Friday, April 11, 2008

What He Should Have Said, and Where

Given all the swooning from people on the religious Left like E.J. Dionne, Amy Sullivan and Jim Wallis over Obama - that Obama is the real deal, and that he "gets" religion in ways that many recent Democratic nominees have not (think Kerry and Dukakis, for starters) - then you'd think we wouldn't be seeing some of the typical Left-Coast elitism when it comes to explaining the backwardness of those superstitious townies who inexplicably do things like hunt, drink Budweiser from long neck bottles, and believe in God. However, consider what Politico has reported that Obama said at a recent fundraiser in San Francisco:

"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. 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 toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Someone should advise him to go to Latrobe and say the following instead:

"You go to these big liberal cities in California, and like a lot of cosmopolitan centers of libertarian lifestyle individualism, they have benefited from the wrenching displacements you've experienced. They benefited immensely from free-trade and globalizing policies of previous Administrations - Democratic and Republican alike - and they've been told that they have earned their status and they owe nothing to anyone.

"And it's not surprising that they get optimistic, they believe that they can dispense with religion or borders or community as a way to remake the world in exactly their image."

Yea, right.

It's really not good for the Democrats when they tell what they really think to a crowd in San Francisco whom they think shares their view of the world. When will they figure this out???


Oengus said...

Whoever BHO's political advisors are, they should be fired immediately, because if they continue to let their man give speeches like this, BHO will never be elected in November.

John Savage said...

Meanwhile, Obama is running this ad -- "Enough is Enough!" -- in North Carolina.

brierrabbit said...

I like your version of the speech better. The elite types that live in places like San Francisco, etc, have benefited much from the modern economy, and think they run the world. But they still have to eat, {farmers}
build houses and wood items, {lumberman, cabinet makers}, metals, masonary products {miners, quarrymen}, run thier cars, {oil and gas field workers} etc. Maintence men who keep things running. You get the picture. They live on top of a lot of places like those in pennsylvania, who drink budwieser beer, and hunt, etc. Obama is working very hard at making people like that not like him much.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Clearly, Patrick, your preferred follow-up speech is the superior speech. But isn't that simply because it makes the same point that Obama's speech does--a point about borders and identity and the value of such to those who are living lives closely tied to family and the land, and the rhythms of nature and scarcity embedded therein--only with the benefit of turning it inside out?

I can't, and don't really want to, defend Obama against the charge of elitism and condescension here; clearly, when he throws guns and God and racism and trade all together into one sentence, he's trafficking in redneck stereotypes. That being said, though, did he really mean to use that stereotype to condemn those folks, to sneer at them, to describe them as beyond the pale? I don't see it. I see a man clumsily talking about the fact that, when the socio-economic infrastructure of your life disappears, you become that more emphatic at defending, with your votes, those things you can control--you get frustrated and you get protective, particularly when it comes to things like, well, your guns (which are central to you lifestyle and culture, anyway) and your church (which you are committed to and believe in), and your community (which you know was built on good wages and property values, wages and values that global trade and illegal immigration are compromising). In other words, I see a man telling a friendly audience, in no doubt a somewhat condescending way, the truth, or at least part of the truth. There are worse crimes than that.

Unknown said...

He has commented on this topic more clearly in the past. See this youtube video:

Michael Simpson said...

I don't think Russell's quite right. Obama seems to be channeling here the fairly typical academic view that politics is first and foremost about allocation of resources ("who gets what") and then only secondly (or thirdly) about what we call "cultural" or "social" issues. It's certainly more in the spirit of Dean's "God, gays, and guns" remark 4 years ago, in the sense that he's saying the reason these folks care to vote for socially conservative candidates is that no one has offered them greater government largesse.

And I think a *better* speech for Obama to have given would have been to say to *that* audience in SF would have run along these lines: hey, wanna know why these voters in western PA seems so disaffected? Look around you. You're the reason!

But then they probably would have canceled those $2300 checks...

Anonymous said...

Why can't we assume that Obama said what he really believes?

Dad29 said...

I suspect that the "trade" comments really was about H1-B's.

Silicon Valley loves indentured servitude from the H1-B's; and it's a campaign-money pander.

D. Ghirlandaio said...
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Anonymous said...

But Patrick: Were Obama to go and give your speech to the folks in Latrobe, he would be practicing the most cynical kind of political divisiveness.

First, I defend my ancestral state.

In so many evident ways, California struggles – and long has struggled – with the costs and displacements of globalization in ways that are evident, intricate, and painful. The population of California includes millions of immigrants who have been compelled to leave their home countries to make a few extra bucks in the home-construction business. The population of California includes millions who came here – or whose recent ancestors did – because it was the only place they stood a chance of getting a job. Fifty percent of the students in California’s public schools do not have English as a first language. These are the complicated realities of living here, which impose both evident benefits and serious costs on our civic culture. One cannot live in California today and feel complacent about globalization; one cannot live in California today and imagine that the displacements of globalization are uniformly desirable.

It is also worth mentioning that California is a state with a long history of labor activism and even radicalism -- not for the purposes of enhancing globalization, but for the purposes of tempering its excesses, for improving the quality of the lives of workers in the community. The working-class unions in your maligned San Francisco, it is worth mentioning, are not only active but also powerful.

All of which is to say: I agree that Obama – and others – might do well to emphasize the extent to which the displacements of globalization benefits small numbers of elites at what is often the expense of the mass of workers. But to couch that language in geographic terms – to make the enemy “California” or “Californians” – to make the enemy some caricature of your fellow citizens – is to reduce and misdirect the complicated relationship that all of us in this country have with globalization.

The truth, of course is that everywhere in the United States, we all benefit from globalization – at least in material terms. We also all suffer from it, in the ways you have so often noted, in our separation from so many kinds of self-governance. That makes globalization a particularly hard thing for us to discuss: Who is not complicit? Who is not a victim?

While some in the current state of things are more victimized than others, it doesn’t seem to me that any attempt to articulate that fact in gross regional terms gets us very far. Such approaches seem to me most likely to obscure the complicated truths at stake and provide hindrances, rather than avenues, to shared conversation.

D. Ghirlandaio said...
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