Are Religious Americans and Gun Owners “Bitter”?

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I know it’s ancient history in the time frame of American politics but I intended to write a few words regarding Obama’s recent jab at working-class Pennsylvanians. As informative as it is to deconstruct the content of Obama’s comment, just as illustrative is the response from conservatives and liberals. In particular which part of his comment they choose to latch on to. On this issue, I find myself in the former category.

Here is Obama’s comment in its entirety:

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. So it’s not surprising then that 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.

As is probably clear to most people, there are two interrelated claims being made here. One is that international trade and immigration, “globalization” in the current verbiage, has cost people their jobs and economic security. As a result, they are bitter. The second is Americans believe in God and own guns because they are bitter. Obama’s millionaire donor audience in San Francisco may be unable to make the distinction but most Americans can.

As I recently opined on Sultan Knish’s blog, gun owners and believers make up a majority of voters in the United States. The United States regularly rates as among the most religious of the Western, capitalist states. There are more guns than cars in this country.

People are religious because they believe, not because they are “bitter.” People own guns because it is a Constitutional right and an expression of our liberty and freedom. Heck, some of us simply enjoy shooting guns. But Obama had to pander to San Francisco’s liberal millionaire elite and express opinions that were openly disdainful of the majority of Americans.

Some conservatives seem convinced that comments like these and Obama’s affiliation with individuals like Rev. Wright indicate he is some sort of closet radical. But I find Obama to be a condescending snob, more along the lines of a limousine liberal than a subscriber to the ideologies of the leftover left. He knows how to “speak to a crowd” because he tells the crowd what they want to hear.

People are starting to see through Obama but the conclusions they are drawing are dramatically different. Many conservatives think Obama identifies with the perverse goals and values of organizations like the Nation of Islam or the Weatherman but he constructed these connections for political reasons. The man was a community organizer with ACORN for all of what, six months? He had no connection to “the community” so he proceeded to hook up with the Nation of Islam, Reverend Wright, and all the rest of the gate-keepers and power brokers in Chicago. In short, Obama may be less the revolutionary that conservatives fear and more along the lines of the opportunist, poverty pimp, that conservatives loathe.

All this relates, in a peripheral way, to the arguments raised by Thomas Frank in What’s the Matter with Kansas? Like many elitist liberals, Frank contends working class conservative voters are duped into supporting social-conservative politicians who act against the economic self-interest of the working class by cutting taxes on the rich, for example. However, when confronted with the reality that people in liberal enclaves routinely vote on social issues (gay marriage, abortion, etc.) and act against their economic self-interest (electing liberal politicians who will raise their taxes) critics like Frank are silent. Why is that?

ADDED: Michael Weiss at the New Criterion makes some similar points, albeit in a much more erudite fashion.

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One response »

  1. This opinion that many in the Democratic Party have, that the working class has been duped into joining the Republicans or the conservative movement, hurts the Democrats in the long run in two distinct ways.

    As you stated, people who go to church generally don’t do so because they are bitter, but because they believe. I have never met a gun owner who enjoyed firearms because he was bitter over the American economics. Nothing is more condescending to folks who hold this things to be important than to have a party say you hold such views because the country isn’t more socialist. This kind of talk has pushed the working class away from the Democrats since the late 60s, and I don’t see that reversing anytime soon.

    And in the long run, it hurts the Democratic leadership if they continue to see the world in this way. Every time they lose an election, I hear cries from the left that it was due to “dirty tricks” from the right. That people were “mislead” and “tricked” into opposing them. The longer Democrats cling to this idea that they lose because of some malevolent right wing conspiracy, they will lose elections. They need to come to the conclusion that some of their positions and activists are simply not popular with many Americans. Once they recognize this, they have two options: stand by their positions and try to sway people towards them, or change their positions so that they better align with the electorate. But as long as they argue that their losses are the result of anything but their group’s unpopularity, then they will remain an opposition party.

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