Will Barack Obama’s now famous “bitter” quote turn out to have been a big deal politically? Frankly, I have no idea.
But here’s a different question: was Mr. Obama right?
Mr. Obama’s comments combined assertions about economics, sociology and voting behavior. In each case, his assertion was mostly if not entirely wrong.
Start with the economics. Mr. Obama: “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.”
There are, indeed, towns where the mill closed during the 1980s and nothing has replaced it. But the suggestion that the American heartland suffered equally during the Clinton and Bush years is deeply misleading.
In fact, the Clinton years were very good for working Americans in the Midwest, where real median household income soared before crashing after 2000. (You can see the numbers at my blog, krugman.blogs.nytimes.com.)
Next, the sociology: “And it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.”
The crucial word here isn’t “bitter,” it’s “cling.” Does economic hardship drive people to seek solace in firearms, God and xenophobia?
It’s true that people in poor states are more likely to attend church regularly than residents of rich states. This might seem to indicate that faith is indeed a response to economic adversity.
But this result largely reflects the fact that southern states are both church-going and poor; some poor states outside the South, like Maine and Montana, are actually less religious than Connecticut. Furthermore, within poor states, people with low incomes are actually less likely to attend church than those with high incomes. (The correlation runs the opposite way in rich states.)
Over all, none of this suggests that people turn to God out of economic frustration.
It’s true that Americans who attend church regularly are more likely to vote Republican. But contrary to the stereotype, this relationship is weak at low incomes but strong among high-income voters. That is, to the extent that religion helps the G.O.P., it’s not by convincing the working class to vote against its own interests, but by producing supermajorities among the evangelical affluent.
So why have Republicans won so many elections? In his book, “Unequal Democracy,” Mr. Bartels shows that “the shift of the Solid South from Democratic to Republican control in the wake of the civil rights movement” explains all — literally all — of the Republican success story.
Does it matter that Mr. Obama has embraced an incorrect theory about what motivates working-class voters? His campaign certainly hasn’t been based on Mr. Frank’s book, which calls for a renewed focus on economic issues as a way to win back the working class.
Indeed, the book concludes with a blistering attack on Democrats who cater to “affluent, white-collar professionals who are liberal on social issues” while “dropping the class language that once distinguished them sharply from Republicans.” Doesn’t this sound a bit like the Obama campaign?
Anyway, the important point is that working-class Americans do vote on economic issues — and can be swayed by a politician who offers real answers to their problems.
And one more thing: let’s hope that once Mr. Obama is no longer running against someone named Clinton, he’ll stop denigrating the very good economic record of the only Democratic administration most Americans remember.
People are not casting their votes for the reasons the Blogger Boyz and The Precious claim. Indeed, if anyone is voting out of ungrounded and consoling beliefs, it is the Obamacans, with no solid platform, on the basis of undefined "hope", in violent emotional reaction to a powerful female mother figure, with enormous amounts of contempt and bile for those who do not view the world through their eyes.
They take solace in a fantasy that Obama will be a liberal, even as he sucks up to Republicans and has conservative, opportunistic advisors. They like to think that their vote for a black guy proves they are not racist, just they way some people think attending church makes them Christians. They attribute to their candidate qualities not in evidence, and project onto anyone who fails to adulate Obama the worst possible motives, even going so far as to invent family members who work for the evil lying bitch. They espouse violence against their fellow Democrats, saying they want to batter Hillary, making death threats to black super delegates who do not declare for Obama, and harassing ordinary travelers who show favor to Hillary.
And now, today, Lord Kos himself, a former Republican, declares that Hillary (and by extension those who support her) isn't really a Democrat, trying to delegitimize the political choice of well over half of the party, just as his former political fellow travelers have tried to do to vast swaths of the American public - gays, feminists, blacks, immigrants, Jews, the working class.
Sorry, Markos. I am a Democrat and my acts support my ideology. It is you who falls short of the Democratic ideal.