When you pander, don't admit it

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The polls suggest that Obama weathered the Jeremiah Wright affair with little or no damage. This new flap--arising from remarks to supporters that most members of the liberal intelligentsia would regard as stating the obvious--may hurt him more.

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. And it’s not surprising then 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.


What a gift to Hillary. She piled on:

Clinton aides said they planned to make Obama's comments central to their message on the campaign trail this weekend. The New York senator will campaign across Indiana Saturday, and will return to Pennsylvania on Sunday.


In a soft-spoken denunciation of her Democratic rival that lasted several minutes, Clinton played up her own faith and Midwestern roots before attacking point by point Obama's claims that people who feel disenfranchised in small town America "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."

"Americans who believe in God believe it's a matter of personal faith," she said, to periodic applause. "People of faith I know don't cling to religion because they are bitter. People embrace faith not because they are materially poor but because they are spiritually rich."

On the issue of guns, Clinton said: "People of all walks of life hunt, and they enjoy doing do because its an important part of their life, not because they are bitter."

"I don't think it helps to divide our country into one America that is enlightened and one that is not," Clinton continued, finishing her remarks with a line she introduced on Friday in Philadelphia after the story broke: "People don't need a president who looks down on them. They need a president who stands up for them, and that's exactly what I will do."

It has no intellectual merit, but an exuberantly brainless rant by Jane Smiley in reply to Hillary (to think how I admired "A Thousand Acres"...) is worth noting:

So now, Barack Obama tells the truth about conditions as we know them--that the countryside and the small towns are dying in many places in our country, and that the corporatocracy doesn't care enough to do a thing about it. He points out that immigrant-baiting, gay-baiting, gun-baiting, and religious pandering have helped to destroy those towns and that countryside, that those being destroyed have been cynically enlisted by their very own destroyers to provide the votes that help accomplish the destruction. And this is what Senator Hillary Clinton says about it: "Senator Obama's remarks were elitist and out of touch. They are not reflective of the values and beliefs of Americans."


From Senator Clinton's remarks, I infer that to actually see what has gone on in the US in the last 20 years is unAmerican. It doesn't matter who you are, where you were born, what you pay in taxes, what else you might have contributed to the culture, how you vote, who you support. If you don't support fundamentalist religion, job outsourcing, and free access to guns, then you are not even American.

I cannot believe how angry this makes me. I cannot believe that after the last seven and a half years, I can even get this angry. Yes, I know she is pandering to her audience. Yes, I know she will do anything to get elected. Yes, I know that she and Bill Clinton are corrupt to the core, and that I should have never expected anything better of her. But, please, any of you angry white women who still support this craven shill, don't mention it to me. Do me the following favor -- apologize to your children for not stopping the war that HIllary voted for, the war that is going to impoverish them. Then apologize to them for the effects of global warming that are going to make their lives hell. Then apologize to them for the school shooting they may someday see, the one where the kid gets the guns out of his father's gun case, or buys at a gunshow. Apologize to them for the meaningless wars they are going to fight and pay for. Then tell them that "American values" killed their hopes and maybe killed them. And ask them if they think it's going to be worth it.

Back in the land of the non-raving, Mickey Kaus offers a characteristically painstaking dissection. He enumerates four principal flaws in Obama's comments. He says the remarks combine "things that Obama wants us to think he thinks are good (religion) with things he undoubtedly thinks are bad (racism, anti-immigrant sentiment)". They accuse Pennsylvanians of being racists. They contradict his own position (on trade, at least). And yes, Kaus says, they are plain condescending.

I think I would consolidate points one and three, but otherwise I agree. The reference to trade interested me especially. Up to now, Obama has indeed endorsed anti-trade sentiment. In last week's comments he portrayed that view as an error induced by bitterness and frustration. Anti-trade sentiment is regrettable, he seemed to say (though Ms Smiley is stone-deaf to this implication). But it is understandable that ordinary people should be mistaken on this, and we more successful types, with less to be bitter or frustrated about, should make allowances. If that is not condescension, I don't know what is.

Pandering is one thing. It is to be expected of politicians. But it is unwise, and it violates the etiquette of the profession, to say that you are pandering. Hillary panders to anti-trade sentiment, to the religious, and now (can this be correct?) to gun enthusiasts--all with apparently total conviction. Obama panders less well. I think it is a question of experience.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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