“You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, a lot of them — 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’ve gone 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, and they cling to guns, or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”-Senator Barack Obama April 2008, San Francisco
Since making this comment, Sen. Obama, as well as the media have been focusing on the “bitter” part of the comment. Why? Because it’s the only part of the comments that can possibly be defended and it’s by far, the least offensive.
As a conservative – I find this comment very offensive. Allow me to explain why.
Essentially, this is what I see Sen. Obama saying: Because the government has failed this group of people, they have become “bitter” (classic victimization) and…have taken on conservative positions. Of course, when I say ‘conservative positions,’ they are actually stereotypes of conservative positions. In other words – it’s the governments fault that this group of ‘bitter’ people have taken on Sen. Obama’s understanding of conservative positions.
It is then clear that Sen. Obama does not understand conservative values.
Before, I attempt to explain these positions – it bears mentioning that people do not cling to certain positions based on whether or not the government does or does not do certain things. Think about your own positions. Do you ‘cling’ to them because of something the government has or hasn’t done?
Next I want to break down the swath of insulting stereotypes that end Sen. Obama’s comment, because I believe that they are largely held by people who don’t really understand conservative values. Heck, I used to hold them…
“[T]hey cling to guns…”
You hear this all the time, often in other forms such as, “…America’s obsession with guns…” or “We prefer to be enslaved and maimed by our ‘right to bear arms.’” These sort of comments show a total lack of understanding in regard to the philosophy behind the Second Amendment. The purpose of the right to bear arms springs from a basic understanding that the power of government comes from the people (see the Declaration of Independence excerpt below). Individual people have the power of their rights and freedom (these things are not given by government – but it’s government’s job to protect them) and they, in a sense, loan that power to the government (…in order to form a more perfect Union).
The Founding Fathers placed the right to bear arms second in the Bill of Rights because it is core value for a society of free people. It is regrettable that it is necessary – but unless you live in an idealistic alternate reality (e.g. the ‘imagine a world without guns’ folks have an nice dream going – but unfortunately, imagining a world without guns doesn’t imagine away human nature, nor does it deter the very real people in this world that intend to harm others.), it is clear that it is a crucial right to be able to defend your own life (rather than relying on the government). Also concerning this idea of loaning power to the government, the founders knew the danger of handing too much power to the government. In the spirit of checks and balances – the Second Amendment limits the government’s power to take away personal liberty and property.
It seems clear to me that Senator Obama does not understand this notion. His insinuation that only people who have become ‘bitter,’ (presumedly because the government has not provided for their every need) and thus, have clung to guns – shows a fundamental ignorance of the philosophy behind the Second Amendment.
Finally – and this is the most crucial point – like I mention in my About section: Guns (in the hands of civilians) are tools for saving and protecting life. Period. They are not for killing bad guys; they are for protecting good people from harm and death. When guns become devices for killing, unfortunately – those that use them for killing, have won.
“or [they cling to] religion …”
Ed Morrissey nails this one:
“People don’t become religious because the economy hits a few bumps in the road. Obama may have chosen his religion based on politics, but most people follow a religion out of a deeper sense of spirituality. I can’t think of a more condescending and contemptuous analysis of religious dedication than this statement.”
This is a classic misunderstanding of religious faith. (Sen. Obama is now trying the old Jedi Mind Trick to say that he meant this religion bit in a positive way. “They turn to what you can count on.” Interesting, considering the first bit that paints these folks as gun nuts, and then the next bits that basically add on bigotry and xenophobia. Are these positive things to cling too also?).
Let’s bring in another crazy fundamentalist talking about clinging to religion:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them.” -George Washington
Religion transcends politics. It is not something caused by government. America’s very existence is founded on religious philosophy (based on a Judeo-Christian understanding of the human nature and humanities position under God.) Consider the opening of the Declaration of Independence (this also accompanies the bit above concerning the Second Amendment):
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Though our government is secular (a very good thing), it is clear that religious values are it’s foundation. The fact that Sen. Obama tosses “cling to religion” amongst other items that he clearly derides, for me, is either a colossal blunder, or a revealing of who this man is at the core. Given the recent controversy surrounding Sen. Obama’s pastor (video of pastor’s statements in case you missed them.) Jeremiah Wright and his church of 20 years, I find it extremely hard to give him the benefit of the doubt here.
“or [they cling to] antipathy to people who aren’t like them…”
Bigot: A bigot is a prejudiced person who is intolerant of opinions, lifestyles, or identities differing from his or her own.
Xenophobia: fear or dislike of strangers or the unknown, often used to describe nationalistic political beliefs and movements.
This is basically just labeling. So far – the government has made these small town folk xenophobic gun-toten’ fundamentalists. For some reason, xenophobia has become a label often applied to conservatives and I think it has a lot to do with this next part:
“or anti-immigrant sentiment…”
Earlier I was mentioning Jedi Mind Tricks, and here is a great example. There is a granite-like assumption on the left that people who are anti-illegal immigrant are anti-immigrant. As Dwight Schrute would say, “FALSE!” The two things are non-sequiturs. Immigrants into this nation are gladly welcome, though they must come legally. This view IS NOT anti-immigrant, clear and simple. But the San Fransisco millionaires and billionaires that Sen. Obama was speaking to probably just nodded in agreement with this stereotype of small town America.
“or [they cling to] anti-trade sentiment …”
Ed nails this one again:
“And this is just jaw-droppingly hypocritical. This comes from the same candidate who opposes the Colombian free-trade agreement and wants to throw NAFTA out the window. Who’s clinging to anti-trade sentiment? Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Big Labor.
If you go to the most expensive private school in Hawaii and then move on to Columbia University and Harvard Law School, you may not understand normal Americans. Their beliefs are so alien to your leftwing viewpoint that you have to seek some psychological explanation for what seem to be weird ideas.
They can’t really believe in the right to bear arms.
They can’t really believe in traditional marriage.
They can’t really believe in their faith in God.
They can’t really want to enforce the law on immigration.
Therefore, they must be “bitter” and “frustrated.”
This is the closest Senator Obama has come to openly sharing his wife’s view that “America is a mean country”. Not since Governor Dukakis have we seen anyone so out of touch with normal Americans. It makes perfect sense that it was in a fundraiser in San Francisco that he would have shared the views he has so carefully kept hidden for the entire campaign.
I think what really gets me about this whole comment is how revealing it is. Up until now – Obama has run primarily on ‘hope’ and ‘change’. Somehow, despite the fact that he has the furthest left voting record in the entire senate – people believe that he will somehow unite and heal the nation. However, it appears to me that he has little or no understanding of conservative values (I’m not saying I’m surprised). Further – the idea that the only reason people may take on those positions (whether stereotypes of positions or real positions) is because they have become bitter with the government, is an insult to Americans.
I think this kind of ignorant miss-representative garbage could possibly loose him the election. If Sen. Obama wants to alienate average people who have a traditional understanding of America, our Constitution, and the values and foundations that hold up our government – I’m afraid he just did.
UPDATE: I added some audio from Dennis Prager who did a great analysis of Sen. Obama’s whole comment and the fallout afterwards. Listen to them in the Bonus Box on the right.