15 Apr 2008

More on Obama’s Bitter Pennsylvanians

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James Taranto, in the Wall Street Journal, explains that Obama’s expressed opinion of the misfortunes responsible for the politics, religion, and avocations of small-town Americans, in fact, demonstrates that it is actually his own urban elite which is hostile to real diversity and afflicted with a negative and paranoid view of persons not exactly like themselves.

Obama’s promise rests on a false premise: that it is within the power of the president to restore the Rust Belt’s luster. Every incumbent president in living memory has sought at least one additional term, and the Keystone State has for decades been a key electoral battleground, both large and closely contested. If presidents had the power to make Pennsylvania’s declining towns wealthy, don’t you think one of them would have done so by now?

In truth, the decline of industries is simply a fact of life, like old age, sickness and death. Yet just as new generations supersede the old, a free economy produces innovation that gives rise to new industries. And while some places have declined, the nationwide economy has grown impressively for most of the past quarter-century.

Now consider the issues to which Obama claims these Pennsylvanians “cling” instead of economic ones. One of them, trade, is in fact an economic issue. It’s odd that Obama would criticize Pennsylvanians for “antitrade sentiment,” given that pandering to such sentiment has been a central feature of his campaign. You voters are idiots, and I promise to give you what you want!

Obama’s reference to “antipathy toward people who aren’t like them”–which he notably did not repeat in Indiana–seems just a cheap shot, an appeal to his San Francisco audience’s antipathy toward people who aren’t like them. Or perhaps it is evidence that he was listening more attentively than he has admitted to the sermons of his “spiritual mentor” about the “U.S. of KKK A.” …

Underlying this criticism is a curious normative premise: that the nonaffluent ought to prioritize their material interests over moral and cultural concerns. “Workers of the world, unite!” meets “The Virtue of Selfishness.”

Unlike Ayn Rand, Feingold and Obama see selfishness as a virtue only for bitter-off cultural conservatives. The well-heeled San Francisco Democrats Obama addressed last week stand to pay much higher taxes if he is elected. Many of them no doubt back Obama because they like his liberal positions on subjects like guns, abortion and same-sex marriage. If you think Obama criticized their priorities, we’ve got some change you can believe in. In Barack Obama’s America, rich people who vote on cultural issues rather than economic self-interest are principled and self-sacrificing. People of more modest means who do so are credulous and bitter.

When Feingold and Obama refer dismissively to cultural and moral issues, it is not because they do not take those issues seriously. It is because they would rather not take seriously the arguments on the other side. It is much less intellectually demanding, as well as flattering to oneself and those San Francisco Democrats, to caricature opposing positions as the products of poverty, ignorance and bitterness.

And Pat Buchanan, in Human Events, links Obama’s “bitter Pennsylvania small-towners” remarks to earlier statements, demonstrating that the sympathy Obama expressed in his famous Philadelphia speech to both sides separated by the racial divide is far from evenhanded.

It was said behind closed doors to the chablis-and-brie set of San Francisco, in response to a question as to why he was not doing better in that benighted and barbarous land they call Pennsylvania.

Like Dr. Schweitzer, home from Africa to address the Royal Society on the customs of the upper Zambezi, Barack described Pennsylvanians in their native habitats of Atloona, Alquippa, Johnstown and McKeesport. …

A few months back, Michelle Obama revealed her mindset about America with the remark that, “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country.” Barack has now revealed how he, too, sees the country. The Great Unifier divides the nation into us and them.

The “us” are the privileged cosmopolitan elite of San Francisco and his Ivy League upbringing. The “them” are the folks in the small towns and rural areas of that other America. Toward these folks, Obama’s attitude is not one of hostility, but of paternalism. Because time has passed them by, Barack believes, they cannot, in their frustration and bitterness, be held fully accountable for their atavistic beliefs and behavior.

Though neither mocking nor malicious, Barack’s remarks are, nonetheless, steeped in condescension. Inherent in his words is that these folks in Middle Pennsylvania are in need of empathy, education, assistance and perhaps therapy. …

Note, from that Philadelphia address, the highlighted words.

“Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race … as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything. … They … feel their dreams slipping away … opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense.

“Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.”

In Barack’s mind, black anger and resentment at “racial injustice and inequality” are “legitimate.” But the anger and resentment of white folks, about affirmative action, crime and forced busing are born of misperceptions — and of “bogus claims of racism” manipulated and exploited by conservative columnists and commentators to keep the racial pot boiling and retain power, so the right can continue to do the bidding of the corporations that are the real enemy.

Barack has stumbled into the eternal failing of the left-wing populist. He cannot concede that the anger of white America — that its right to equal justice has been sacrificed to salve the consciences of guilt-besotted liberals — is a legitimate anger.

One Feedback on "More on Obama’s Bitter Pennsylvanians"

Scott D

You would think after all this time that Democrats would recognize that paternalism doesn’t play well with most of the electorate, but I guess it’s in their genes. They not only feel they know what’s good for you, but demand the right to shove it down your throat if you disagree. This wouldn’t be half as bad if they had a track record of actually making good choices. I guess if you are a true elite, you believe that you can assemble a group of your peers in a room in San Francisco or Washington and make better decisions than millions of people voting with their own money every day in the marketplace.


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