Saturday, April 12, 2008

The "small town" gaffe

“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” - Barack Obama
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As my readers may have noticed, I am not a great fan of Barack Obama's, but among his possible defects (I say "possible", because so little is really known about him) being dumb was the last one I would ever
have thought he possessed.

However, this remark about small town Americans is about the dumbest thing I have ever heard a major, campaigning politician say... and that includes "the decider" himself, who, strangely enough, is rather shrewd when out campaigning.

Can you imagine a white person running for president making a statement about African-Americans with that many patronizing stereotypes? I love to do parodies, but I wouldn't even attempt one here, because even joking, it would be so painfully offensive; and if Obama even so much as dreamed he had said something in a similar tone about Jewish people he would wake up in a cold sweat and immediately phone Abe Foxman to apologize... even at three in the morning.

Despite being a "white wine-espresso", type myself, I spent many childhood summers in the small town pictured above, where my great, great, grandfather, an immigrant marble carver from Glasgow Scotland, had settled in the 1840s.

On reading this horseshit in the Huffington Post and the subsequent play it is getting, I was moved to write a panegyric on the virtues of the small town, but after some rumination decided that to defend the human beings who live in the country against such a patronizing attitude would be like affirming that Obama is "a credit to his race" or something like that.

I just can't get over how dumb it is.

If I had any doubt (and I did, I assure you) that Barack Obama is a phony, I have none now. DS


ambro said...

A white candidate doesn't even need to resort to explicit stereotyping of the kind you mention, it's already conveniently in place thanks very much, though your remarks suggest you may not have noticed.

Can't figure out which the dumb part is for you, the audacity of knowing an awkward but transparent truth or the sheer dissonant presumption of mentioning it. And I'm still looking for the patronizing dismissal of whatever small-town idyll it is you're on the verge of eulogizing (please don't - so you have some good memories. Good for you. So what. Talk about stereotyping). It's simply not there, and it seems like you want it to be just a little too much.

If you're unwilling to recognize how the expedient cultivation of ignorance, fear and hostility has so overwhelmingly fueled and defiled the national discourse over here for what now seems like a lifetime, and the ensuing genuine damage that has been and continues to be done, then you have surely been away too long, and I envy you. I hold no particular candle for Obama, but this dog won't hunt.

Or rather, wouldn't but for all the steroid injections courtesy of the addled rump of a fevered and slavering fourth estate. For you to take such misplaced umbrage at this self-evident observation of Obama's is to fall victim of precisely the phenomenon he identifies - and after all, surely you wouldn't consider yourself above the power of its influence, that would be patronizing.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

If you knew the people who live in those places, you would know that there are all kinds of humans living in small towns. But nevertheless stereotypes are wounding even when they hold some truth or especially when they hold some truth.

Imagine using the statistics on out of wedlock births or prison population to talk about African-Americans. End of campaign.

The "dumb" part is to think that small town people have less right to be sensitive than African-Americans or Jewish people, for example. "Dumb", because this is going to cost Obama dearly.

Anonymous said...

That it's politically dumb I can buy - I'm no expert but it allows his opponent(s) to portray him (as you have done) as an elitist phoney with patronising attitudes toward the 'heartland'...

...but is he really being more patronising by itemising those very real issues, empathising (albeit in a rather detached way) with the viewpoint of those communities, than the conservative movement (and its most recent flag-bearer, Bush) that has sought to manipulate those communities through fear-mongering and demonisation of difference?

In his words I see more evidence of unfamiliarity than of antipathy. Is it so much worse to make one clumsy misstep than to devote decades to marshalling such communities into following the party line?

By the way:
"...there are all kinds of humans living in small towns...
...The "dumb" part is to think that small town people have less right to be sensitive than African-Americans or Jewish people..."

All kinds of humans, apart from...?

Anonymous said...

You avoid my point. That there are many types of people living in many types of place is neither a revelation nor remotely germane. Nothing in Obama's remark suggests he is making an assertion to the contrary. The phenomenon to which he refers is obviously real (as you yourself concede), is common in some degree to all of us, and is in essence unconfined to specific geographic circumstances. The wholesale derision of purportedly unsophisticated rural life you seem intent on divining is a pure and unjust inference on your part.

"But nevertheless stereotypes are wounding even when they hold some truth or especially when they hold some truth." It's irrelevance to the issue at hand aside - how is the abstract description of a recognizable human behavior an objectionable stereotype? That's an absurd standard - I'm still trying to discern an actual meaning to this sentence. But assuming for a moment that it has one, I take it then that you're similarly offended by other candidates' canonization of the decent hardworking, patriotic etc. salt of the earth whom they appear to see living under every provincial rock (as long as they have a vote)? No generalizations there, eh?. And so much more understanding, too.

Your analogy referencing African-Americans is revealing. You seem to assume that they are somehow on the other side of a dichotomy posed by Obama. Who's doing the stereotyping now? There's nothing in what he said here that excludes anybody from being vulnerable to the perceived comforts of parochial bigotry; the rest, again, you merely infer. Quite apart from which, your proposition in this regard is hardly a given. I can think of any number of contexts in which one might, and many do, make constructive reference to the issues you mention without giving any offense whatsoever, your assumption otherwise is curious and inappropriate. Perhaps we can even expect Obama himself to stumble over the question for you at some point, you should rest up.

So we're back to dumb from a purely tactical point of view. Oh well. But I have to disagree here also. Much as a certain established mindset may wish it otherwise, I doubt this will cost Obama within the domain of his potential (and considerable) constituency, where every casual observation of the actual state of things is not necessarily laden with hysterically inflammatory implications, but rather heralds the possible onset of a new era of political maturity. Or something.

I'm not holding my breath.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Karl Rove, with his instinct for the jugular, diagnosed Obama's weakness as arrogance. I think the "small town gaffe" illustrates that. In American discourse speaking about a large group of people as "they"... "they" think this and "they" do that, is an indication of tone deafness.

It is not really important to the case that there be some truth in what he said. In a previous comment I wrote, "stereotypes are wounding even when they hold some truth or especially when they hold some truth."

I noticed that although I am a city boy a generation removed from the country, I immediately felt protective and offended by the condescension in his tone.

Will this "hurt" him? Not with his core constituency, but without a large number of independents, many of them white, working class males, nobody is going to get elected president.

I hope that the Democrats take control of both houses of congress with a majority sufficient to override presidential vetoes, because I think McCain is going to be the next president of the USA... in a walk.

Anonymous said...

Josh Marshall just posted a short excerpt of Obama on The Charlie Rose show (from a couple of years ago) discussing the small town thing. Obama looks better here.


Anonymous said...

I must agree with much what the commenters above write. It was impolitic of Obama to make the point he did, but it doesn't make it less true.

Jim Kuntsler on his Clusterfuck Nation blog today has a better bead on the "gaffe", in my view which I echo in part above and below.

As a part of the Bush/Clinton dynastic monarchy, it is HC who best deserves to inherit the Augean Stables that await the next president.