Here We Go Again

Well the new controversy is some “bitter” remarks from Obama.

The full transcript of what he said is here.

If you look at the full context you will see the flow of his argument.

1)He is interested, passionate about restoring a sense that government (by which he means federal) can do good for people (he is a liberal recall).

2)The places where he foresees the most difficulty are places in the Rust Belt because people there have seen government ignore them and particularly their economic concerns for 3 decades (including a previous Clinton administration).

3)So when he goes and speaks to these folk, he often gets questions about this or that specific micro-policy, but he wants to revive a more basic trust in governance.

4)And in the absence of that trust, Obama sees people heading into frustration/bitterness and then clinging as he said to social issues—guns, gay marriage, and Latino immigration–because they know government won’t do anything for them on the economic front.

Now he is being painted by both the Clinton and McCain camps as an elitist. McCain thinks the national greatness of America has been hurt (good God his shtick is tired) and since Clinton equates America coming back with her candidacy, then she only sees “optimistic hard working” people in Pennsylvania (her stick is sickening).

Notice he’s not actually blaming people for those views. I think his formulation has some deficits in its thinking, but he’s sympathetic to those views nonetheless. As Andrew Sullivan put it he’s trying to make the Thomas Frank argument (What’s the Matter Wrong With Kansas?). Again I think the Frank argument is at best only half-right.

In other words, the comment was not elitist. It was materialist. It places people’s economic interests as primary and social-moral issues as derivative (again he’s a liberal).

His point is that people have been hoodwinked into voting against their economic interests by social wedge issues. Certainly in lots of cases that is true, particularly under Reagan and George W Bush. But others vote differently than his economic-centric mindset. I don’t see that as condescending so much as simply incorrect for a number of people. Some people vote on foreign policy, others on social questions, or any number of things.

It was dumb to make such a statement in San Francisco which is the ur-liberal town in America and will be used as if he says one thing to the liberals (where he admits he really hates America and Americans!!!) and another thing to “real” Americans on the campaign trail. San Fran is the apotheosis of everything evil to a Bill O’Reilly so no doubt Fox News has its lineup and talking points for the next while. He should have known better.

All of which to say I disagree in part with the Senator’s comments, but this line about him being an elitist is absolutely pathetic, but given his opponents are both ham handed pols, it will be used in that way and no doubt be successful.

Obama has been prone to open up his mouth and say tone deaf things–we’ve seen it before. But compared to his two major opponents, it’s not very close in my book. He also has shown himself to be one of the sharpest knifes in the drawer politically I’ve ever seen (check out his questioning of Petraeus and Crocker this week).

I just think it’s dumb that this elitism charge is the ultimate taboo line in American politics (again not that I think in this case he actually was standing in contempt of people but he will be painted so). It’s the only profession I can think of where being “elite” is a very bad awful horrible terrible no good thing to be: athletes, venture capitalists, teachers to name only a few—applied to all of them it’s a major compliment.

John McCain is allowed to not know the difference between Shia and Sunni, have no plan for a war he vows to continue, and explicitly states he’s not really that interested in economics (or policy generally it would seem) and that’s ok. I mean he does love America (a lot!!!). Hillary Clinton has difficulty with telling the truth to put it mildly. That can fly. She’s about Ameri-cans not Ameri-cants.

But the liberal elitist charge, no dice.

The other two’s respective responses to the comment are pure cynical idiotic politics and make me want to vote for either of them even less (if that’s even possible) and vomit to boot. Under normal circumstances, they should be ashamed, but the normal rules don’t apply in a prez race.

Update I:

Obama’s response is very interesting here. He gets a rousing ovation and strikes a very strong note. I’ve never seen him get so intense. We’ll see if he can do some jujitsu with this and claim he is really the one as he says “in-touch”. We’ll see, though I’m not exactly hopeful.

Update II: Bonus: McCain said an eerily similar thing himself a few years back.

Published in: on April 11, 2008 at 8:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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