Okay, I thought it would blow over. A comment on my blog actually predicted that this little rain shower that began behind closed doors in the Foggy City would swell into a tropical depression, and whaddya know. We may even be heading for a full-grade tropical storm if the Clintons can’t find another self-defeating maneuver to stop the gracious amount of momentum the gaffe has received.
Now, loyal readers of course know that I’m an Obama supporter. Naturally, I was inclined to put the most positive spin on his statement. In retrospect I think he chose his words poorly, but it seems ludicrous that his mild comment could be used by Clinton or McCain to show that they are somehow more authentically in tune with rural voters.
Still, BO hasn’t done the best job killing this one. I think his intention was better stated by Lancaster, PA’s mayor, J. Richard Gray:
I don’t think he’s demeaning religion or guns. He’s saying the use of those issues as wedge issues plays on the bitterness that people have and diverts attention from the real economic issues, like the disparity between the wage earner and the rich.
The tragic thing to me about Obama’s now regrettable comment is that he was caught in the act of doing exactly what he pledges is his greatest strength: building bridges. He was at an intimate meeting of well-heeled Bay Area liberals, and he was explaining to them why they should care about what rural Pennsylvanians think, and why in the end, there are core social and economic goals they can all agree on. Just as he did in the race speech, he was able to step out of the room in a rural town hall with farmers and factory workers, and into a room on the other side of the country with left-leaning rich folks (and probably a few homosexuals, eh?) and share his same message of hope: simply, let’s come together and improve things. And he does it without the pandering or shape-shifting that has come to typify Clinton’s need to win at all costs or McCain’s fumbling attempts to court a divided electorate.
Nice flourish at the end with the Little Red Book. Classic – and a point well-taken about how spin and propaganda can become self-fulfilling.
I admired Bill’s teflon qualities in the 1990’s. He was – and, in some ways, still is – a consummate and talented politician, able to articulate people’s diverging views and sympathize with them in a way that was both impressive and more than a little bit creepy and manipulative. And yet, I still liked him more or less, mostly because I agreed with his broad-stroke principles enough to be willingly lied to. And sure enough, I was.
The spin in this election still seems to be emanating primarily from the Clintons, though. I watch last night’s debate, and each one of Hillary’s answers seems focus-group tested to touch on as many pandering references or sound bites as possible, a mile wide and an inch deep. I’m not saying that any politician doesn’t do this to some degree, but what I’ve learned during this election is that it is possible to appeal to people’s propaganda-saturated minds in a way that still respects their intelligence. This despite an aggravating preoccupation with minutiae like flag pins.
When Obama is asked these questions, he is able somehow to include but also move beyond his talking points. He does not treat us like children – or worse, cattle to be herded into the voting booth. Politics is a complex and nuanced business. Just “believing in the goodness of America and Americans” is naive and oversimplistic and insulting to our intelligence. If you want to believe in America, how about a little faith that we’re smarter than you give us credit for.
As many pundits have pointed out this morning, Obama looked impatient and irritated last night. I would have, too. When you do you best you give thorough and thoughtful answers to very legitimate questions about race and class and faith (questions that would have just as easily been dodged or spun), and you give these answers over and over again and each time you try to see people’s motives for asking and assume the best intentions about them and answer it YET again, and then you are still confronted with people who seem to think that you are being less than truthful or somehow detached from reality, I’d be irritated, too. And even then, you can’t betray your irritation because then that will just give more ammunition to those who are chomping at the bit to call you an Angry Black Man or an Elitist Snob.
It’s true that this gauntlet is the Hazing of the American President. It’s a rite of passage as poignant and painful as adolescence. (I shiver at the mere thought!) I respect anyone who feels not just an urgency but an eagerness to subject themselves to it, but I’d respect even more someone who can do it and manage to come out of it with their principles intact.
So far, there’s only one candidate left who has a chance. Time will tell if he makes it.
Arley Barley Farley says
“Naturally, I was inclined to put the most positive spin on his statement.”
Of course. But, perhaps, it would not be TOO far of a stretch to surmise that the average native English speaker, as you, I, and Obama are, would find no other interpretation but this: that he feels the same about guns and religion (or “religiosity” as Gordon put it in his blog), and those who place them high up in their hierarchy of needs, as those of the typical intelligent well-heeled intellectual. That is, he looks down upon them.
This is not a far-fetched conclusion. It is par the course for the typical American intellectual. In fact, finding an American intellectual who has any respect at all for religious beliefs (well, except maybe Tibetan Buddhism), gun ownership, we could throw in abortion while we’re at it, is extremely rare. This is true not only on the liberal side of the spectrum, but to a lesser extent on the conservative side as well. It is simply part of the Gestalt of the intellectual.
Unfortunately for the politician, this is An Inconvenient Truth. Politicians are supposed to love and respect all people (execpt maybe the Bad People like The Terrorists), certainly their voters, and certainly voters in key states they would like to win to seal a nomination.
I would venture it would not be a wild assumption that McCain, the Clintons, Obama, and 95% of the graduates of every top undergraduate, graduate and professional school in the country share the same opinion about guns and religion and other such issues. Sure, there are the 5% exceptions, but they are only 5%.
We need not pretend that Obama has any more respect for his voters than the average politician, or any more respect for the populace than the average intellectual. Let’s not lie to ourselves, people.
But for Obama supporters there is a silver lining: he seems to be, as it were, the next incarnation of “Slick Willie”. Dirty laundry like Tony Rezko and Reverend Wright and San Fran have brought down more seasoned nominees before. Some candidates, however, seem to have an almost magical power to deflect such attacks, even to benefit by them, even if they are true. We need only to remember, from his Governorship through Nomination through Presidency how Bill was able to emerge not only undefeated but stronger with every accusation and confirmed allegation. Obama is now exhibiting this property of the charismatic leader, which will propel him not only to the nomination but probably Presidency as well.
But let’s not believe our own spin. That’s when you truly began to loose touch with reality. Then you may as well have your own little red book.