You go into some of 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, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. 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.Within moments, a billion righty bloggers rushed to their basements, poured themselves a Mountain Dew, inhaled a pound of Cheeto dust, and immediately began screaming that Barack Obama hates all Americans, because he's just a namby-pamby San Francisco liberal from Massachusetts. Or something. The dumbest commentary came, as per usual, from The Blogger Formerly Known as Hindrocket, who mused openly that Barack Obama's campaign was probably over.
The problem with the right-wing freakout over this statement was twofold. First, and not surprisingly, the quote was taken out of context. And second, even if it wasn't, what Barack Obama said was unquestionably true.
Now, don't get me wrong -- Obama probably could have phrased it a little better. But read the full quote:
So, it depends on where you are, but I think it's fair to say that the places where we are going to have to do the most work are the places where people feel most cynical about government. The people are mis-appre...I think they're misunderstanding why the demographics in our, in this contest have broken out as they are. Because everybody just ascribes it to 'white working-class don't wanna work -- don't wanna vote for the black guy.' That's...there were intimations of that in an article in the Sunday New York Times today - kind of implies that it's sort of a race thing.So first off, what Obama was saying is simple: working-class white voters aren't voting against him because they're horrible, bigoted racists. They're voting against him, thus far, because frankly, they're not so sure that the skinny kid with the funny name who happens to be black is the guy who's going to lead them to prosperity.
Here's how it is: in a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long, and they feel so betrayed by government, and when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn't buy it. And when it's delivered by -- it's true that when it's delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama (laugher), then that adds another layer of skepticism (laughter).
But -- so the questions you're most likely to get about me, 'Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What's the concrete thing?' What they wanna hear is -- so, we'll give you talking points about what we're proposing -- close tax loopholes, roll back, you know, the tax cuts for the top 1 percent. Obama's gonna give tax breaks to middle-class folks and we're gonna provide health care for every American. So we'll go down a series of talking points.
But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of 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, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. 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.
Um, now these are in some communities, you know. I think what you'll find is, is that people of every background -- there are gonna be a mix of people, you can go in the toughest neighborhoods, you know working-class lunch-pail folks, you'll find Obama enthusiasts. And you can go into places where you think I'd be very strong and people will just be skeptical. The important thing is that you show up and you're doing what you're doing.
Obama notes that there may be some racism or nativism involved, but puts it in the context of being poor, being hopeless, and wanting desperately to be able to pin the blame on someone, or something. This is not new, and not unique to the rust belt; there's a reason the Ku Klux Klan grew during the Great Depression.
And yes, people who are culturally conservative and fiscally liberal tend to vote on culture issues, because let's face it, neither party has done a good job of delivering for rural America. Neither party has done a good job alleviating the economic insecurity in the Rust Belt. And so why vote for economic benefits you don't expect to see, when you can vote for an abortion ban that could happen? The Reagan Democrats have been lost to the Democrats not because the Democrats don't pander enough on social views -- we never could -- but because we don't offer a compelling reason to support us on fiscal policy.
At any rate, Obama's statement will prove a bit embarrassing, and then it will fade away. By Monday, this statement of explanation from the Obama camp will have put this mostly to rest, except on Fox, which will keep running this in heavy rotation until they decide to go back to the Jeremiah Wright videos.
Incidentally, another candidate has said something similar about those xenophobic Midwesterners:
Anti-immigrant passion also owes much to the disproportionate influence of a few small states in the nominating process. National polls show that, as an issue, immigration is far behind the Iraq war, terrorism, the economy, and health care as a concern to most Americans; a recent Pew poll shows that, nationally, only six per cent of voters offer immigration as the most important issue facing the country. But in Iowa and South Carolina, two of the three most important early states, it is a top concern for the Republicans who are most likely to vote. “It’s the influx of illegals into places where they’ve never seen a Hispanic influence before,” [John] McCain told me. “You probably see more emotion in Iowa than you do in Arizona on this issue. I was in a town in Iowa, and twenty years ago there were no Hispanics in the town. Then a meatpacking facility was opened up. Now twenty per cent of their population is Hispanic. There were senior citizens there who were—‘concerned’ is not the word. They see this as an assault on their culture, what they view as an impact on what have been their traditions in Iowa, in the small towns in Iowa. So you get questions like ‘Why do I have to punch 1 for English?’ ‘Why can’t they speak English?’ It’s become larger than just the fact that we need to enforce our borders.”Yes, Barack Obama hates America, but John McCain loves America, because...look! ¡El Chupacabra!