This at least will be easier than defending Obama on the use of his phrasing, because my astral projection skills tell me he wasn’t quite aiming for the following interpretation. But consider:
“And it’s not surprising then 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.”
Imagine Joe Pennsyltucky. He’s forty-five. He’s white. His job’s been packed off to China. Over what feels like the past two weeks, the lake where he’s spent summer days with his family has experienced a tremendous influx of Mexican and other immigrants, people with whom he has little in common, and who seem to be doing well enough to set up lives of their own, with children, in a part of the world that seems increasingly inhospitable to him — his own home. Thanks to both parties, it seems; Democrats want to keep the poor from ever getting rich and Republicans want to keep the rich from ever getting poor. Where’s that leave him? Feeling the gloom that all those older movement conservatives are feeling, or perhaps something with a little more bite.
What’s Joe Pennsyltucky got to lean on? Family, if he’s got it — if he can afford it, in the event he’s got eldery parents or other relatives he’s caring for. Probably he’s got his faith, and there’s a pretty healthy chance he does have a gun because he, like the other men in his lineage, have hunted regularly for years. He can still track a deer and pray to God, even though he has to figure out how to learn a new trade and figure out how to deal with close communities of recent foreigners that aren’t exactly lining up to shake his hand.
This strikes me as a plausible, not very outlandish account of a plausible, not very outlandish sort of American. Any American liberal or conservative or libertarian (or socialist or…) worth his or her salt should be able, I think, to readily recognize this character as close or very close to representing a real constituent and riff accordingly on his plight and who’s to blame. So it seems to me Obama’s done. Reading a pejorative posture into his remarks is totally fair game, but it seems right and important to me to point out how the content, taken at face value, cuts in several directions, not a few of which are accomodating to conservative postures, too.
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