First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Obama -- Bigot or Elitist?
Barack Obama was speaking at a private fund-raising event in San Francisco. He had, in the parlance of Supreme Court cases, an "expectation of privacy."
He thought he was speaking to people who were "in the club." We have to understand that context in order to make sense of what he said -- in order to know what his controversial remarks say about who Obama is and what his presidency might be like.
First, though, let's get his words down on paper so we can look at them together. And, like scripture, let's number the verses:
1. "You go into 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.
2. "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.
3. "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."
At first, Obama tried to turn these words into an asset, insisting that people are bitter about government failures, and that anyone who says he's "out of touch" is far more out of touch themselves.
That didn't work for him. So more recently he has claimed that he inadvertently "conflated" (his word) two ideas: first, that people "who have felt abandoned by political leadership turn to their faith, family or traditions like hunting" and second, that "politicians have tried to distract those voters with wedge issues like homosexuality or immigration." (These last two quotations are from the paraphrase of Obama's remarks by Catherine Lucey in the
Philadelphia Daily News, 15 April 2008.)
"My syntax was poor," Obama said. "But as a wise older woman I was talking to the other day said: 'You misspoke, but you didn't lie.'"
Unfortunately, it is a misrepresentation to claim that he was speaking of politicians distracting voters with wedge issues. His list of things that result from supposed small-town bitterness began with clinging "to guns or religion" -- it can hardly be classed as a misstatement when that's how he started his list.
No matter how he tries to dance around it now, Obama was showing us who he really is -- one of those rare glimpses. He was speaking to an audience of supposed friends -- people who presumably loved him for having the most liberal voting record in the Senate. But someone taped it and it got to the media and now we know what Obama thinks and says in private.
Is It Racism?
Let's look again at verse 1 to see whom he's talking about. Who lives in small-town Pennsylvania and "a lot of towns in the Midwest"? The demographics are pretty clear on this: It's white people. In the South, the farther you get from the Appalachians the more small towns tend to be of mixed races. But in the North, in the Midwest, the great migration of blacks during the twentieth century was into the big cities, and more recently from cities to suburbs. But not to the small towns.
So Obama was most definitely speaking of white people. And while I'm sure there are black NRA members, by and large the views Obama ascribes to these small-town folks are views usually attributed to white Americans.
For a man who clings to a racist black preacher as tightly as Obama has clung to Reverend Wright, it's odd that he would speak of clinging to religion as a small-town phenomenon that grew out of bitterness. Someone might think that he's projecting his own reason for clinging to religion onto white people, but I don't think that's what's going on here.
That Obama harbors racial stereotypes is clear from other contexts. After his famous speech defending his continued association with Reverend Wright, in which he mentioned racial stereotypes his white grandmother harbors, Obama went on a Philadelphia sports radio show (610 WIP) and told host Angelo Cataldi, in words we will call "verse 4":
4. "The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity, but that she is a typical white person. If she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know [pause] there's a reaction in her that doesn't go away and it comes out in the wrong way."
In the real world, of course, everyone reacts with fear to strangers on the street who, for whatever reason, appear to them to present some degree of peril. It would be idiotic for a lone white woman, seeing a group of black teenagers coming toward her on the street not to feel some anxiety. There are so many things that could go wrong. This is not racism, this is a product of living in our times.
Please remember that Jesse Jackson, back in 1993, said, "There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery -- then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved."
Scholar Randall Kennedy is often quoted as saying (in The New Republic): "African-Americans -- and particularly young black men -- commit a dramatically disproportionate share of street crime in the United States. This is a sociological fact, not a figment of the media's (or the police's) racist imagination."
But in Barack Obama's mind, this is the attitude of the "typical white person," not of a rational American citizen in our era.
Does this make Obama a racist? No, it makes him human. We all harbor information we've learned and conclusions we've reached about people who belong to other groups: Baptists think they know something about Mormons, and vice versa; blacks think they know things about whites, and vice versa; Europeans think they know something about Americans, and vice versa.
Most of what everybody thinks they know about other groups is wrong, but some of it is right, and even some of what's wrong is understandable.
This is a fact of life. I wish we could all recognize it and stop screaming "bigot" as soon as somebody reveals that their brain works like an ordinary human brain. What matters is if you can learn something new about a group that you've already categorized in a certain way. What matters is if your stereotypes lead you to mistreat or abuse or reject people because of those stereotypes.
We have no evidence of Obama hating or abusing or mistreating or rejecting white people, even though he obviously harbors quite-incorrect stereotypes about them.
Is It Elitism?
Here's the thing that most people are missing -- though for different reasons.
We need to keep in mind that Obama was not speaking to a group of black people; my guess is that most of his listeners at that San Francisco fund-raiser were white. So what he said was not racially "inside," not what African-Americans might say to each other in private, but something else entirely.
Obama was speaking to a group of rich liberals, and he was using language that sounded like the way leftist intellectuals speak about the ignorant people who don't think and act the way leftist intellectuals think they should.
I have been in countless conversations with elitists of the Left, and this is precisely how they talk. They make sweeping generalizations about "the middle class" or, specifically, "the white middle class." They make mocking, disparaging remarks about "people who shop in malls" or "WalMart shoppers."
I have heard remarks like: "I don't know how people who don't read books can stand their lives" -- thus expressing the double assumption that people who aren't part of the academic Left don't read books, and that people who don't read books have lives that are not worth living; both statements are, of course, ludicrously false.
Obama is simply one of the leftwing intellectual elite when he makes utterly groundless assumptions that explain away the feelings and behavior of people he thinks are inferior to him and his friends.
Let's look at those false assumptions. In verse 1, Obama says, "the jobs [in small towns] have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them."
First of all, it wasn't the people in the small towns of Pennsylvania and the Midwest who lost jobs because of the deindustrialization of America -- it was people in industrial cities and suburbs in the rust belt.
The small towns lost population because of the conversion of agriculture from the small family farm to the big factory-farm. They also lost population because of the natural draw of the big city. ("How can you keep them down on the farm, now that they've seen Paree?")
It's true, though, that there's been a population drop -- when the jobs left, they pretty much stayed gone. So the small towns are smaller. Their downtowns have been slaughtered by big box stores and regional malls and the ease with which our cars take us there.
You can drive through these small towns and see boarded-up stores in seedy, neglected downtowns and, if you don't live there, you can think that people must be bitter; and, if you're an idiot, you'll think this is something that needed to be fixed by government and must be a sign of the failure of presidents.
Which takes us to verse 2: "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."
I know of no administration that has had, as its program, the regeneration of small towns. City centers, yes. Small towns? No. It's beyond their power. Besides, the people who live in small towns are not asking for that kind of "help."
(In fact, smalltown people are more likely to be praying for government to stay away. "Please, Lord, save us from the people who did urban renewal! Keep them away from our small town!")
But what Obama is clearly implying, between verses 1 and 2, is that it is the loss of jobs twenty-five years ago that has embittered the people now living in small towns.
This is the single stupidest part of what he said. Because, if you have a brain, you will realize that the people who did not find jobs in those small towns left them twenty-five years ago! That's why the towns have shrunk!
Unlike the inner cities, where many of the poor stay on welfare as long as they can and do drugs and crime and all the other things that the statistics say are endemic to the inner cities, in the small towns the people who don't have jobs move to a place where they can find work.
There is no one in Midwestern or even Northeastern small towns who lost his job twenty-five years ago and stayed in the small town living off the welfare of his neighbors ever since, who is bitter about the failure of Presidents to "save" them.
Only a Leftist intellectual is capable of such obvious stupidity -- but I will bet you that most Leftist intellectuals who read Obama's statement saw nothing wrong with it. To these elitists, you don't actually have to have information or logic in order to make vast generalizations and completely explain away entire classes of people. In fact, such false and evidence-free generalizations have been the stock in trade of the intellectual Left from Karl Marx on.
The Results of Bitterness?
It's only in verse 3, however, that we see where Obama's absurd story about 25-year-old bitterness is taking him. He is spinning this yarn to explain away the concerns of white, middle-class, smalltown Americans. And what does he see as those concerns?
antipathy to people who aren't like them
In Obama's mind, these poor ignorant white people "cling to" these things in order to "explain their frustrations."
Of course, they're not frustrated. Most people I know who live in small towns do so by choice. They could live in the big city or the suburbs but they don't want to. They often make deliberate sacrifices in lifestyle or convenience precisely in order to stay in the small town. They love it there, or at least they like it better than they imagine they would like city life.
And isn't this a weird list to begin with?
Guns. I don't own one myself, but I grew up in a gun-totin' house. We went target shooting and deer hunting. My dad and brothers and I walked the desert northeast of Mesa, Arizona, with .22 rifles, plinking at rabbits and tin cans. We weren't bitter. We weren't frustrated. We never hit a rabbit and we didn't care. We were simply together and being a good shot was a manly thing. (Since we killed every can we aimed at, we attributed our failure to kill rabbits to rabbit cleverness.)
But that is completely outside Obama's experience.
Likewise, I don't know anybody who "clings to" religion out of bitterness. In fact, the people I know who are truly bitter invariably become atheists. It's the people with faith and hope who cling to religion. Surely Obama knows this from his own experience and from the religious people in his life. Does he really think white people cling to religion for reasons so radically different from black people?
Or is he actually admitting that while he attends Rev. Wright's church, Obama himself doesn't actually believe in religion -- he just knows that going to church is something a politician has to do? And Rev. Wright was his friend, so it might as well be his church? To explain away religious faith as, in effect, the "opiate of the people" -- something you cling to because your life is so awful -- is a position, not of a believer, but of the atheistic intellectual Left.
When it comes to "antipathy to people who aren't like them," my guess is that nearly everyone in Obama's audience when he said these things feels antipathy toward people who aren't like them -- for instance, smalltown white Americans who cling to guns and religion.
In fact, everybody alive feels antipathy to people who aren't like them. For instance, I have a powerful antipathy to people who molest children, commit genocide, blow up civilians, or torture people.
I have less antipathy, but still a noticeable amount, to people who light up a cigarette while standing in a line with people who aren't smoking. I have antipathy toward people who litter. I have a strong antipathy toward people who steal political signs from my lawn.
Every one of those people is "not like" me, at least to the degree that they engage in these behaviors.
It's a favorite charge by the leftist intellectual elite that other people, lesser people, are bigots. That they hate anyone who isn't "just like them."
But in a small town, people are far more aware than any of these lofty elitists that everybody is different from everybody else. Because in small towns, you can't sort yourself out into "smart people who believed everything their Leftist professors taught them" and "everyone else." Outside of Ithaca, New York, most small towns don't have enough people in the first group to form a tennis game, let alone a club.
Small town people have to learn to get along with everybody. Yes, they pressure people to conform to community standards -- but they're nowhere near as vicious about it as, say, your average university faculty, where the slightest deviation from the ideological norm is regarded as grounds for denying tenure and expelling the "different" person from the community.
In fact, this charge is actually the kettle calling the pot black. (And no, you prickly politically-correct people looking for any straw to seize on to prove that I'm really a bigot, this old saying has nothing whatsoever to do with race -- it has to do with what happens to the bottoms of kettles and pots when they are used over an open fire.)
Anti-immigrant sentiment? I've seen no evidence of this in small towns. Lots of it in suburbia and big cities, though, especially among people who would rather die than do the kind of work illegal immigrants do.
And it's really funny for Obama to charge small towns with "anti-trade sentiment." After all, hasn't Obama come out against NAFTA and hasn't he joined in trying to block the free trade agreement with Colombia that President Bush has proposed?
Of course, Obama, like Hillary, is a complete hypocrite about this. He thinks anti-free trade will play with the extreme Right and with the extreme Left, which oppose free trade policies for nearly opposite reasons. But as president, he would have no intention whatsoever of endangering our economic prosperity by introducing tariffs or trade barriers. That would be insane, and he knows it.
So what has happened to Obama's list? It's a phony. The ideas and practices he attributes to smalltown Americans either do not accurately describe them or are absolutely not caused by bitterness over presumed job losses twenty-five years ago.
Only an intellectual could say, or even think of, something as stupid as this statement.
Conclusions about Obama
So what have we learned about Obama?
1. That he's as full of ignorant stereotypes as anybody;
2. That he's capable of saying really stupid, thoughtless, obviously-false things; and
3. That he thinks he's really smart for saying them.
We'll never find a candidate for president who doesn't exemplify point 1. The difference is that the ignorant stereotypes of Republicans are never forgiven, and the ignorant stereotypes of Democrats are never noticed -- at least by the liberal media establishment.
I worry about point 2. John McCain might stumble and say that Iran trains and funds Al-Qaeda when he meant to say Shiite terror groups in Iraq, but as President he would be surrounded by advisers who would instantly correct him (as Sen. Lieberman instantly corrected him at the time).
But when Obama makes sweeping statements like this during his presidency, he will be surrounded by advisers who think exactly the same things. There will be no one there to say, "Of course, you didn't mean that, Mr. President, because every word of what you just said is hopelessly, idiotically false." On the contrary, they will think that he just said something smart, because they'll all be just as ideologically pure and ignorant as Obama himself.
That will be a requirement for them to be appointed in the first place. After all, any administration that is determined to have fraudmeister Al Gore in charge of dealing with "global warming" has no intention of listening to the slightest bit of real-world evidence, if it contradicts the dogma.
Which brings us to point 3. I've been giving credit to Obama for having the possibility of learning something. I've watched him weasel and waffle on troop withdrawal in Iraq and I've taken his changes, not as cynical political maneuvering, but as a sincere effort to learn from his mistakes and correct his views.
I've taken it as hope that, if he's elected, we won't have a complete incompetent in charge of our national defense.
But the man whose book of utterances includes the four verses I've cited here, a man who really believes that these statements are meaningful, useful, and true, is either amazingly stupid, equally gullible, or is such a committed elitist that he will refuse to listen to contrary evidence if it challenges the dogmas of the intellectual Left.
President George W. Bush has proven, again and again, that he is willing to listen to, and even take the advice of, people who disagree with him on many key points. John McCain has openly accepted the fact that sometimes he's wrong and sometimes his ideas simply are not politically possible.
Hillary is an obvious cynic, tailoring her image -- and her Senate votes -- to fit les sondages du jour. (I wrote "the polls of the day" in French just to prove I'm an intellectual, too.)
But now we have to look at Obama's Senate voting record in a different way. Being the "most liberal" Democrat in the Senate does not mean that he took the liberal position on every single vote. Nobody did that. It does mean, though, that he is "more liberal" than 95% of the Senate.
How can he be the most liberal, and only be more liberal than 95%? I mean, doesn't that mean there are four senators more liberal than him? No. These scores are actually a composite of their voting record on social, economic, and foreign policy/defense issues. (See http://nj.nationaljournal.com/voteratings/)
Last year, when Obama's record was rated 86% liberal, he was only the tenth most liberal senator.
Both Obama and Hillary climbed in 2007 -- during the fund-raising phase prior to the primary elections. Hillary jumped from the 32nd most liberal senator to the 16th most liberal, and Obama from the tenth to the most liberal.
I saw this as simply an artifact of the way we do politics. You raise your money from the extremists in your party. Republicans have to run to the right and Democrats have to run to the left to raise money.
Even centrist McCain changed a few key positions rightward in order to remain viable; still, he challenges the system by raising money across party lines. And the extremists in his party hate him for it. (That's why you hear Republicans saying idiotic things like "I'll sit out the election rather than vote for McCain," which would only make sense if they believed that McCain would be worse on defense or on court appointments than Obama or Hillary, which is manifestly not true.)
But now that I've looked at these four verses from the Thoughts of Obama, I'm not so sure. I wonder if that voting record reflects his utter acceptance of the dogmas of the Left. I wonder if he's a true believer in a political religion that has neither coherency nor evidentiary support, but is rigorously enforced within the community of the Leftist intellectual elite.
I still believe that Obama is far more personally honest than Hillary the Cattle-Futures Queen, and that he would make a marginally better president than she would. I will still vote for him rather than her in the North Carolina primary in May.
But these statements of Obama are also deeply repulsive to me. My contempt for stupidity among supposed intellectuals and for elitism among supposed Democrats knows no bounds. Intellectuals are supposed to be rigorous and change their minds to fit logic and evidence; Democrats are supposed to be for the common man.
Obama's statement exhibits neither trait. Shame on him. And shame on the Democratic Party for becoming the captive, not of smart people, but of elitists who only pretend to know what they're talking about.
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