Friday, April 11, 2008

Class Act

Via Corrente, it appears that The Precious has gone and stuck his foot in his mouth again, dissing working class Democrats and the Clintons:
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,” Obama said. “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.
Where to start? First, what this says to me is that the current democratic campaign is first and foremost about the class divide in the party, a division that is being camouflaged by the Obama campaign's self-serving screams about racism. The Democratic Party is being forced to confront the way in which it has crafted a story about working class voters falling behind in real economic terms because of their moral turpitude, i.e., their "racism".

In Salon yesterday, elite UC Berkeley professor Brad Delong engaged in egregious Hillary bashing and casually dismissed people who would not vote for Obama as racists. He does this without acknowledging the full cultural and class assumptions built into the assertion about white reluctance to vote for a black candidate, the kind that come welling up in all their ugliness in political cartoons where "white racists" are portrayed. They aren't shown as nice Upper West Side yuppies. They are Bubbas and Bunkers. They are the people Obama identifies in his quote above and that his campaign sneered at after the loss in Ohio. What Obama shows with his gaffe (As Michael Kinsley famously said, a gaffe is when someone inadvertantly tells an important truth) is his true perception of working class Americans - something utterly alien to himself.

The truth being told here is the way in which the "wine track" cadre of the Democratic party has no clue about working class America except for their own strange blend of bitter, bible-thumping rubes who just can't grasp the big picture, the poor things, and keep voting against their own interests. Hey, I can tick off five people I personally know who more or less match that description, except that they aren't thumping bibles and they aren't bitter and they are leading pretty darn normal lives, but they keep voting Republican.

Obama's statements today are paradigmatic of the wine-track attitude and are particularly shocking coming on the heels of his own plea that the nation not judge him harshly for his associations and pastimes, that he be allowed a complex identity that could encompass both his grandmother and his pastor. Fair enough, and an argument that elicits a certain sympathy from me on his personal behalf, though it fell far short of explaining why we should not question his political judgment based on the company he keeps. What he requires we do for him he refuses to do for others, preferring to dismiss an entire class of people in a high-handed manner. Graciously excusing them from racism and then turning around and denigrating their lives in an even more fundamental way is not going to win over a lot of hearts and minds, Barry.

From a political theory perpsective, Obama offered a singularly sophmoric Marxist argument about the voters of Pennsylvania (and by extension the entire working class) as suffering from false conciousness.They are simply bitter about not having jobs and thus they are clinging to the markers of Bubba/Bunker-hood - God, guns, racism (oops, guess that slipped back in), xenophobia, and anti-economic growth (free trade). Gee, what would that look like if we drew a picture? Of course, they had a lot more jobs under Clinton than under any of the Republicans bracketing his administration, but lets not let facts get in the way of a good myth. How does he know they suffer from false conciousness? They fail to vote for him. If they could just rise above their bitter and narrow particularity, then they would see the light and vote for The Precious.


They have guns because they like shooting stuff. They hold to their religion because it provides them with something they value. I may be a secular humanist myself, but as the child of a very devout father, this dismissal of faith went down sideways with me. (It also makes me want to ask, so what the fuck keeps your skinny ass in the pew of your church, given how you characterize the faith of those who do not support you?) Their identities are every bit as complex as Obama's, and as grounded in the dense fabric of their lives as what he claims for himself. It is not epiphenomenal, something to be shed when the scales fall from their eyes and they understand their role in his march to greatness.

It feels weird to have to state that there is dignity and worth in a life of labor. These allegedly bitter, backwards people have no interest in leaving their way of life so they can join Obamacans at the Starbucks in some hip urban enclave. They need not apologize for the choices they've made in their lives, no matter how much people like Obama and Delong try to shame them into voting against their interests. The poor bitter rubes of Pennsylvania actually want universal health care, which you aren't delivering. They want Social Security, which your advisor Goolsby wants to privatize. They want an orderly and honorable end to the Iraq occupation, which you are now waffling on. They want deecent education for their kids, a relief from predatory lenders, some privacy, and an end to the assumption that they should be ashamed of themselves because they don't aspire to be upper class.

In the end, what Obama's blather today has done is expose the elite myth that working class America is deficient in some way. The elite of the right proclaims the deficiency is natural inferiority. The elite of the left proclaims the deficiency to be intellectual inferiority. Both scorn these people as Bunkers and Bubbas. What the left misses and what the right fears is that the Clinton appeal is based on respect for being from this class and of honoring those things in that way of life that deserve respect: dedication to family, unswerving loyalty to the nation, a work ethic, faith and a desire to do right by the people they love.



Ani said...

Once again, brilliant analysis. I come from a poor family myself. Bitterness was never part of our makeup. My parents were immigrants, happy to be Americans and grateful for the freedoms they found here. I feel the same, whether or not I agree with this current horrid excuse for an Administration.

Sen. Obama constantly makes excuses and shifts blame -- anyone not for him must be misguided or clueless or blinded by their own misery so as not to dote on and worship him. From the first moment I saw him at the debates months ago, I felt his arrogance would be his undoing.

Let us pray this is him "Macaca" moment.

Big Daddy Sweet Baby Cheesecakes said...

I can't keep up with all the crap coming out of his mouth.

I just finish my exhaustive research to formulate my rebuttal on his PA statement:

And he's moved on from us morons in Pennsylvania to those silly women who don't get how much of a moral dilemma terminating a pregnancy is.


Anonymous said...

The man is a total narcissist. Everything is always about him. It's as if you don't vote for the person best expressing an understanding of your problems and needs. You are automatically voting against him because you're a racist. It's nothing to do with your needs and everything to do with your racism towards him.

He doesn't seem to even see anyone else. Which is why he has such ridiculous stereotypical beliefs about others. Amazing. I would venture to guess that he doesn't like to be stereotyped, but that's all he seems capable of doing about anyone else. He doesn't even show an interest in what anyone else thinks or believes.

What a breath of fresh air Hillary is in comparison. Too bad she is never allowed to be seen as she truly is by our craven media.

cal1942 said...

This struck me:

"his true perception of working class Americans - something utterly alien to himself"

I'm reminded yet again of his wish to vote to confirm John Roberts.

This may seem a bit distant but I believe it shows once again how completely out of touch he is with governance. Out of touch with the effect a decision can have on the real world.

The staff advisor who warned him off voting to confirm Roberts told him that the vote could come back to harm HIS political ambitions and further, the vote was 'not some moot law school exercise.'

For me it's that last little bit that illustrates Obama's attitude.

It's as though he belongs to a certain club and policies and issues are merely rhetoric with no meaning or impact. Only his class counts and everyone else is an other with no value except their utility as potential voters.

Anonymous said...

So it's not surprising then that 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.

The words are extremely injudicious no matter the context. To automatically connect working class people to guns, religion, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment is hateful or at least contemptuous towards the working class.

Anonymous said...

Considering the hateful stereotypes Obama willingly listened to for 20 years from Rev. Wright, it does not surprise me that he has been brainwashed into believing that working class white people or ANY white person who doesn't support him, the first viable black candidate, is the enemy, the racist, the U.S. of KKK A. I get a similar vibe from his wife who seems very resentful despite having the priviledge of attending the best schools, marrying a successful lawyer and politician, and living in a mansion. All of this has obviously influenced his way of thinking since his entire life he's wanted to fit in with the AA community by disowning his white half. If you listen to someone hammer into your head that a certain group of people are ignorant racists, you're going to start to believe it. Instead of trying to understand where white Cinton supporters (or even the minorities who support her such as myself), he automatically stereotypes us as race traitors or racists, ignorant, and uneducated. I just KNOW this is how he thinks. My mother always told me since I was a kid that it is the little things people say and do that are a window into who they really are. Casual comments like this or "typical white people" or telling Hillary that she is "likable enough"...these things add up. As a mixed person I know for a fact that mixed people can be racist, overcompensate for being only half black, Asian, Hispanic, etc., and hate a part of who they are. So those people who say Obama can't be racist don't know what they are talking about. I wouldn't exactly call Obama a racist but he obviously has some identity issues and his narcissism and arrogance doesn't help the way he views ANYONE who doesn't support him. He automatically puts all of us in a negative category because anything else doesn't make sense to him. He really thinks everyone who doesn't love him must be a deeply flawed person.

gendergappers said...

So great - and you know, because he always tells everyone, he speaks the truth - no misspeaks for Mr Perfect. Did anyone else get tinglings of Bushspeak in his remarks? Like his total removal from how most of us live?

Hopefully his words will get rammed down his throat for days, and please, Bill, love you but be quiet.

jacilyn said...

Some are speculating that Obama is deliberately dragging in the issues he wants discussed - in this case, Thomas Franks and his 'what's the matter with Kansas' garbage. (I am not saying I think this is true, just mentioning the rumor that he is deliberately starting controversy. I think he's just clueless, but I'm not 100% sure.)

And, this is a brilliant political stroke because it's all so true, isn't it! Everything he said is true! Oh yes this would be a great country if only there weren't white working class people in it!

The whole idea is that the working class falls for cheap, transparent Republican tricks because we're just so dumb. (So, what needs to happen is that the Enlightened One needs to wake us up to our own mediocrity, or something - ??)

I think it's the elites who are dumb - or, more accurately, ignorant. They neither know nor care how it is that they have been so indifferent to the real issues we're voting on. Yes, we care about the economy. But we also care about fixing the mess that decades of severely flawed liberal policies have created. (Just because the intention was good doesn't mean it stops hurting when the policy itself is destructive.)

Unfortunately, elite Dems are not the least bit interested in starting a dialog on how the working class experiences the results of their policymaking. It looks good on paper, and they don't see anything wrong from where they sit (inside their walled-off communities, because it's no longer safe to go out there).

They are so sure they already know all about us that they have judged us unqualified to have an opinion about what's really wrong with us.

Bud White said...

"It also makes me want to ask, so what the fuck keeps your skinny ass in the pew of your church, given how you characterize the faith of those who do not support you?"

This is such a superb question. He attends the church of a flaming racist and the asks us to understand the historical context of racism. Yet he denigrates the faith of small down people as being born of bitterness.

Shainzona said...

bud white: thanks for calling that statement out to our attention. I was asking myself the same question as I read the post.

Why is his "faith" (which I personally think was borne out of politically expediency rather than a yearning for faith) OK and the faith of hard workers only something they "cling to" out of "bitterness"?

marirebel said...

I hear in Obama's comments the continuing "otherizing" and demonization of those who do not agree with him. Haven't we just been through eight years of this destructive nonsense? Certainly, it is this type of binary thinking (you're bad, we're good) that took us into the war in Iraq. We cannot afford another leader who so carelessly slips into hierarchical and binary thinking. As other commenters have already argued, people are complex, multiple and dynamic, contextualized as they are, by race, class, regional culture, gender, history, etc.

I also would like to deconstruct the idea of the "superior elite." Without slipping into the binary thinking I am trying to critique, I note that many elites accumulate their wealth through the continuing impoverishment of the working class and the poor. These elites, fully ensconced in our consumerist society (which is contributing disproportionately to the destruction of the earth—I bet the environmental footprint of working class folks is less than that of the elites), appear more concerned with superficial things like clothes, houses, tech toys, toys, looks, keeping up with the Jones's. I don't see much to recommend here, and I suspect the dreariness of this superficial life must be masked by antidepressants, alcohol and drugs! Thus, Prozac nation!

There is enough in this world for all to live relatively well. The concern of our government should be how to make government work for all (without demonizing anyone), not just the prosperous and privileged few!

Anonymous said...

The part of it that really rankles for me is where he made those comments. To a shitload of filthy,FILTHY rich people whose money he wanted to get so he could go buy the votes of those damned ignoramuses he was insulting to their faces.

It felt like he was some sort of apologist for a strange alien culture, like he was some anthropologist trying to explain the quaint native garb and customs of the people he's studied as a grad student to his defense committee.

Hey, asshole -- you have to be those people's president, too. And if you're their president too, then they have the right to lampoon, criticize, and talk smack about you, just like the entire country has done with every president since Washington.

It amazes me the people who think they're progressive. Being for unions and the working class always seemed to me, along with feminism, to be a fundamental part of the progressive identity. Obama's fanbots aren't progressives or the "far left" wing of the party like they say they are. They're the far RIGHT. He's a Manchurian Candidate all right, but not a Muslim one -- a REPUBLICAN one.

Chinaberry Turtle said...

It feels weird to have to state that there is dignity and worth in a life of labor.

Right on Anglachel!!! You know, before this Hillary v. Obama primary the Democratic party was succeeding in this manner with myself. I had begun to think exactly like they wanted me to think: "Well, I love my people (working class folk) but I guess they are bad and now that I've risen to the upper class I really do need to apologize for them."

Well, THANK GOD FOR HILLARY!!!! Thanks to this primary and the rift in the Democratic party that has been exposed, I can recognize this for the bullshit that it is. I will NEVER AGAIN be made to feel ashamed of where I came from!

CognitiveDissonance said:
He doesn't seem to even see anyone else.

I think this is right, and it reminds me of this speech by Hillary after her New Hampshire victory. She said: "Too many have been invisible for too long. Well, you are not invisible to me."

You've got to watch the video of this speech. While the words say a lot, her facial expression says even more. When she said the line, the crowd instantly recognized the power in her words. They roared with applause.

Hillary did not smile or in any way bathe in the response. Watch the video. You can actually see her mouth harden. To her, this was no token line to excite the crowd. For her, the power in these words lied in the fact that they genuinely meant something to her; she was actually exposing a truth about her inner core to the audience. Her face hardened against the applause as a visible demonstration that she was serious.

I KNOW that when Hillary is sitting alone w/ her daughter she is NOT making fun of poor working class folk. In contrast, I have EVERY suspicion that when Obama and his wife are talking alone with one another, all sorts of vile insults are hurled at poor working class white folk.

"What's wrong with Kentucky?" You know that's how Obama, Dean, Pelosi, Kennedy, Kerry, and all those guys look at poor working class voting trends. I think that what they don't understand is that:


It means nothing to us, and yet "Camelot" keeps getting crammed down our throats as something to which we should aspire. And Obama is supposed to be the modern rendition of Camelot.

What makes me sick is that the Democratic party elites cannot understand how revolting it is to working folk that "Camelot" should be propagated as the epitome of what it means to be a liberal. To hell w/ Camelot - I want Hillary.

Chinaberry Turtle said...

A couple people in this thread have talked about Obama's additional gaffe about pro-choice people. I'm so mad about that I gotta hold my tongue. But I think the best response to Obama's moral superiority and arrogance is expressed here.

brad said...

I don't think you can read: I said "racial polarization" for a reason.

I would recommend reading things before you start distorting them sometime.

Chinaberry Turtle said...

Here is a hilarious video depicting David Axelrod explaining Pennsylvania voters to Obama.

I found it via

Anonymous said...

brad, don't start with that "can't you read" garbage here. I've FAILED twerps like you in the marshmallow "Physics for Nonmajors" courses you all have to take before you even see the back side of a defense committee. That nose-in-the-air horseshit will get you slapped down here.

I don't care what po-mo polysyllabic jargon you dress it up with. The argument you made was PRECISELY as Anglachel describes it. You're backpedaling. Knock it off.

Anonymous said...

To a shitload of filthy,FILTHY rich people whose money he wanted to get so he could go buy the votes of those damned ignoramuses he was insulting to their faces

What do yall think of this?

Obama's top contributor so far is Goldman Sachs (provider of $369,078 to Obama), identified by Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) investigators as "a major proponent of privatizing Social Security as well as legislation that would essentially deregulate the investment banking/securities industry." Eight of Obama's top twenty election investors are securities and investment firms: Goldman Sachs, Lehman Bros. (number 2 at $229,090), J.P. Morgan Chase and Co. (# 4 at $216,759), Citadel Investment Group (#7 at 4166,608), UBS AG ($146,150), UBS-America ($106,680), Morgan Stanley ($104,421), and Credit Suisse Group ($92,300). The last two firms are also known to be leading privatization advocates (Center for Responsive Politics 2007a).

No Blood for Hubris said...

I said long ago that he's a timid centrist. Couldn't figure out why the so-called progressives kept bowing down to him. Still can't figure it out. O wait yes I can. They're stupid. And they're racist, assuming he must be liberal because he's black -- but he sounds more and more like Clarence Thomas to me.

CMike said...

Anglachel writes:

From a political theory perpsective, Obama offered a singularly sophmoric Marxist argument about the voters of Pennsylvania (and by extension the entire working class) as suffering from false conciousness.

I'm not one to shy away from making a Marxist critique. The bizarre aspect of this is that Sen. Obama and the likes of Brad DeLong* can make these assessments without offering an economic solution.

They would argue that the economic realities, facing working class members of a certain racial group, are not going to change so now would be the right time for those folks to concentrate fixing their world views.

I'd find some of this a lot easier to swallow if Obama was proposing; universal health care, a $9/hr. minimum wage with annual cost of living adjustments, tariffs to protect the US labor market from sweat shop competition, a death tax** to protect democracy itself. Instead the "creative class" offers, "suck it up, it's a new day and someone else's turn."

I'm not a proponent unrestricted gun rights. However, I have to credit all those 2nd Amendment devotees. They do believe in something. It's been pathetic watching our betters on the left fold like lawn chairs going into winter storage on the the issues of habeas corpus, the 4th Amendment, and torture which is clearly prohibited by treaties guaranteed by the Constitution's Supremacy Clause.

To tell you the truth both Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama have been terrible on these issues. The two of them waited years to weigh in definitively on the habeas corpus and torture questions - until they were forced to take positions on the day of the vote for the Military Commissions Act in 2006. And neither of them got out in front on the recent FISA debate, only giving belated support to Sen. Dodd's threat to filibuster the bill which included retroactive immunity for those who had violated the existing law. (Of course in the end Dodd did not filibuster the bill.)

*A bit off topic but if you want to read a long version of Brad DeLong arguing "if it was good enough for a young Oliver Twist it ought to be good enough for today's surplus population" go here. Guess you do need a doctorate to understand globilization and the Dr. Pangloss insight that "this is the best of all possible worlds."

**I'd like to see an inheritance tax rather than a "death tax" but but I won't shy away from defending the "death tax." Ideally, I'd like to see everyone have the right to inherit, receive from a trust, or as gifts up to an inflation adjusted $2 million tax free in a lifetime. All additional monies from inheritance, trusts, or gifts should be taxed at a, say, 75% rate.

jangles said...

It would be nice to think that this latest "speak" of Obama Inc. will have a telling effect on election results and wake up some of our "automatic" delegates to the harm we are courting for our party and our nation. It has been satisfying and encouraging to read posts from Hillary supporters on all the Hillary blogs. Obama's words were electrifying to us; an unexpected power surge; a booster current.

I would just like to add to this dialog notes about Obama's dagger thrust at Clinton's administration---a post at TM notes that in fact in PA during the Clinton years income of workers rose and unemployment was cut by more than 50%. It really angers me that Obama chooses to trash the Clinton administration achievements on the economy, national defense, and RACIAL AND ETHNIC PROGRESS. These were years of real progress and it makes no sense to see a Democratic candidate trash a former Democratic president on strengths from the past that we should be building upon, not tearing down.

Námo Mandos said...

I'm dubious about the racial analysis on this thread. There are reasons why blacks---including apparently privileged blacks---have a "chip on their shoulders", and why preachers like Rev. Wright are popular among blacks, and why black leaders and politicians are suspicious of working-class whites. To associate that aspect of Obama's views with liberal elitism or whatever seems a, don't you think?

There's a reason why at least some of the Obama chunk of the party has a bit of the Archie Bunker view. It is, as I've been reading Anglachel pointing out, I think, that race and anti-racist activism has been a major issue for the party. And that working-class whites seem---to such activists---frustratingly susceptible to white racial solidarity pleas.

For whatever reason.

I say this as a Canuck living in the US who can't vote, but marginally prefers Hillary to Obama, for marginal reasons.

gendergappers said...

The arrogance candidate, sounding more Repug than Dem, has gaffed a trifecta: - typical white person; pro-choice leaning and now bitter po' folks. And remember - he's a man of his words because he says so.

Big Bear's Alpha Mama said...

cutepeachpanda,you said what I've been saying for months now. The Liar has deep identity problems. He sat for in the pews for 20years, listening to his rev.spew hate and trying to fit in?
And why exactly does his wife always appear to be so angry?

Shainzona said...

gendergappers: also remember...WORDS COUNT (or at least they do when Barry says they should).

Obama is deinitely a man with an identity problem. I can understand that if he had "ended" up with a foot in each race. But it appears to me that at some point he decided to lean toward his father's family and away from his maternal side. That makes me suspicious (I'm a mother!) BUT I can also understand it, too.

The "problem" I have is that he turned away from his white heritage so totally - and has aligned himself (according to the company he has been keeping) with angry blacks with "chips on their shoulders".

Obamaphiles will argue that he doesn't have a chip on his shoulder - others around him do.

So my question then becomes...Who is Barack Obama and why should voters trust him with the critical job of restoring our country and protecting it (sometimes from ourselves)? Who is this guy? And how does he prove this is who he is? Not with words, my friends!

Talk is cheap.

Námo Mandos said...

In case I didn't make it clear, I think that the "chip on the shoulder" is a good thing and justified. My fear that is that he's too willing to sacrifice the chip on his shoulder, whereas Hillary Clinton's has been glued there---largely by other people, but glued.

Shainzona said...

I wasn't clear, either. I understand having chips on shoulders. I have a feminist chip on my shoulder gained from years of being slapped down.

My point is that Obama supporters argue that he doesn't have a chip on his shoulder and I should just take that for granted. They say that to deny the words he speaks.

marirebel said...

You know Namo Mandos, I think your analysis and comments are off. First with respect to people carrying a chip on their shoulders, Martin Luther King said this: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Yeah, that’s a tough road to walk, but the only way to get rid of the structural oppressions of racism and sexism, and all the other dominative “isms,” is to dismantle the structures that maintain them with care and grace. Sitting around with a chip on your shoulder will not accomplish much. Also, you seem to think activists are from the class of “elites.” Change is rarely driven by those in power; instead, change comes from the margins, from the disenfranchised, from people like the working class and working poor. Eventually, proposed changes gain momentum, and are co-opted and taken up by those in power.

Námo Mandos said...

I don't think I ever implied that activists come from elites. However, I do believe that there are people in the elite economic and social classes that are activists. That's because I don't believe that racism manifests itself necessarily along economic lines---I believe that racism is an independent oppression that is sometimes connected to class.

That is, I believe that a rich man can be a victim of racism.

I'm probably not telling you anything new here because you already know that sexism is manifested across class lines.

With all due respect to MLK, and that's of course quite a bit of it, MLK is not the only or last word on racial reconcillation. No matter how much love you're willing to shower on someone, when they bite you sometimes it's necessary to bite back. Like I said, when working class whites have seemed historically to be very susceptible to white racial solidarity, the only way you're going to see multiracial class solidarity is when whites permit it to be so.

Consequently, I personally hold it ill-advised to make Barack Obama too responsible for this issue. It's a lot larger than him and would happen with many otherwise credible black politicians.

gendergappers said...

Big Bear wrote: "And why exactly does his wife always appear to be so angry?"

Reason enough - she's married to him.

Dakota said...

Awesome post. I'm the one in my family who left town for the big city, the first to go to college, learn to drink cappuccino and eat sushi. My siblings chose and still choose to stay there, because they like it there. Their lives are different than mine with different rewards, and the older I get, the more I understand and respect their choice. Once again, I get the feeling that Obama has actually lived so little. His attitude seems so often like that of a 20-something, which perhaps explains his role of cult master to so many of them.

Dakota said...

cal1942: loved this insight - "It's as though he belongs to a certain club and policies and issues are merely rhetoric with no meaning or impact." That describes perfectly the feeling I've had from the beginning about Obama. It's this sense that his rhetoric has no grounding in deep belief or even much real-world experience. It's just rhetorical skill -- which the media is constantly thrilling over, as if the possibility that there's no real emotion behind it doesn't matter.