Obama wondering what’s the matter With Kansas?

Robert D. Novak finds the source of Barack Obama’s “bitterness” comment:

Obama’s new resemblance is less to Kennedy or Reagan than to leftist author Thomas Frank, whose 2004 book, “What’s the Matter With Kansas?,” answered the liberal conundrum: Why do ordinary Americans vote against their own economic interests to support Republicans? Frank explained that “deranged” and “lunatic” Kansans were led away by Republicans from material concerns to social issues. Obama similarly described small-town Americans turning to guns and the Bible in frustration over government’s failure to take care of them — a more genteel version of Frank’s thesis. That raises the question, “What’s the matter with Obama?”

Almost everybody I encounter in politics is familiar with Frank’s bestseller. Democrats are united in embracing his theory but are divided about its rhetoric. While sophisticated Democratic politicians regard the book as condescending toward lower-income Americans who voted for Reagan, grass-roots party activists consider it gospel. They tell me that Obama should not back away from what got him in trouble: his declaration at a closed-door fundraiser in San Francisco that “bitter” small-towners in Pennsylvania and elsewhere “cling to guns or religion.”

Obama fans, attention to that comment he made in San Francisco is not a matter of jumping on a statement or refusing to accept his explanation or not putting the best construction on everything. This is an issue of Obama’s ideology. It is important to know his political philosophy. Does he believe that economics and economic oppression account for people’s social and religious beliefs? That is, in fact, the common assumption among many people on the left. He is campaigning on the promise to transcend liberal/conservative ideologies. It is surely legitimate to inquire what he believes. Isn’t it?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Sigh. Of course it’s okay to inquire what a candidate believes. But I really don’t see honest, unbiased inquiry here.

    What I see is a bunch of partisans, fanned by near-constant attention from the media, focusing on a handful of sentences uttered by Obama. “What he says in those sentences tells us what he really believes,” they say. Well what about the other thousands of sentences he says, some of them an attempt to explain better what he meant in those few? “Lies, lies! All an attempt to cover up what he really thinks!”

    And through what process did these people arrive at the conclusion that the “bitter” comment more properly represents Obama’s ideology than the other 99.99% of words that he has uttered? I don’t know, Dr. Veith. You tell me.

    But it doesn’t seem like a process of taking into consideration all that he has said, but rather ignoring almost all of it. It certainly seems like a highly selective process that just so happens to have a highly partisan outcome. Frankly, I’m reminded more of Bible critics who find a few confusing passages and seize on them as utter proof that the whole Bible is errant, refusing to consider those passages in context or to accept a reading other than their own.

    And if this is not “a matter of … refusing to accept his explanation,” does that mean that you do accept his explanation? As to it not being a “matter of jumping on a statement,” that seems rather obviously untrue.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Sigh. Of course it’s okay to inquire what a candidate believes. But I really don’t see honest, unbiased inquiry here.

    What I see is a bunch of partisans, fanned by near-constant attention from the media, focusing on a handful of sentences uttered by Obama. “What he says in those sentences tells us what he really believes,” they say. Well what about the other thousands of sentences he says, some of them an attempt to explain better what he meant in those few? “Lies, lies! All an attempt to cover up what he really thinks!”

    And through what process did these people arrive at the conclusion that the “bitter” comment more properly represents Obama’s ideology than the other 99.99% of words that he has uttered? I don’t know, Dr. Veith. You tell me.

    But it doesn’t seem like a process of taking into consideration all that he has said, but rather ignoring almost all of it. It certainly seems like a highly selective process that just so happens to have a highly partisan outcome. Frankly, I’m reminded more of Bible critics who find a few confusing passages and seize on them as utter proof that the whole Bible is errant, refusing to consider those passages in context or to accept a reading other than their own.

    And if this is not “a matter of … refusing to accept his explanation,” does that mean that you do accept his explanation? As to it not being a “matter of jumping on a statement,” that seems rather obviously untrue.

  • Theodore Gullixson

    “Obama similarly described small-town Americans turning to guns and the Bible in frustration over government’s failure to take care of them — a more genteel version of Frank’s thesis.”
    This sentence shows the affect of having a liberal-focused “world-view” that considers goverment as the answer to all problems in society and religion as the opiate or crutch of society. What is interesting is that many such people are also deathly afraid of “Big Brother” watching over them or legistlating their morality.
    Another “world-view” would see that many who turn to their Bibles trust in God to help them and listen to God define what is right and wrong. People with this world-view have a better grip on reality.

  • Theodore Gullixson

    “Obama similarly described small-town Americans turning to guns and the Bible in frustration over government’s failure to take care of them — a more genteel version of Frank’s thesis.”
    This sentence shows the affect of having a liberal-focused “world-view” that considers goverment as the answer to all problems in society and religion as the opiate or crutch of society. What is interesting is that many such people are also deathly afraid of “Big Brother” watching over them or legistlating their morality.
    Another “world-view” would see that many who turn to their Bibles trust in God to help them and listen to God define what is right and wrong. People with this world-view have a better grip on reality.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Meanwhile, has it really come to the point that people are now claiming that economics and economic oppression in no way account for people’s social and religious beliefs?

    Who’s more likely to be angry at illegal immigrants taking away their jobs, poor people or rich ones? I don’t know a lot of middle- and upper-class people who think they might be laid off due to low-paid illegals getting their work.

    When Japan was ascendant, where did they burn and smash the Japanese cars? (I remember this happening in the early 90′s, and I found a few articles online referring to smaller or Rust Belt towns, but if you can find contrary data, please let me know.)

    Who’s more likely to be in the audience at a prosperity church, the poor or the rich (I know the rich are there, but they are usually on the stage)?

    What did Jesus say about the influence one’s economic situation has on his religious beliefs? Would you say that the widow with the two coins did not cling to her faith when she gave everything she had? Or does that interpretation of “cling” seem too good of a construction for Obama’s words?

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Meanwhile, has it really come to the point that people are now claiming that economics and economic oppression in no way account for people’s social and religious beliefs?

    Who’s more likely to be angry at illegal immigrants taking away their jobs, poor people or rich ones? I don’t know a lot of middle- and upper-class people who think they might be laid off due to low-paid illegals getting their work.

    When Japan was ascendant, where did they burn and smash the Japanese cars? (I remember this happening in the early 90′s, and I found a few articles online referring to smaller or Rust Belt towns, but if you can find contrary data, please let me know.)

    Who’s more likely to be in the audience at a prosperity church, the poor or the rich (I know the rich are there, but they are usually on the stage)?

    What did Jesus say about the influence one’s economic situation has on his religious beliefs? Would you say that the widow with the two coins did not cling to her faith when she gave everything she had? Or does that interpretation of “cling” seem too good of a construction for Obama’s words?

  • Susan aka organshoes

    In a word: Yes.
    It is a complete reconstruction.
    Obama’s bitter people are not giving everything they have; it’s being taken away from them, or at least denied them, and all they have left are guns, God, and a bad attitude towards people who aren’t like them.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    In a word: Yes.
    It is a complete reconstruction.
    Obama’s bitter people are not giving everything they have; it’s being taken away from them, or at least denied them, and all they have left are guns, God, and a bad attitude towards people who aren’t like them.

  • http://pakruta.blogspot.com Paul

    The problem is that the other 99% of what Obama says is fluff.

    What has he really said with his speeches?
    No, I feel that zero-ing in on his more damning statements is entirely fair.
    Although quite frankly, I think his “what I really meant was…” about the guns and religion to be a decent enough answer.

    But what does Barack Obama stand for? He is neither socially nor fiscally conservative. So what reason do I have to vote for him other than he’s generally pretty good with words?

  • http://pakruta.blogspot.com Paul

    The problem is that the other 99% of what Obama says is fluff.

    What has he really said with his speeches?
    No, I feel that zero-ing in on his more damning statements is entirely fair.
    Although quite frankly, I think his “what I really meant was…” about the guns and religion to be a decent enough answer.

    But what does Barack Obama stand for? He is neither socially nor fiscally conservative. So what reason do I have to vote for him other than he’s generally pretty good with words?

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Susan (@4), my point in that last question wasn’t about how much they’re giving, it was about the word “cling” and how it could be understood charitably, the way that Obama explained it, should one have any desire to put a good construction on things.

    Paul (@5), the problem with focusing only on “damning statements” (and who is it that gets to decide which ones are damning?) is that it limits real discourse. If several of us here decided to zero in on something stupid or poorly phrased you’d said once and refused to accept any explanation of yours, instead announcing that we know what you really meant in spite of your protestations to the contrary, you might well limit your conversation to a few very well-vetted talking points, rather than risk something being taken the wrong way again. When the media plays gotcha and we lap it up, we ultimately get the plastic politicians we claim to disdain.

    Most of our politicians have already learned not to speak frankly — compare their generic, fluffy platitudes on race (did you think Obama was the only “fluff”y politician?) to Obama’s recent speech on the topic. But I’m sure Obama is learning why real discussion is a liability in politics. Hooray.

    And if you’re only voting for someone who’s socially and fiscally conservative, are you voting for McCain? There are certainly several points to be made against his being socially conservative, and as for fiscally, he seems quite happy to follow in Bush’s steps. I thought fiscal conservatives cared something about balanced budgets? Unless we’re talking about being fiscally Republican (that is: tax cuts, whatever the reason, be it a surplus or a recession), in which case McCain qualifies.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Susan (@4), my point in that last question wasn’t about how much they’re giving, it was about the word “cling” and how it could be understood charitably, the way that Obama explained it, should one have any desire to put a good construction on things.

    Paul (@5), the problem with focusing only on “damning statements” (and who is it that gets to decide which ones are damning?) is that it limits real discourse. If several of us here decided to zero in on something stupid or poorly phrased you’d said once and refused to accept any explanation of yours, instead announcing that we know what you really meant in spite of your protestations to the contrary, you might well limit your conversation to a few very well-vetted talking points, rather than risk something being taken the wrong way again. When the media plays gotcha and we lap it up, we ultimately get the plastic politicians we claim to disdain.

    Most of our politicians have already learned not to speak frankly — compare their generic, fluffy platitudes on race (did you think Obama was the only “fluff”y politician?) to Obama’s recent speech on the topic. But I’m sure Obama is learning why real discussion is a liability in politics. Hooray.

    And if you’re only voting for someone who’s socially and fiscally conservative, are you voting for McCain? There are certainly several points to be made against his being socially conservative, and as for fiscally, he seems quite happy to follow in Bush’s steps. I thought fiscal conservatives cared something about balanced budgets? Unless we’re talking about being fiscally Republican (that is: tax cuts, whatever the reason, be it a surplus or a recession), in which case McCain qualifies.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    They’re ‘clinging’ to God, etc., in direct opposition to the way the woman gave her coins.
    It’s not a cheerful, willing, clinging, but a clinging of last resort.
    The woman clung to nothing but her hope in the Lord; not even to the last of her money.
    The rural people Obama spoke of are hopeless people, behaving hopelessly. They’re giving nothing, and getting only the shaft.
    I understand what you’re trying to say in defense of Obama and what he MIGHT have been saying. But it’s not washing with me, primarily because he offers himself and his ideas (and, whatever those ideas are, they appear to involve governmental solutions, not free-market ones) as hope. Not me and my efforts, not American individualism and exceptionalism, but his rhetoric and people’s trust in it.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    They’re ‘clinging’ to God, etc., in direct opposition to the way the woman gave her coins.
    It’s not a cheerful, willing, clinging, but a clinging of last resort.
    The woman clung to nothing but her hope in the Lord; not even to the last of her money.
    The rural people Obama spoke of are hopeless people, behaving hopelessly. They’re giving nothing, and getting only the shaft.
    I understand what you’re trying to say in defense of Obama and what he MIGHT have been saying. But it’s not washing with me, primarily because he offers himself and his ideas (and, whatever those ideas are, they appear to involve governmental solutions, not free-market ones) as hope. Not me and my efforts, not American individualism and exceptionalism, but his rhetoric and people’s trust in it.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Susan (@7), I’m confused. Do you agree that the people Obama initially described — bitter, clinging to guns and religion, etc. — exist, or don’t you? Because if you’re arguing that they don’t exist, you certainly are making the case that they do, telling me what these people think over and above what Obama said. You say they are “hopeless” (though he said they cling to religion) and “giving nothing”, as if you’re thinking of actual people in those situations. But if there are such people, why berate Obama for it? If there aren’t, why describe them beyond what Obama initially said, and in contrast to his subsequent explanation?

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Susan (@7), I’m confused. Do you agree that the people Obama initially described — bitter, clinging to guns and religion, etc. — exist, or don’t you? Because if you’re arguing that they don’t exist, you certainly are making the case that they do, telling me what these people think over and above what Obama said. You say they are “hopeless” (though he said they cling to religion) and “giving nothing”, as if you’re thinking of actual people in those situations. But if there are such people, why berate Obama for it? If there aren’t, why describe them beyond what Obama initially said, and in contrast to his subsequent explanation?

  • fw

    wow susan.

    I would be more than willing to say that I have come to cling to Jesus as my very last resort. The law made this so for me. The law was like a hammer that smashed my pride and self deception and self reliance to pieces. And yes. cling is probably a good word to describe my relationship with my Jesus.

    sometimes I cling to him as a choice. most of the times I cling to him out of utter desparation in view of my sin and the sin I see in others.

    Todd is right. read his first book. written well before the presidential campaign. read his website. less fluff there than was on president bush´s website in the last election i might venture to say? (example was his “compassionate conservative” section that consisted WHOLLY of fotos of bush with black folks and NOTHING else. Yikes!)

    If I say something and you object because i worded things poorly or even said something wrong and meant it….. you would then be very wrong to discount whatever i said in explanation of my statement. This is what is being done it seems.

  • fw

    wow susan.

    I would be more than willing to say that I have come to cling to Jesus as my very last resort. The law made this so for me. The law was like a hammer that smashed my pride and self deception and self reliance to pieces. And yes. cling is probably a good word to describe my relationship with my Jesus.

    sometimes I cling to him as a choice. most of the times I cling to him out of utter desparation in view of my sin and the sin I see in others.

    Todd is right. read his first book. written well before the presidential campaign. read his website. less fluff there than was on president bush´s website in the last election i might venture to say? (example was his “compassionate conservative” section that consisted WHOLLY of fotos of bush with black folks and NOTHING else. Yikes!)

    If I say something and you object because i worded things poorly or even said something wrong and meant it….. you would then be very wrong to discount whatever i said in explanation of my statement. This is what is being done it seems.

  • fw

    pastor gullixson. so nice to see you here.

  • fw

    pastor gullixson. so nice to see you here.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Sigh.
    I am so misunderstood.
    Though that doesn’t seem to stop anybody….

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Sigh.
    I am so misunderstood.
    Though that doesn’t seem to stop anybody….

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Susan, I’m not sure what you meant @11. If you want people (me?) to understand you, you have to explain how you were misunderstood.

  • http://www.cockahoop.com/ tODD

    Susan, I’m not sure what you meant @11. If you want people (me?) to understand you, you have to explain how you were misunderstood.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    I mean that I’ve said the same thing umpteen different ways, but it’s toatlly misunderstood or misconstrued or somehow insufficient for others to understand.
    Maybe it’s my weakness in communicating, or maybe it’s the weakness of others.
    Whichever, it’s become like moving large stones, and it’s exhausting. It’s now up to the stones to move themselves.
    It was fw’s ‘wow susan’ comment and subsequent sermon that made me realize this dying effort of mine is now truly dead.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    I mean that I’ve said the same thing umpteen different ways, but it’s toatlly misunderstood or misconstrued or somehow insufficient for others to understand.
    Maybe it’s my weakness in communicating, or maybe it’s the weakness of others.
    Whichever, it’s become like moving large stones, and it’s exhausting. It’s now up to the stones to move themselves.
    It was fw’s ‘wow susan’ comment and subsequent sermon that made me realize this dying effort of mine is now truly dead.


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