Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bitter Herbs

The pantheon of unfairly lampooned quotes, which currently includes such classics as Donald Rumsfeld's "unknown unknowns" speech and John Kerry's "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it," now has another entry, courtesy of Barack Obama. Here he is at a San Francisco rally explaining why it's tough for him to connect with working-class people:
'What's going on there? We hear that it's hard for some working class people to get behind your campaign.' I said, 'Well look, they're frustrated and for good reason. Because for the last 25 years they've seen jobs shipped overseas. They've seen their economies collapse. They have lost their jobs. They have lost their pensions. They have lost their health care.'... But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

The bullshit outrage machine, predictably, reached a fever pitch. "How dare he call working-class people bitter," they ask. Some have called it a gaffe.

Here's what I call it: STATING THE BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS. Poor people who can't find jobs because the economy sucks are bitter? No shit! If I had my job shipped overseas and couldn't find a new one and I couldn't feed my family, I'd be bitter too. I doubt all poor people are bitter, but there's gotta be a significant proportion who are. And being bitter isn't necessarily a bad thing - in fact, Obama validates the bitterness that the working class feels. Hell, the man worked among the poor for a significant portion of his life. I think he's somewhat familiar with the subject matter.

If I were working class, I'd be more inclined to vote for Obama now, since he at least is trying to understand me. Clinton and McCain, by expressing bullshit outrage at his statements, are simply trying to sweep the valid emotions of a good portion of the working class under the rug, pretending the bitterness doesn't exist. Look, there are good reasons to not vote for Obama, just as there are good reasons to not vote for Clinton or Big Mac. Just make an effort to separate the good ones from the crap ones, okay?

OK, I'll end this on a happy note...

14 comments:

Matthew B. Novak said...

Actually, I think this does provide us with a reason to vote against Obama. Not because he was wrong, and not because he was insensitive; he's right and accurate to call voters bitter. But it's a reason to vote against him because he didn't answer the question! He didn't answer why people don't connect with him. Let me take a stab: it's because Obama doesn't understand what issues matter to people. He's trying to say "ah, they only care about religion/immigrants/guns because they're bitter." But the truth is, people care about religion/immigrants/guns independent of being bitter; they just also happen to be bitter.

Obama is not a blue collar guy, and he won't represent that half+ of our country. That's a great reason not to vote for him.

Mike said...

I have to agree with Matt. The issue here isn't calling them bitter - you are correct in saying that's blindingly obvious, and anyone who's focusing on the "bitter" aspect of his comment is missing the point. I was taken aback by the notion that people "cling" to guns, religion, and whatnot as some sort of security blanket rather than as a natural element of their lives, let alone the patently false assertion that they have turned to them because they are bitter. The working class have liked them their guns and their God long before NAFTA. Matt is also right that Obama didn't exactly answer the question.

However, while Matt correctly notes that Obama is not a blue-collar guy, neither are Clinton or McCain and any claims to the contrary are absurd. And I do have to agree with Jeff that, removing the "cling" facet of Obama's statement, he is making a greater effort to connect with them than either, in particular Hillary, who has taken it for granted that they will vote for her and is apparently using the "I publicly supported NAFTA even though I privately opposed it" defense.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Is Clinton herself blue-collar? No. But ultimately I know she'll care about the blue-collar issues and try to address them. I feel like Obama instead dismisses those issues as unimportant. Mike says he's trying to connect with blue-collar folks, but he's trying to do it by telling them they should care about what he cares about, not by caring about what they care about. That's a HUGE distinction. Clinton and McCain are not blue-collar, but at least they don't sneer down their nose at issues that matter to the blue-collar population.

Jeff said...

How is Obama sneering at anyone? I'm just not sure where you're getting this impression. Explaining why someone feels as they do is not condescending. And since Clinton and Obama are pretty much the same issue-stance-wise, you can't say one of them cares about blue-collar America's issues and the other doesn't.

Mike said...

Matt, you say "ultimately I know she'll care about the blue-collar issues and try to address them." How is that exactly? I haven't really seen any display from Clinton that makes her seem heads and tails better than Obama on blue-collar issues (and indeed, as Jeff points out, their policies are pretty much identical).

Jeff, in my opinion the claim that people "cling" to guns and religion does amount to a degree of "sneering". And though I don't think it was intended as such (which is why I'm willing to accept the "poor choice of words" defense), I can see where it comes off as condescending.

Mike said...

Also, would someone who truly cares about blue-collar workers really shoot Canadian whiskey? Whatever happened to good old-fashioned Jim Beam, huh? Answer me that!

Matthew B. Novak said...

More than just the word "cling", Obama is sneering by the very premise of his comment: people only care about guns/religion when they're bitter. That statement dismisses the possibility that there can be any legitimate reason to care about those issue. Obama might as well have said "people are only pro-life when they're hysterically sad.".

My support for Clinton in this regard is, admittedly, more nebulous. It essentially has to do with her experience; in the past I've heard her address gun issues, health care issues, abortion issues, etc. in meaningful ways. I've heard her talk about these issues with a compassion and understanding of how blue-collar folks see the issues. (And I consider myself to be blue-collar, even though I'm a Georgetown-educated attorney. It's all about one's roots.) I haven't heard that from Obama, and all of his "reaching out" to the blue-collar segement feels really insincere.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Us blue-collar folks have significant price sensitivity, and though we'd like to develop brand loyalty to things other than our trucks, we can rarely afford to do so. Except for Wal-Mart. Brand loyalty to Wal-Mart. Didn't Clinton serve on their board? See? She's totally blue-collar.

Jeff said...

Obama is sneering by the very premise of his comment: people only care about guns/religion when they're bitter.

Um, that's not the premise of the comment. You could remove the word "only" and be somewhat accurate, but you're jumping to the "only" conclusion yourself. And given that the "only" part is the basis of your entire ensuing explanation...

Seriously, give the man a little more credit. You think a guy who dedicated years of his life to organizing among the working class is just going to dismiss blue-collar folks off the bat? I don't buy it. Obama may have faults, but lack of compassion for the working class is not one of them.

Matthew B. Novak said...

You're right, he doesn't say "only". He says, "they cling to guns or religion...as a way to explain their frustrations." Implying that, without their frustrations, they wouldn't be interested in these "explanations". And thus, only because they are bitter do these issues truly matter to people. What's more, he's strongly implying that these issues shouldn't matter to people.

Obama is, as you point out, someone who has organized among the working class. This has shaped his framework. He sees his political goal as getting people on board with his way of thinking; he is trying to make other people care about the things he cares about. That's what he's done in the past, and that's what he's doing in his campaign, and that's what he's saying in this comment: "our challenge is to get people persuaded". This is an important part of advocacy and therefore the political/legal process.

But at the same time Obama is failing to let himself be persuaded. He's failing to see that issues - other than the ones he wants to talk about - matter. That's why he dismisses them out of hand. That's why his marginalizing of the issues and of people who care about those issues is so concerning to me. Because in a representative democracy, our elected officials should care about the issues that people think are important.

Mike said...

Richard Cohen actually sums up my own feelings on the respective weekends of Obama and Clinton pretty damn well.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Read it. I don't disagree. The whole political show has become ridiculous and I'm almost as insulted by Clinton's handling of the gaffe as I am at the gaffe itself. I do think Cohen glosses over (or ignores outright) what was offensive about Obama's comment, but he certainly makes a valid point.

Obama doesn't think guns or religion are important. Clinton doesn't either. So what's more offensive? The person who insults people by telling them their interests are pointless or the person who panders to them by pretending to care?

Andy said...

Jeff said: "You think a guy who dedicated years of his life to organizing among the working class is just going to dismiss blue-collar folks off the bat?"

No, I think he's already dismissed them (if he ever cared about them at all). He'll take his AA vote and rich white vote and hope he doesn't need the rest. Gee, why can't he get that rural white vote? You would think that the support of an anti-American pastor and Marxist policies would've just brought them pouring in.

Andy said...

Jeff, I didn't forget you asking for this, so here it is in the most appropriate blog topic:

The effect of concealed weapons on crime rate -- Concealed weapons reduce crime. I guess, what with Obama being anti-gun, that makes him pro-crime and wrong again. You would think typing Obama and wrong in the same sentence would get old, but it doesn't.

Obama's quote: “I am not in favor of concealed weapons,” Obama said. “I think that creates a potential atmosphere where more innocent people could [get shot during] altercations.” OUCH.