From a small town in Pennsylvania

A reader asks asks: “Just what about Obama is so damned elitist?”

I realize I’m a bit late to the party, but a bit of unpacking of the now-infamous “bitter and clinging” quote should serve to explain this nicely.

“So it’s not surprising then that [small-town Pennsylvanians] 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 [economic] frustrations.

Reading the context of this quote makes it worse, not better. In Obama’s universe, small-town Pennsylvanians are too thick to recognize the actual cause of their problems, which is government’s failure to wave some kind of redistributionist magic wand and make it 1955 again. Instead of doing what they should be doing, which is — oh, I dunno, he never actually specifies, but one may guess that it involves voting for nationalized health care and against Republicans — they “cling” to bad, baad things like religion and guns. And “antipathy”, which I’m pretty sure unpacks as “I don’t want to actually out and out call them all redneck racist bigots but wink-wink nudge nudge, know what I mean?”.

There is no possibility in Obamaworld that these people may “cling” to religion because religion is an integral part of their traditions in a way that has nothing to do with cultural-Marxist notions of economic determinism. I am certainly more hostile to small-town Pennsylvania’s favorite religions than Obama is and even I can see that this account is condescending and absurd.

There is also no possibility in Obamaworld that they “cling” to guns because they enjoy hunting or shooting, or because they hold a principled position about the role of civilian arms in a free society. No, the only possible explanation is that their guns are a form of fetishistic compensation for their depressed, powerless situation.

It’s the denial of moral agency that is really insulting here, the glib ascription of behavioral choices to überpolitical causes their supposed victims are too ignorant or stupid to grapple with. But never fear! The benign condescension of goo-goo liberals can save them! Can re-educate them! Can give them jobs (or, more likely, dole checks) and restore meaning to their sordid, petty lives! Can make them better!

As it happens, I live in a small town in Pennsylvania. Malvern is a bit too wealthy and connected to metro Philadelphia to be the kind of place Obama is talking about, but I know what those towns are like. My father grew up in one and my wife in another. I wouldn’t live in either place by choice, but Obama’s take on the people who live there is trivializing, insulting, and — yes — elitist.

UPDATE: Obama also said the people he had in mind “don’t vote on economic issues, because they don’t expect anybody’s going to help them.”. It’s true that they don’t expect anyone to help them; that’s because, in general, they’ve learned to equate “government help” with “fucking things up worse than they are already”. Obama thinks he knows better than this. I think they’re rignt and he’s wrong.


  1. Restored from backup:

    The town I grew up in — Pottstown, PA — wasn’t quite the type of town Obama meant. It’s a bit too big, too urban and too sophisticated, even now that it’s population has diminished greatly. But the towns my father’s siblings and cousins settled down in–St. Clair, Shenandoah, Frackville–are the type of towns Obama had in mind.

    By the way, [info]esrblog is very right about the cynicism with which those people view government. Interestingly, most of those people, like my father and mother, were Democrats, back in the 1960s and 1970s when I was growing up. I’m not sure what party they vote with now, if any.

  2. Restored:

    Cathy, I understand why you don’t put Pottstown in the same bin as my dad’s old hometwown in the Alleghenies…but to Obama, those differences wouldn’r signify. He’d see two burgs full of gun-loving, church-loving Reagan Democrats and condescend to them both.

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