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:
"...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."
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:
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 guns...as 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 to...religion...as 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.)