorite policy of) anti-trade rhetoric: Obama has himself a real problem in Pennsylvania. Historically, this is true, obviously. Will it derail Obama? Maybe, maybe not. The fact is that Clinton is just not very well liked by an awful lot of people. So Obama may limp across the finish line yet and be the nominee. In the general election, he's in very bad shape, indeed.
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