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Sunday, April 13, 2008

When Jane Smiley Gets On Board...

When Jane Smiley gets on board, your campaign ship is sinking in small-town America.

Yes, THAT Jane Smiley has weighed in in great excitement over Obama's reprise of Dean's "guns, God and gays" remark of 2004. Naturally Jane thinks Obama's hit the nail on the head:
So now, Barack Obama tells the truth about conditions as we know them--that the countryside and the small towns are dying in many places in our country, and that the corporatocracy doesn't care enough to do a thing about it. He points out that immigrant-baiting, gay-baiting, gun-baiting, and religious pandering have helped to destroy those towns and that countryside, that those being destroyed have been cynically enlisted by their very own destroyers to provide the votes that help accomplish the destruction. And this is what Senator Hillary Clinton says about it: "Senator Obama's remarks were elitist and out of touch. They are not reflective of the values and beliefs of Americans."

From Senator Clinton's remarks, I infer that to actually see what has gone on in the US in the last 20 years is unAmerican. It doesn't matter who you are, where you were born, what you pay in taxes, what else you might have contributed to the culture, how you vote, who you support. If you don't support fundamentalist religion, job outsourcing, and free access to guns, then you are not even American.
Etc. This is the Smiley creature who exploded in 2004 over "
The Unteachable Ignorance of the Red States":
Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states. There used to be a kind of hand-to-hand fight on the frontier called a "knock-down-drag-out," where any kind of gouging, biting, or maiming was considered fair. The ancestors of today's red-state voters used to stand around cheering and betting on these fights.
Listen to what the red state citizens say about themselves, the songs they write, and the sermons they flock to. They know who they are—they are full of original sin and they have a taste for violence. The blue state citizens make the Rousseauvian mistake of thinking humans are essentially good, and so they never realize when they are about to be slugged from behind.
Got it. The foul beasts in Kansas are just dragging the whole country down.

Volokh has the best overall package of what Obama said, including audio, transcript and then his unfortunate attempt to clarify. The SF Fundraiser blip:
I think they're misunderstanding why the demographics in our, in this contest have broken out as they are. Because everybody just ascribes it to 'white working-class don't wanna work -- don't wanna vote for the black guy.' That's ... there were intimations of that in an article in the Sunday New York Times today -- kind of implies that it's sort of a race thing.

Here's how it is: in a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long, and they feel so betrayed by government, and when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn't buy it. And when it's delivered by -- it's true that when it's delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama (laugher), then that adds another layer of skepticism (laughter).

But -- so the questions you're most likely to get about me, 'Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What's the concrete thing?' What they wanna hear is -- so, we'll give you talking points about what we're proposing -- close tax loopholes, roll back, you know, the tax cuts for the top 1 percent. Obama's gonna give tax breaks to middle-class folks and we're gonna provide health care for every American. So we'll go down a series of talking points.

But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. 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.
This was unfortunate, and it seems to me that Jane Smiley's got the antipathy to people who aren't like her trophy all tied up, so it's doubly unfortunate. I am highly doubtful that small-town America is more bigoted in any way than urban America on the whole.

Then his response kind of put the icing on the cake:
And for 25, 30 years Democrats and Republicans have come before them and said we’re going to make your community better. We’re going to make it right and nothing ever happens. And of course they’re bitter. Of course they’re frustrated. You would be too. In fact many of you are. Because the same thing has happened here in Indiana. The same thing happened across the border in Decatur. The same thing has happened all across the country. Nobody is looking out for you. Nobody is thinking about you. And so people end up -- they don’t vote on economic issues because they don’t expect anybody’s going to help them. So people end up, you know, voting on issues like guns, and are they going to have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. And they take refuge in their faith and their community and their families and things they can count on. But they don’t believe they can count on Washington.
I know what’s going on in Pennsylvania. I know what’s going on in Indiana. I know what’s going on in Illinois. People are fed-up. They’re angry and they’re frustrated and they’re bitter. And they want to see a change in Washington and that’s why I’m running for President of the United States of America.
The thing is, people are frustrated. But I think Obama may be a bit out of touch with why people are frustrated and what kind of change they want to see.

As to bitterness and religion, these are very unfortunate comments juxtaposed with the controversy over Wright and the Church of the Black Jesus Who Is Absolutely Not Jewish. When you have been sitting in a church in which "God Damn America" pops up in the sermons, you'd be well advised to leave other people's religious affiliations alone.

To imply that people's faiths are born of frustration and bitterness is a severe misstep. For one thing, it's not true. The Great Awakening, De Tocqueville and a long history of religious movements in this country predate current economic conditions in small towns. Indeed, anyone who has not read de Tocqueville's Democracy in America should read at least this chapter entitled "Principal Causes Which Tend To Maintain The Democratic Republic In The United States" to absorb de Tocqueville's impressions of the role religion played not in government but in culture. Judge for yourself whether this still is not true:
In the United States, if a politician attacks a sect, this may not prevent the partisans of that very sect from supporting him; but if he attacks all the sects together, everyone abandons him, and he remains alone.
About the anti-immigrant stuff: As far as I can tell, almost all of the animus is about illegal immigration, and that's not really the same thing as being anti-immigrant. The problem with the vast swell of illegal immigration is that it does push down wages for the remaining jobs. That is why employers have been hiring these people. It also creates a situation in which the illegal immigrants are easily exploited by employers, and it creates a situation in which many illegal immigrants can't get driver's licenses, etc. So you have a situation in which there is essentially one law for legal residents (immigrants or not), and another law for illegals. Drive without a license or insurance as a legal resident in the US, and you will get the book thrown at you. As an illegal, most of the time you are just given a pass. It's not the fault of the police - what are they supposed to do? But the ensuing situation is destructive to social order. A lot of these people are here using fake IDs, etc, so illegals generally aren't held accountable for smaller offenses.

It's not the people in the small towns who are wrong about this. It is a genuine evil. The situation isn't fair to anyone, and the federal government should have responded long ago. Attempting to blame the people for recognizing the situation is stupid, and exemplifies the Washington disconnect.

The issue of guns: This is an issue for many Democrats. When you are telling people that they shouldn't be allowed to keep their father's rifle in their home, you are telling them that they are not trusted. Of course it's made even worse when there is a crime wave going on, isn't it? People didn't suddenly turn to guns. People in the US have always had guns. The Second Amendment was put in the Bill of Rights due to fears that Congress would attempt to disarm the states, and the Bill of Rights arose because the people of that time wouldn't ratify the US Constitution in several states due to worry about the potential for a federal government to overreach itself. This is not a new issue, and it's a losing one for the Democrats.

Gay marriage: I doubt very much that most people are voting on issues like gay marriage. However, to the extent they are, it's due to distaste at having judges shove this stuff down their throats and a deep distrust of gay culture per se, which largely exalts the dysfunctional. It doesn't take many pictures of babies in strollers at extremely decadent CA gay cultural events before people think it's time to put a lid on this. I am pretty sure that everywhere in the country there is massive assent to the idea that gays and lesbians should not persecuted or discriminated against, but that's quite different from wholesale approbation. To the average individual, marriage is about protecting children and monogamy, and the straight population can get riled by only one excerpt of one GLBT pontificator explaining that gay marriage will help educate those unreasonable straights about the illogic of expecting monogamy. Unfortunately there hasn't been just one.

Anti-trade. Here Obama is discussing anti-free trade sentiment, but of course there is considerable wrath over this. You can't create a situation in which the real incomes of the bottom half of the population are stagnant or declining and not expect to see some push-back. The federal government has followed a free-trade policy that exported a lot of jobs, combined with wide-open illegal immigration and an unwillingness to enforce sanctions against employers of illegal immigrants. The combination of those policies has resulted in a bad economic and social situation. I believe that the current changes in currency valuations are about to turn this trend around, but it will take a lot to correct the effects of prior policies.

Obama's basic failure is the failure to respect the concerns of the population, which is a very bad error for a US politician. It will not be fatal, yet. He's going to have to correct this, though. DC is out of touch. The US government has made multiple policy changes over the last 20 years which have hurt the people of the US. Those include relaxing controls over financial institutions without implementing a correspondingly increased regulatory regime, allowing wide-scale illegal immigration, which created a subservient, marginalized class and drove down the wages of the average worker, negotiating free-trade treaties which were sometimes quite imbalanced, and overspending on a monumental basis.

The people of the US do not need to apologize to the federal government for their complaints. The politicians in the federal government need to sit down and take those complaints seriously.

In conclusion, I would like to quote once more from the same chapter I linked above:
America has no great capital city 1 whose direct or indirect control of the majority of the nation, will be independent of the town population and able to repress its excesses.

To subject the provinces to the metropolis is therefore to place the destiny of the empire not only in the hands of a portion of the community, which is unjust, but in the hands of a populace carrying out its own impulses, which is very dangerous. The preponderance of capital cities is therefore a serious injury to the representative system; and it exposes modern republics to the same defect as the republics of antiquity, which all perished from not having known this system.
This is the evil small town America sees, and why it does not trust Washington. Rightly or wrongly, the perception is that the political life of the country is in the hands of a small coterie which is extremely remote from the average citizen. Washington politicians have overwhelmingly pursued the smaller interest groups and the big money of lobbyists over the last 20 or 30 years. It is time now for them to turn their attention to the general welfare.

Dr M. thinks that Obama has no chance now of winning the general election. I'm not sure - there is a lot of time yet. But this was startlingly tone-deaf. The Anchoress merely raises an eyebrow and snorts in an elegantly pithy manner.

The single most appropriate blog post I have ever read on this topic is not about Obama's remarks at all. It is by SC&A, and it is entitled "Progress and Failure, Part One". In it he discusses the difference between adaptive cultures and cultures dominated by shame:
In a modern, progressive society, failure is the most accurate predictor of success. Where failures are understood to be instructive and corrective in nature, societies flourish. In cultures where failure is always regarded only as a source of shame, embarrassment or humiliation, societies usually cannot sustain themselves.
Obama's remarks about small town America and Smiley's speechifications are founded on a well-disguised shame-based culture. What they would offer is welfare, whereas what small-town America wants is opportunity. Obama comes close to asserting that small-town America is shamed and lashing out in aimless frustration, but that is a complete untruth.

Wow. There are fourteen pages of comments over there. All are just words strung together as though that creates reality.
The quote from "Progress and Failure" immediately brought to my mind the changes in our Bankruptcy law,which used to give a second chance booth to risk takers and those who encountered the fickle finger.And we do have a "political class" in this country,I encounter it in my town of 8,000 people and somewhat fewer souls.Thanks MoM,Tom Stone
Have to think a bit before commenting.
Do not think Hillary should be knocked for her comment regarding.

Just finished reviewing the pictures of Obama fundraiser for $2300 a pop held at Ann & Gordon Getty home on San Francisco Billionaire's Row.
BTW, where he made those remarks.

That guy's no Tiger Woods with Tiger's ways.
That guy's like, The Music Man flim flam man. His 20 yrs. in Wright's church, his associations with ex-Black Panthers, his book& exs in, and talks indicate the guy is a racist under wraps. He's an elitist-socialist ( my term) under wraps too.

He made it clear that he's pro amnesty for millions of illegals and their kids and all else for the illegals too.

OT: Finance Ministers Emphasize Food Crisis Over Credit Crisis.

At least it's not just bloggers noticing the food crisis anymore...
So. The truth will out, after all.
Fred - "words strung together as though that creates reality".

The phrase strikes me as an apt description of Obama's comment. It's odd for a man who has written of what an inspiration his church was to him to make the comments referenced in my post. He seems to be stating that faith is a crutch for the dysfunctional culture of small towns. He screwed up pretty badly.

Tom, it's a notable example of our current political dysfunctionality that we haven't yet reformed the 2005 bankruptcy reform. Dodd has introduced such a bill. I would like to see the candidates asked about it.

SI - I think Hillary was okay in commenting that the remark seemed to be condescending. Where she has run into trouble is when she's tried to put herself forth as a person who attended shooting matches after church each Sunday in her childhood. She overdid it a bit.

Danny - here's another article on the depth of the crisis Bloomberg. The problem is that the import duties may be coming down, but the export duties are rising. You really can't foster more production by cutting effective prices to the farmers.

John - Obama really did step in it.
Mama, I love when you tackle these issues and post them as succinctly has you have here. I particularly like the reference and link to the book and chapter "Tocqueville Democracy in America," as well as the post that Siggy did. I will go read both of them straight away. Thank you for the outstanding information!
I think you got this wrong. People vote with their emotions and not with an inate logic. In the last two decades, the politician have made it a bread or guns issue, with the recent Republican trend being religion, patriotism, and morals. They have been highly successful in this endeavor. Pandering and polarizing the vote has not been healthy for our country. To assume we are all happy is unhealthy. As for voting, my wife tells me she votes for the cutest politician, subjective at the very least.
MaxedOutMama: thanks for Bloomberg link. I'm not sure what all those lowering of import tax and subsidies mean in the long run. As you pointed out, taxing export won't help increase production. What's next?

If only we could get you publiished in MSM. You and Tanta could take them apart.

I basically interpreted Obama's comments as taking anyone who is:

Pro Second amendment
against illeagal immigration (yes, they always leave out the illegal part)
against crappy free trade agreements,

and saying that they are just bitter racist xenophobes. I am currently well-employed and paid, I am not bitter - I am *very* insulted by Obama's remarks and am seriously re-considering my support of him - and any Democrat.

What it really breaks down to is "anyone who disagrees with me is nuts". Hillary - were she different - could have made amazing hay from these remarks, but since she bascially agrees with Obama (guns are bad, crappy trade deals and illegal immigration are good) she is limited to whining about "he called you bitter!".

I may yet vote for McCain, if only to keep my guns, and maybe stop the more harebrained bailouts ("oh lets stop foreclosures for 90 days - that will help!"). Unfortunately, Republicans seem just as harebrained if not more so, witness the 6 Billion $ gift to homebuilders in the latest senate offering.

It would infuriate me to vote for a Republican for the first time in 28 years. I've considered them vile plutocrats for years.

Oh, as for the "Compassion Forum", (the name makes me want to barf - pure NewSpeak on the order of the naming of the so-called PATRIOT Act) - it was just a way for the Dems to try and appeal to the religious, who seem to vote more republican. Pure politics and McCain had nothing to gain by participating.
Danny, I guess we pray for really good weather. We need some good crops coming in this year.

The key to raising production is not just to lower import duties but to lower export duties so that the farmers grow what's in short supply.

I think the biofuels goals need to be reduced, and I wish the US would take a lead. We have great ag capacity, but it's not going to do much good if 10% of crops go into the fuel tank.
Bob, it kind of looks to me like the Republicans and Democrats (at least in Congress) have joined hands to ignore the basic problems.

I know free trade is always going to be controversial. I believe that it is very important to stimulate world trade. I don't agree that the population of the US is too degraded to participate meaningfully in the debate!

Especially on immigration, I believe both the congressional Dems and GOP have connived to allow companies to employ people who are marginalized and therefore cheap. I am extremely in favor of legal immigration with some constraints as to numbers. I am extremely opposed to illegal immigration or importing labor that is tied to one company. It's a way to generate serfs with little negotiating power.

I am very irritated with both parties. I don't expect them to be perfect. I don't expect policies to be perfect. I do expect both problems and opportunities to receive meaningful debate.

Regarding McCain, he's STILL got an FEC problem, and he's still going to have to face his own disrespecting the populace program. HE doesn't even want us to be able to publish his name with his voting record within 60 days of an election! It sticks in my craw to have to vote for someone who thinks less information is the solution to dysfunctional politics.

I really wanted governors in the race for this reason. Congress has become a very dysfunctional body. It certainly does not make it better because it is bipartisan! Every time they want to avoid a problem (like Medicare and SS) or do something really adverse to the general interest (like paying for foreclosures) the dingbats do on a bipartisan basis.
Here's the problem as I see it. Obama (and others) think of these people as gun loving racists. And now, somehow, he is supposed to bring them on board and get them to vote for him. He has no idea at all how to talk to these people. On the other side, these people are distrustful of highly educated, city folks telling them how to live. They want guns because they use them for protection, hunting, and also believe that it helps to keep the government from getting too far out of line. I noticed, in his apology, that Obama didn't even mention guns.

I don't think it's a good idea for him to be reminding folks about being very religious right now. (And one might wonder a bit about that, given his pathetic contributions to charity, but maybe he's just not a giver.)

And I think at some level, these same people understand that a huge percentage of Obama's support is among the black community, enough that he likely would not be considered a viable candidate if he were white. They may not like Hillary a lot more, but I think she gets points for being gutsy now. Too bad she doesn't have anything any different to offer.
And just so it doesn't get lost in my other post, if you need some election year entertainment, try "A State of Disobedience" by Tom Kratman.

It takes place in 2060, but is a rather thinly disguised story about Hillary taking power. Written from a Libertarian point of view.
Here's a photo tour of the visit to Billionaires' row, where he made those remarks:
Regarding immigration and trade: If a corporate CEO lobbies for import protections for his company's product, no one calls him a racist or a xenophobe. Democrats may call him greedy and Republicans may call him a fake capitalist and a hypocrite, but it is understood that his motivations are economic rather than based on some kind of personal emotional thing. The same applies to farmers lobbying for protection against imports.

But if a construction or factory worker--whose "product" is his labor--expresses concerns about illegal immigration or about trade treaties, many are quick to assume that he is motivated by personal dislike for "the other."
Teri, very interesting. I enjoyed the Zombie tour. In fairness, they all do it.

David, I agree. Everyone has the right to advocate for their own interests. In general, the smarter ones realize that spreading the benefits around tends to make us all better off over longer periods of time.
Sorry, Toeucqville(sp) comments apply generally to @ 19th century America.

Someone else commented and agreed:
do not think we need a Sen. & Congr. usage much any more.
May be a whole topic for a day and returning to.

Do know that we need a Logic Party.

Until we do that we will just treading water.......

Hoo,boy. Look at this from Rasmussens link
Voters under 30 are evenly divided on Obama’s statement while their elders strongly disagree. Fifty-three percent (53%) of African-Americans agree with Obama’s statement while 29% disagree. White voters disagree by a 3-to-1 margin.

Good to know that he didn't deeply offend his base ;)
Drive without a license or insurance as a legal resident in the US, and you will get the book thrown at you. As an illegal, most of the time you are just given a pass. It's not the fault of the police - what are they supposed to do?

Why are the police supposed to not arrest and hold them? Arrest and hold without bail, (flight risk is infinite so bail is not justified), try them and keep them in jail (no fines, no community service, just jail time) and at the end of the sentence, deport them.

To make space in the justice system, decriminalize drugs and prostitution.

There, wasn't that easy? ;-)
Bob - until recently, there was no way to deport them. Now there is some sort of program whereby the local officers can train share data or something with the INS.
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