Rattling the Cage: Obama discovers America

You don't have to be a Marxist to believe that socioeconomic troubles often lead to bitterness whose outlets are religious fundamentalism and xenophobia.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
After this latest uproar over his comments about working-class whites being "bitter," it's becoming clearer than ever that America is not going to elect Barack Obama president. And even though I support John McCain, mainly because of Iraq, I'm not at all happy to see America's incompatibility with Obama coming into focus. It's there for all the wrong reasons. Race is one reason, but it's not the main one. I believe a black conservative who had only good things to say about America and Americans and everything they ever did, and who never mentioned white racism except to downplay it, could get elected president. That's not Obama, though. Obama, it seems, is too dangerous, too strange, too damn liberal and too high-falutin' for the American electorate. It's not that he's black, it's that when you put his being black together with that Jeremiah Wright, and his wife saying she just started being proud of America, and his taking off his American flag pin, and his middle name, and his African daddy, and his white humanist mother, and growing up in Indonesia, and going to Harvard, and all his talk about change - and now his saying that folks like us love Jesus and love guns and hate Mexicans because we're bitter about the way the economy's treated us? Thank you very much, Mr. Hussein, but we'll be voting Republican again. You want to be president of the United States, you'd better do nothing but flatter Americans, flatter the country, flatter baseball, apple pie, Chevrolet, NASCAR, the NRA, ol' time religion, American supremacism and everything else the heartland holds dear. (It's no different running for prime minister of Israel, only here you have to swear allegiance to soccer, the Golani Brigade, grilled meat on the skewer, sing-alongs and Shabbat dinner with the family. Each country and its sacred cows.) If you want to be president of the United States, you'd better be absolutely unthreatening to Middle America, you'd better make "normal" conservative Americans feel completely comfortable. Above all, you'd better not speak with the least smidgen of candor or honesty about anything that might be wrong with Middle America or any of its ideals - even when what's wrong is a matter of open knowledge to most everyone else. In the 1968 Republican presidential primaries, Michigan Gov. George Romney ruined his excellent chance for the nomination when he said he'd been "brainwashed" into supporting the Vietnam War. By that time, much of the American media and public realized that that's exactly what had happened - that US military and political leaders had sold the public a bill of goods about the justice of the war and the prospects for its success. But the "silent majority" wouldn't hear of it, and beyond that they loathed the suggestion that American military leaders were "brainwashing" anyone. Brainwashing was what Communist torturers did to American POWs, and Romney had gone and compared our generals and our president to the Commies. He hadn't, of course, he'd just told the increasingly accepted truth about an American war and the Americans running it, but that was it for his chances of becoming president. AND WHAT, after all, did Obama say last week in San Francisco (San Francisco! Liberals! Queers!) about working-class, small-town Americans? After talking about how so many of them had lost their jobs over the last 25 years, he went on: "And it's not surprising then they get bitter, 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." Why that effete snob! Why that pusillanimous pussyfooter! (I miss Spiro Agnew.) The Americans Obama was describing are the famous "angry white males." Hordes of American journalists and pundits and regular American citizens can talk about "angry white males" who vote their resentments instead of their economic self-interest - but if you're running for president, you can't mention them. If you're running for president, you have to pretend there's nothing the matter with the millions and millions of Americans who believe all the xenophobic, war-mongering, anti-rational bullshit the Christian Right preaches; who would rather give up one of their legs than one of their guns; who think illegal immigrants should be sent to Guantanamo, or, better yet, Abu Ghraib. And if you're running for president, you don't dare suggest that any American comes by such ideas because he's hurting economically, or because he's not very well educated. That's elitism. That's Ivy League liberalism. No, actually, that's the truth that's behind a great deal of the popularity in America of the Christian Right, of guns, and of anti-immigrant hostility. If not for all the struggling, poorly educated, angry white males (and, to a lesser extent, females), the Christian Right would still be influential, there would still be plenty of fanatical gun owners, and illegal immigrants would still be unwelcome. But the problem wouldn't be nearly as bad as it is. Despite what William Kristol thinks, you don't have to be a Marxist to believe that socioeconomic troubles often lead to bitterness whose outlets are religious fundamentalism, xenophobia, ultra-nationalism and a passion for weaponry. In the US you have the angry white males. In the Middle East you have the angry Muslims. In Israel, minus the passion for weaponry, you have the angry Sephardim. Neither the Christian Right, nor the various fundamentalist Islamic movements, nor Shas would be what they are today if not for poverty. You don't have to be an elitist, either, to believe this, you just have to see what's plain as day. You're free to talk or write about it in public, too - unless you depend on those angry white males (or angry Middle Eastern Muslims, or angry Israeli Sephardim) to get elected, because then you've got a problem. If you tell people who are suffering that their deepest beliefs are a result of that suffering, they're going to be insulted. They're going to feel patronized, pitied. But where's the line between patronization and compassion? Between pity and sympathy? I don't think Obama said anything wrong, I think he just told the uncomfortable truth about millions of Americans - and you can't do that if you're running for president. All you're allowed to tell voters about themselves is stuff that will flatter them. No, America isn't ready for a President Obama - for all sorts of reasons. None of them good.