What’s Wrong with the White Working Class

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God and guns.jpg“It’s not surprising 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.”
No one jumped on Barack Obama for suggesting, in his speech on race, that affirmative action was an ongoing source of white hostility to African Americans. And I suspect no one would have batted an eye if, in his now notorious San Francisco remarks, he had expanded that analysis to attribute his difficulty in attracting white working class votes just to immigration and trade policy (though the latter is a little dicier these days in Democratic circles). But no, he had to drag in guns and God, thereby making gun-toting, prayer-book-wielding Hillary Clinton’s day.
On the gun front, someone has noticed that Obama’s done just fine, thank you, in the country’s most pro-gun states. I’ll leave it to the Second-Amendment-and-the-Campaign bloggers to sort that one out. As to religion, it’s not clear that there are fewer atheists in soup kitchens and unemployment lines. Students of the black church in America note that the decline in church attendance among African Americans has tended to come at the lower end of the socio-economic scale. Yet, at a more global level, Alan Wolfe recently made the case that the more prosperous a country is, the less intense religion is likely to be. Tonight, Obama and Clinton will be participating in a “Compassion Forum” at Messiah College. Who wants to bet that this dimension of religion’s role in the social order doesn’t comes up?

  • Asinus Gravis

    News reporters, unlike competing politicians, are supposed to pay attention the context of the quoted remarks.
    Obama was discussing the loss of jobs and paychecks in the small towns in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, and elsewhere. He pointed out that for the last three administrations nothing substantive has been done to deal effectively with that situation. That is why these citizens are bitter.
    Given that they do not have decent paying jobs anymore, they turn as a result to seek solace or someone to blame for their plight. Some turn to the NRA agenda; some (surely not the same ones) turn to religious faith; some turn to ethnic or racial animosity (surely not the religious folk); some seek scapegoats in the immigrants (surely not the religious folk here either). None of those alternatives produce anything resembling an effective solution to the loss of decent jobs.
    Obama did not make an anti-religion statement out of the blue; nor did he make an attack on the use of guns out of the blue, etc.
    The same idiocy is in play in the coverage of this quoted remark as was involved in the selection of a statement out of context by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, as a pretext to beat Obama over the head. Both Wright’s and Obama’s remarks taken in their original context make quite good sense.
    The issue should be: did they speak truthfully?

  • Kevin Healey

    One could argue that Obama was arguing for the integrity of religious faith, in the following sense:

    When people become bitter about social issues (like jobs) and turn to religion for solace, religious faith becomes more vulnerable to political exploitation. This is the premise of Thomas Frank’s “What’s The Matter With Kansas?”

    Am I wrong in suggesting that this is what Obama was getting at? If I’m right, why didn’t he mention this concern?

  • Mark Silk

    It’s a good point, but I am not sure that Obama had that in mind. My own sense is that was just lumping various things–most bad, religion good–together as examples of what people have recourse to when they’re under severe economic pressure.