Saturday, April 12, 2008


So, on Friday, Barack Obama was at a fundraiser in San Francisco. He talked a bit about his chances in Pennsylvania, which hasn't yet held their presidential primary.

In particular he spoke about his chances of appealing to working class white people there. Pennsylvania is part of the old rust belt which has been losing jobs (in certain industries) for the last thirty or forty years.

In Obama's opinion, people here are frustrated that no one in the federal government has been able to reverse this trend. Okay, I'll agree with that. But, he goes further. Frustrated working class white people in Pennsylvania don't know how to say that they are mad at the government, so their frustration comes in other ways. To wit:

"'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."

This is an extremely strange claim, for several reasons. But I'm just going to talk about two. First, it's strange to say that people are too stupid to realize what they're really mad at. I've heard this argument before, and I didn't like it then, either. Why second-guess? How about just listening to what voters say really motivates them?

Trying to win an election is like trying to get a girlfriend. If a girl says she doesn't like me because I am a fat nerd, it might be comforting for me to pretend that the real reason is because she is threatened by my giant IQ, or because she is a lesbian. But she's not. And lying to myself in this fashion only prevents me from making the changes that will make me more attractive. I would expect that the same is true for Obama.

Now there's a second strange thing about this quote. Let's re-examine it. Assuming he's right (instead of vainly deceiving himself), when people get "bitter," they "cling" to the following:

1) guns
2) religion
3) racism ("antipathy to people who aren't like them)
4) xenophobia ("anti-immigrant sentiment")
5) isolationism ("anti-trade sentiment")

Isn't that a strange list? Doesn't it strike you as odd?

I mean, racism and xenophobia are pretty obviously bad things. Isolationism is also a pretty unpopular sentiment in the US these days. And saying that people "cling to a way to explain their frustrations" doesn't sound like a really positive behavior.

In fact, the logic seems to be the same for each of these: frustration which cannot be expressed properly (and therefore cannot be resolved) finds an outlet through violence or hate. This is pretty classic Freudian psychoanalysis. You're mad at X, but you can't do anything about that, so you attack Y instead.

So, what is religion doing on this list?

Do you "cling a way to explain [your] frustrations"? I don't. And it's really hard for me to believe that anyone who goes to church as often as Obama does would put this forward as a good explanation for religious belief. On the other hand, this sounds a lot like the kind of explanation I have heard from people who have rejected religion, or who have no experience with it. And my guess is that a lot of people in Obama's audience fit this description. But Obama portrays himself as (1) a pretty religious guy and (2) a guy who can bring different people together and help them understand each other. So it's pretty disappointing that all he is doing here is confirming the prejudices of his audience.

Why do I 'cling to religion'? Well, because I believe it's true-- God lives, and he sent his son, Jesus, to pay for my sins. But also because my religious experiences make me feel better. And because my religious principles motivate me to change myself for the better.

Why does Obama go to church? I don't know. But I'm certainly not going to bother asking him, reading what he writes, or listening to what he says. That's for suckers. Instead, I'm just going to assert that Obama is bitter because of the repeated failures of the Democratic party, but he simply hasn't figured out how to explain his frustration yet.

Also, I think he's a lesbian who's threatened by my giant IQ.


(UPDATE 4/13: Senator Obama's latest response, dissected.)


Alice Wills Gold said...

Hey, you are not a fat nerd...and maybe all those x-girls really are lesbians.

Love thise post. Love your insight. Love your testimony, and I love fat nerds (not that you are one, not that you are so skinny, I may just have to decided to love skinny nerds too)

the House of Payne said...

Thanks, Alice. I love you right back. And LeGrand, too. Although I would love him more if he ever commented.

LeGrand said...

I generally try to follow the maxim of it is better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. But your offer of more love motivates me to offer my thoughts. Plus, I have dated two girls that are today out-of-the-closet lesbians and Alice suspects a third, but the third hasn’t come out of the closet. I’m not sure how intimidated they were of my IQ, but I like that so I will start adding that to the story from now on.

Alice Wills Gold said...

O.k. I can't even read Lg's comment until I correct my own typos "this" post and it was meant to say "now" that you are so skinny, not "not" that you, it is amazing that one little letter like that can make such a huge difference in a meaning...I guess I should edit my own comments, but I usually am just tearing through one blog at a time...forgive me in advance for any typos here...don't have time to edit...thanks for not taking offense.

Sam said...

well now I really don't know who to vote for. I had (briefly) thought about voting for Obama as I'd rather see him ruin the country than McCain (the sheep skinned, non conservative).

the House of Payne said...

Expand your vision, my brother. Maybe it's time for you to take a look at an independent or third party candidate. There's a lot of them.

Linda said...

great post- also, you're not a fat nerd, well, maybe a nerd (but, I love nerds!)

Scott Earl said...

I think this does make things difficult as far as deciding on a candidate. I mean they all seem to have loopy comments they make. Certainly Hillary has her whole sniper fire fiasco. And McCain is getting up in years enough now that he's liable to have dementia sometime soon and then who knows what he'll start spouting off. I appreciated the link for the list of 3rd party/independent candidates. That's why I think I'll vote for "Average Joe" Schriner. His video was especially heartwarming.

Kam said...

very well spoken, juandolor. i'm always entertained and educated when reading your blog.

the House of Payne said...

Thanks, everybody! Especially thanks to Linda for saying I'm not fat. Take that, my bathroom scale!