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Opening Arguments

The common touch

When politicians start playing the "out-of-touch" card, I tend to tune out as a defensive measure. My tolerance for humbug isn't what it used to be:

Obama was questioned at the start of his session about his reference to religion in his small-town remarks -- perhaps the most controversial word he uttered. Describing the Pennsylvania political landscape at a private fundraiser last Sunday in San Francisco, Obama told of how people "cling" to such issues as religion and guns when they become disillusioned by hard economic times and by politicians who promise much but deliver little.

Hillary Clinton and others have been pounding Obama's remarks as condesceding, out of touch and elitist.

In order:

1. Absolutely, they were condescending, but only in the way Democratic presidential candidates usually are toward people when it comes to  values. Few of them seem to believe (based on their remarks anyway) that people can actually have heartfelt religious beliefs or well-thought-out gun-rights positions or reasonable doubts about immigration policy. They just head there because those are safe havens in uncertain times.  People are "bitter" Why? Because government isn't doing all it is supposed to for them. So they "cling to" religion. It's simply inconceivable that religion might lift them up, even in good times. And it is possible, I believe, to be bitter and a gun-control zealot. I even know a couple of them.  

2. Out of touch -- you bet. But all three of the candidates are out of touch with the experiences of ordinary Americans, Clinton's attempts to come off as a gun-totin', shot-and-a-beer, good ole gal notwithstanding. They're U.S. senators, for goodness sake, among the most coddled, pampered, deferred to people on the planet. And you can become out of touch even though of humble origins. I was a high school student once, but I can't pretend to know what high school culture is today. Things have changed there, and I've moved on. It's the human condition.

3. If someone gets defensive about being called an elitist, that's a pretty good sign he's a Democrat. I am an elitist and proud of it. Some people are smarter or more skilled or talented than others. Some ideas are better than others. Some values are more enduring than others. When I have a house built or my body operated on or my car fixed, I want the smartest builder I can find and the most skilled surgeon and the most talented auto mechanic. Call me crazy.

And I want the most sensible president I can get, the one most likely to uphold the Constitution and the least likely to go off the deep end while in office. He or she doesn't have to do a shot and a beer with me or know what I pay for groceries. I don't want one of the common masses.  



Mon, 04/14/2008 - 10:10am

Not a bad misstep for Obama. He's got Hillary and McCain convulsing with feigned moral outrage and making themselves look as ridiculous as ever, particularly Hillary as she attempts to burnish some bona fides as a gun-totin' church lady.

I'll gladly take his condescension over theirs.

Mon, 04/14/2008 - 10:18am

>>Democratic presidential candidates usually are toward people when it comes to values.<<

Just *which* values are you talking about? Values like blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers?

If you weren't using "values" like I've seen them used all too often in the past 4 or 5 years, my apologies. But, "values voters" has been a ridiculous shorthand for people who value life before birth and after brain-death but not in between. Oh, and who really hate gays. And take pride in ostentatious displays of religion, Matthew 6:5-6 notwithstanding.

Mon, 04/14/2008 - 10:43am

I don't even see it as a misstep, but I'll cop to being in the minority here. One of the things I've always liked about Obama is that he's smart, he assumes Americans are smart, and he isn't afraid to address them as though they have two or three working brain cells to rub together. It's very clear what he was talking about in his SF remarks -- the way so-called "values" issues have been wielded like a club in the past 25 years, in lieu of addressing the things that really affect people's quality of life, like having a damn job. It's the "What's the Matter with Kansas?" argument, distilled and, admittedly, awkwardly phrased by someone who needs to watch every word.

Mouth-breathers like Pissed-off White Boy, or whatever the future leader of the Allen County GOP is calling himself these days, will beat the dead horse until it's a grease spot. And it may well end up hurting Obama in the end. But he's been saying the same thing for years, as you can see here:


And he's right. If people in small-town Pennsylvania still had factories to go to work in, they wouldn't care so much about whether gay people in San Francisco were getting a marriage certificate.

tim zank
Mon, 04/14/2008 - 11:11am

Nance...is it really as you say because "the way so-called

Harl Delos
Mon, 04/14/2008 - 11:13am

After the New Coke misstep, someone asked a Coke executive whether they might have done it on purpose. "We're not that dumb," he said, "and we're not that smart."

I sorta get the feeling that this "bitter" thing is working out in favor of the junior Senator from Illinois, at least here in Pennsylvania. All of a sudden, people who were supporting Clinton are treating her like a laughing-stock, making fun of her desperate, grasping lies, and of her whining.

I don't know about you, the lady across the street said, but I'm bitter. She told me a few weeks ago that she didn't think people would vote for a black man, but Hillary could win. She doesn't consider race to be a problem now - and this morning, she was mad about the local coverage of last night's forum. I thought it was fairly even-handed coverage, but she was disgusted that Channel 8 didn't expose Mrs. Clinton as a fraud.

Ed Rendell said yesterday that he expected Obama to win Philly, but the suburban counties to go 62-38 or so for Clinton. I think Lancaster qualifies as a suburban county; there are lots of people who commute into Philly, and there are Philly TV stations on the local cable system.

Maybe it's different elsewhere in the state, but I suspect it's not. Instead of winning by 5 points, like the polls were saying last week, I wonder if Hillary is going to lose Pennsylvania.

Mon, 04/14/2008 - 11:23am

No, what I'm saying is, when people are secure and feel they have a future, they tend not to be as anxious about things that don't really threaten them. And when you've lost your job, and your son is lucky to be making $14 an hour, and your daughter just had her second kid out of wedlock, and the growth market for young people in your county is meth cooking, you're going to be a sitting duck for some blowhard who tells you it's all happening because "they" took prayer out of the schools and are letting queers kiss each other right on the courthouse steps.

I try not to be condescending, but then, I read the letters to the editor.

tim zank
Mon, 04/14/2008 - 11:34am

So Nance...let me edit for you....

And when you

Mon, 04/14/2008 - 12:43pm

I've read that studies of various species suggests that (hardly concrete proof - I'll freely admit), in times of scarcity, tolerance of variation diminishes. So, if this carries through to humans, it makes some sense to think that an out of work Pennsylvania mill-worker might cast a vote on the basis of gays getting married in California where the same mill-worker, except fully employed and prosperous, would not.

As I recall, the thought with respect to animals is that, when resources are scarce, the group can ill-afford to squander those resources on untested behavior which might not aid the group's ability to survive. When times are good, the group can be more experimental. Some of those resources, gambled away on uncertain behavior, might even pay off richly for the group.

Mon, 04/14/2008 - 12:58pm

Doug, that sounds like college-educated elitism to me. Stop that right now!

Mon, 04/14/2008 - 2:01pm

I can see where the "clinging to religion" quote is problematic for people, but I see the Senator's point. Our political decisions are supposed to be made with values in mind, but the religious solutions shouldn't be confused with political solutions.

That's sort of the point of liberal democracy, isn't it? Religion is welcome, but it doesn't define institutions in the same way it once did. If you're voting based on strictly religious convictions you may be inadvertantly voting against your own interest.

tim zank
Mon, 04/14/2008 - 5:50pm

The Messiah's comments can be spun any way you like, but the bottom line Nancy, is, you are both condescending. Your columns (and now blogs) have always pretty much pointed out how stupid everyone else is compared to how enlightened you are.

Snark is one thing, it can be funny and demonstrates wit, whereas condescencion is a more deeply held belief that you are in fact better than others. Your comments (and Barry's) display the latter.

Mon, 04/14/2008 - 5:54pm

Well, at least I can spell condescension!

tim zank
Mon, 04/14/2008 - 6:06pm


Leo Morris
Mon, 04/14/2008 - 6:17pm


Leo Morris
Mon, 04/14/2008 - 6:36pm

I just thought of a new word, appropos of nothing: Condiscension -- the belief that one is better than Secretary of State Rice.

I have to say word or two in defense of condescension, Tim, since it is a natural outgrowth of my professed admiration for elitism. A great many people feel they are superior to the coomon herd, but, of course, only a few of us are fight. What grates is the obviously underserved air of superiority of those who are clearly wrong, i.e., those who condescend to us and our kind.

tim zank
Mon, 04/14/2008 - 7:01pm

heh heh heh...

well said Leo....

Harl Delos
Tue, 04/15/2008 - 3:07am

Those who think they are always right are *terribly* annoying to those of us who actually are.

Tue, 04/15/2008 - 7:05am

Hey Leo, I have a question. Would you consider calling a black man a "halfrican" condescending?

Leo Morris
Tue, 04/15/2008 - 2:44pm

Actually, the term that was being thrown around was "Halfrican-American," and, no, I have no opinion on whether it is condescending or not. It is a semi-clever if mean-spirited putdown of those with multicultural, hyphenated-America sensibilities.

What I DO consider is that someone who has tried for more than a year to peddle the notion that I called Obama that is either a despicable scoundrel willing to twist someone else's words or a borderline moron incapable of comprehending simple English.

What the original post ( http://openingarguments.wordpress.com/2007/03/06/the-breakfast-club/ ) said was that "Barack is still fighting the image of being Halfrican-American." In other words, if I may translate for you, people are saying that about him. If I am guilty of something for referring to that fact, I guess you are, too.

As least you've gone from slyly hinting I am a racist to slyly hinting I am condescending. Considering the source, I suppose I should count my blessings.

tim zank
Tue, 04/15/2008 - 5:40pm

Leo 1
Craig 0