Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On Obama's "Bitter" Comments, and the Bitterness They Have Perpetuated

"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." -Barack Obama

These comments made by Barack Obama at a fundraiser in San Francisco have caused such a stir in his candidacy that the now famous words could easily be considered one of his greater "gaffes" yet. He has had a hard time reexplaining what he meant, trying to defend his "cling(ing) to...religion" statement by saying that "Scripture talks about clinging to what's good". It is a shame what he originally said doesn't seem to have registered with white working class American voters and that the news has put such a negative spin on it. It seems to have done more bad than good for those he was trying to reach.

I think many people are simply looking for something, anything to criticize Obama about to keep the democratic candidates rivalry alive. This "clinging to guns or religion" statement is a good opportunity for that. It's a hot button. But arguing that he is a snob who doesn't deserve the white working class vote is not fair to what he actually said. I think Obama's statements are only vulnerable, precisely because religion, immigration and security happen to be very sensitive issues in the USA today and people are ready to jump into an argument about them before they have even allowed anyone else to finish speaking. I give him credit for talking about them at all. I mean, there are fanatical Christians (of many types) on the one hand and staunch militarists running the White house on the other. Americans are still at war with terror because they still feel terrorized. You can't fight terror if you encourage fear, if you feel disillusioned, burnt out, or seduced by radical "solutions" to problems that have practical ones. What Obama wants to avoid is the same social phenomenon that has echoed throughout history, that whenever experiencing moments of instability, societies tend to react by segregating themselves into smaller groups based on superficial commonalities rather than practical purposes. They spread hatred or racism or classism and it is never productive. It is always destructive. They attack others because they are feeling insecure about themselves. They find a scapegoat and then they torture them to make themselves feel more righteous about their own forms of government. Well here is a newsflash: peace and security don't happen through divine intervention or at gunpoint. You have to relax. Say you consider yourself religious AND patriotic. How are you supposed to compromise the idea of Jesus Christ dying for our sins with the fact that the US army (et al) are at war and are sacrificing others lives for a "democracy" they themselves seem to be unsure of. Did you expect there not to be any cognitive dissonance between those two things? It's a slippery slope when you start agreeing with the "give me democracy or give me death" kind of attitude, because often that leads to some unpredicted forms of both. It is also a desperate and fear-driven mentality. Why does it have to be an ultimatum?

So I disagree that what Obama said about small town Americans should be taken with so much offense and I think his description of small town behaviour (although I will admit I have never been to Pennsylvania) actually rings true in a lot of cases. However, I invite anyone to explain why, if I were a white working class small town American, I should be offended by what Barack Obama said. When you are down on luck, you cling to that which gives you a sense of security. It's natural for us as humans. I don't think he was implying that whatever that is for people is necessarily ineffective. Different strokes for different folks. Why can't we live and let live on this issue? Now we have to crucify Obama? For some people, religion IS their bread and butter and it brings them peace of mind. And? Other people like to sleep with a tech nine under their pillows. That's fine as long as there aren't any missionaries interrupting my dinner or drive by shootings on my street. But I would also wish that for others, too. It's a problem though once everyone starts fighting for their own agenda and giving up on working together. No one gets any sleep. I don't think he was demonizing religion OR firearms at all. He wasn't specifically praising them either. He was just suggesting that sometimes the reasons you gravitate to them aren't always healthy, hence the use of the word "cling". I think what he was criticizing was the fact that if you are "clinging" to those things as a reaction to uncertainties in your life instead of as an act of free will, you may be going towards them for the wrong reasons. To cling to anything too hard, that is to say, to rely on one thing firmly, is like building a house out of sand on a beach right next to the shore. When the tide rolls in, your entire livelihood could be gone. So diversify your portfolio! Speak other people's language! Get to know your neighbors, ESPECIALLY if they have a different lifestyle than you!

People often distort what Barack says, though. Now Hilary is using this as an opportunity to suck up to Pennsylvanians and McCain is using it to argue that Barack Obama is "out of touch" with Americans. People distort what Barack says because they don't like the subtle hint that he might be telling them something they don't already know, or something that they may know, but are too afraid to admit.



Blogger Chloe said...

i was astonished by the controversy this caused too. Hilary is far more elitist than Obama but she knows to keep her views to herself. I am sure she agrees with him 100% but she prefers to discuss these things with Bill and her colleagues and simply does not utter them in public. Obama seems more straightforward and spontaneous and this is clearly a defect in politics. Shame.

2:11 a.m.  
Blogger Adorable Girlfriend said...

Media whores in the US like to start stuff!!

8:27 p.m.  

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