Saturday, April 12, 2008

Who Will Save Your Soul?

The blogosphere continues to be afire with commentary on Sen. Obama's recent statements. Some of the commentary defending Sen. Obama's comments are pretty revelatory in their own right.

My two cents -- the problem with what Obama and his supporters believe is two-fold. First, there's the cultural condescension on display. There's nothing new in that. While it's remarkable to have the notions that Obama put forth being stated so plainly, anyone who has paid attention to politics in the last 40 years understands that this is part of the game.

The larger issue is the one that goes to the real conceit of certain liberals. It's this -- because liberals intend to use the apparatus of government to make your life better, the citizenry should let them do it. That's why today we're hearing the following message from Obama and his acolytes: well, of course people are bitter, because the government in Washington hasn't made people's lives better in the last 25-30 years. Those nasty Bushes and Clintons aren't listening to people's concerns. And that nasty McCain is the same. Again, apparently the last president who was listening was Jimmy Carter.

And here's the problem with that particular conceit; in my experience, people understand that the federal government isn't particularly well-equipped to deal with what are individual concerns. And people learn that is true irrespective of the party that happens to hold power in Washington, D.C.

The reason people "cling" to religion, or guns, or other traditions is really pretty simple; it's because those things matter more to people's lives than government does. I don't expect Barack Obama to make my life better; it is beyond his ken. He can complicate my life if he becomes president, but he won't hire me or fire me, nor will he ultimately have much say in how the next 8 years of my life proceed, whether he is president or not. My own faith and my own efforts will matter much more than anything he and his minions do, as will the relationships I have with family, friends, colleagues and others in my immediate community.

Maybe I'm wrong about all this. Maybe I'm a victim of false consciousness and don't understand that I am merely a pawn in a larger game. But I doubt it. The federal government certainly has a role to play in our lives, but it is necessarily secondary to the role that other people and institutions play in our lives. Sen. Obama doesn't see things that way. That is his right and he can certainly try to become president and then attempt to assume a pivotal role in my life. But I am duty-bound to push back against his efforts in that regard. And as more people come to understand the conceits by which Sen. Obama and his campaign operate, he's going to find more and more opposition. We cling to what we value and I value many things more than I value Sen. Obama's heartfelt offers to improve my life.


Anonymous said...

Ginning up a controversy over the use of the word "bitter" is just silly and the vast majority of people are going to see it as such. His comment was not put very artfully, but that doesn't mean that it can be dismissed. Obama is telling the truth. Blue collar workers are frustrated because many will not live as well as their parents did without more education, two parent incomes, an influx of high paying jobs to replace the manufacturing jobs lost to globalization, health care guarantees for the service sector jobs that have replaced lost manufacturing jobs, etc. Just take a look at Congress' and the President's approval ratings and tell me people are not bitter.

More importantly when polls say 80% of the electorate thinks the country's on the wrong track who is condescending to the voters, the candidate who say they're bitter or the candidate(s) who says they're not?

Obama's wider point is valid too, and should be extended farther. Not only do people vote wedge issues because they don't believe they will be represented on core economic issues, but the simple fact is they get no real movement on the wedge issues either. Promises to change the constitution to ban flag burning and gay marriage are blatantly phony campaign planks, no major politician today has any intention of amending the constitution. Everyone's been bitter at government since government's were first established, and demogaguery by pols is one of the main reasons.

I do agree with your point that the reason people "cling" to religion, guns, traditions is because those things matter more to people's lives than government does, and I think that is the real attack point for those who are opposed to Obama and liberalism. But making that point takes effort, and doesn't fit well into a Morris-Rove style sound bite. Obama's line "They take refuge in their faith and their community and their families and the things they can count on. But they don't believe they can count on Washington." is a concession to your point, that it's rational to focus on community and culture if the government and marketplace are just going to totally abandon you.
But I am not expecting HRC to try to exploit that. It wouldn't 'triangulate' well.

Mark Heuring said...

I'm glad you take my point, Rich. I understand it takes effort to make the larger point about the proper role of government and the blandishments of liberalism, which is one reason why I write about it on this blog.

As far as the bitterness thing, I think I've made my thinking clear. Obama thinks he's telling the truth, but he doesn't understand the people he's talking about. He's essentially using the Thomas Frank "What's the Matter With Kansas" argument about people. If you accept the premise that people are being fooled with wedge issues, then what Obama, Frank and some liberals believe is true. I don't accept the premise, because I just don't see much evidence that people really look at the world that way. Guess those sociology courses I had at Beloit didn't take.

Personally, I like low governmental approval ratings. When people have low expectations of government, it tends to recede a bit. And especially at the federal level, that's a good thing.

Dan S. said...

The bad news for (Sn)obama: His "apology" to us folks in flyover country for accidentally letting us hear what he thinks of us seemed less than sincere.

The good news: We're too stupid to know it.

At least that's the hope to which he's "clinging."