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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Monday, April 14, 2008

Obama's (possibly) fatal gaffe

Here's what Barack Obama said that now has him in such deep trouble (we'll find out just how much trouble next week):

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.

So, how wrong is he? A lot of the reaction seems to based on the idea that, even if there's some truth to what he's saying, a presidential candidate is not supposed to say anything that might be construed as negative about a part of the American electorate. You always have to lift people up - all of them - and never be seen to "look down" on them.

But a lot of the flak is coming from the mention of "religion" in a way that is not respectful and implies criticism (listing it with guns, bigotry, protectionism, and so on, like it's another bad thing). You just can't do that in the US - not even in passing, in this mild, implied way. Not if you're a politician trawling for votes. But surely Obama has a point; it does appear that America's ongoing religiosity has something to do with its widespread economic insecurity.

So is Obama now on the skids? I'd hate to see him falter over something like this. I mean, I'm kind of rooting for Clinton (nothing against Obama; I just think that at this stage of their respective careers Clinton will be the more formidable opponent for McCain ... and perhaps also the most competent president on offer). But Obama has gone up in my estimation. What he said is being portrayed as a terrible gaffe, as a moment when he betrayed what he really thinks and revealed himself to be an elitist who looks down on the common people. To me, it just reveals a man with a brain his head.


Larry Hamelin said...

Whether or not it's a "gaffe", it's not worthy of analysis, as Ezra Klein points out.

Each listener is either offended or not; we don't need any pundits to tell us that we should (or should not) be offended.

Brian said...

A man with a brain is a dangerous thing Russell. That's why W was elected.

Anonymous said...

"as a moment when he betrayed what he really thinks and revealed himself to be an elitist who looks down on the common people. To me, it just reveals a man with a brain his head."

I think it is probably both, which may wipe him out unless he runs from his brain. :)

Blake Stacey said...

That's his fatal gaffe? Holy Poseidon on a bicycle — that's the closest any politician has brought me to volunteering for their campaign!

Anonymous said...

Agree with Mike, he is clearly both. I'm cheering for Obama simply because of my distaste for dynasty politics. And the more the notion of 'celebrity' makes up politics (From Arnie to a "Bush" or "Clinton") the worse off we all are.

I'm suprised that people aren't also upset that he mentioned guns as a bad thing...

Russell Blackford said...

Actually, Stuart, a lot of Americans are attacking him over that as well. There's a lot of stuff on the net about how rural/ small town Americans love hunting, and Obama is (supposedly) out of touch on this issue.

Anonymous said...

Given the close parallels between the US and Roman empires (visible even in de Tocqueville's time), perhaps the mot juste belongs to Asterix: "They are crazy, these Romans!

Anonymous said...

It continues to amaze me how myopic the average American really is,some people are saying that he should have perhaps choose his words more carefully, and I guess as a politician one must, but i daresay that Americans, people, should learn the art of critical thinking, but that would be asking too much thinking.