Bitters

Sensing the furor his San Francisco remarks had generated among campaign observers, Barack Obama responded immediately. At a town hall meeting in Indiana on Friday night, Obama gave no ground. Rather, he attempted to provide a workable translation of his original remarks:

Nobody is looking out for you. Nobody is thinking about you. And so people end up — they don’t vote on economic issues because they don’t expect anybody’s going to help them. So people end up, you know, voting on issues like guns, and are they going to have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. And they take refuge in their faith and their community and their families and things they can count on. But they don’t believe they can count on Washington. So I made this statement — so, here’s what rich. Senator Clinton says “No, I don’t think that people are bitter in Pennsylvania. You know, I think Barack’s being condescending.” John McCain says, “Oh, how could he say that? How could he say people are bitter? You know, he’s obviously out of touch with people.”

Out of touch? Out of touch? I mean, John McCain—it took him three tries to finally figure out that the home foreclosure crisis was a problem and to come up with a plan for it, and he’s saying I’m out of touch? Senator Clinton voted for a credit card-sponsored bankruptcy bill that made it harder for people to get out of debt after taking money from the financial services companies, and she says I’m out of touch? No, I’m in touch. I know exactly what’s going on. I know what’s going on in Pennsylvania. I know what’s going on in Indiana. I know what’s going on in Illinois. People are fed-up. They’re angry and they’re frustrated and they’re bitter. And they want to see a change in Washington and that’s why I’m running for President of the United States of America.

Obama’s translation is interesting. Obama recapitulates a political sociology that retains an incredible disdain for the concerns of average citizens. It is entirely of a piece with Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas?. Steven Malanga’s brief review suggests how much Obama’s campaign themes have in common with Frank’s book, as does Richard Nadler’s longer account of it.

The most striking feature of Obama’s San Francisco remarks is their arrogance. In his initial defense of them in Indiana, Obama responds like Muhammad Ali circa 1964 (but without the glint in his eye): I am the greatest. It is not a compelling defense.

Indeed, Obama has begun to beat a retreat, as the Washington Post documents in an article headlined “”Bitter’ is a hard pill to swallow.” Why? It’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re the greatest.

JOHN adds: So Barack thinks that people would stop “seeking refuge in” and “clinging to” religion, if only they had a government they could “count on.” That’s what Karl Marx said, too. No wonder Obama can’t figure out why it’s controversial!

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