Politics & Policy

Bowling for Obama

Annie got her gun and Obama got his boot stuck in his mouth.

Barack Obama seemed to have survived the blasphemous rants of his preacher and remained relatively untarnished by the perceived dissatisfactions of his privileged wife.

But he may be less lucky with remarks he made recently about embittered, small-town Americans, who “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.”

Those words now cling to Obama like Styrofoam packing peanuts. The more he tries to brush them away, the more they seem to burrow into the American psyche.

Being effete comes naturally to Democrats these days, though compared to Obama, Hillary Clinton looks like a mud-bogger from East Texas. Especially when she’s slamming down a shot of Crown Royal, as she did recently at Bronko’s Restaurant in Crown Point, Ind.

Nary a flinch did Clinton betray as the elixir trickled down her throat. If only Obama’s words had been so smooth. Not only did he manage to un-charm many who were willing to give him a closer look, but his comments — made at a private San Francisco fundraiser — were before a crowd widely viewed as equally remote from the lives of regular folk.

That Obama would articulate disdain for what was once generally recognized as “American” culture feels like betrayal to former fans, including one Vietnam vet in Ohio, who interpreted Obama’s comments in an e-mail to me: “Those poor rubes and yokels out there in ‘flyover country’ . . . Since they can’t sort through the ambiguities of world economics and the complexities of the 21st century, they are clinging to their First and Second Amendment rights . . . too simple-minded to think through the issues of culpability, so they resort to racism, xenophobia, isolationism, and protectionism,” and “a simplistic Sunday school religion as a security blanket.”

As Clinton herself noted following Obama’s remarks, the Democratic party has had trouble convincing working Americans that party leaders are not out of touch with so-called “Ordinary Americans.” A few recent examples: John Kerry and his expensive toys; John Edwards’ $400 haircuts; Howard Dean’s stereotyping of southerners as caring only about race, guns, God, and gays.

Most candidates eventually expose themselves as “faux bubbas,” the term the late political cartoonist Doug Marlette coined to describe yuppies trying to be good ol’ boys. There’s little less authentic than a New Englandbred politician displaying his redneck bona fides. Even Edwards, whose family resume carries the imprimatur of true lint, couldn’t pull off his populist act while appointing a new 25,000-square-foot home.

Now comes Obama, whose recent bowling expedition earned him membership in the faux bubba club and put the italics in cringe. To be fair, he gave it the old college try and was a good sport when his aim hugged the gutter.

The truth is, Americans don’t really insist that their presidents be as “ordinary” as they are. Only pollsters think they do. But voters do like to feel respected, and Obama’s San Francisco remarks sounded like contempt.

Too many generations of Americans have enriched the sod of flyover country and elsewhere with their blood, sweat, and toil — precisely so that a Barack Obama might some day aim for the White House — to dismiss them so glibly.

These 21st-century folks don’t cling to guns out of bitterness, but often to hunt for game that ends up on their dinner table. In some families, that tradition is only a generation or two away from necessity. Their faith isn’t an antidote to frustration but is a centuries-old framework for spiritual transcendence.

As for their not liking people who are not like them, what could Obama have meant? That people who are barely clinging to jobs are xenophobic rather than justifiably concerned that our immigration laws are a joke?

Obama has expressed regret that his words might have been offensive and artfully shifted focus to Clinton’s own pandering about learning to shoot a gun as a child.

“She’s talking like she’s Annie Oakley. Hillary Clinton’s out there like she’s on the duck blind every Sunday, (like) she’s packin’ a six-shooter.”

Fair enough. Annie got her gun and Obama got his boot stuck in his mouth. But God-fearing defenders of the Second Amendment — who are in their duck blinds packing shotguns, not six-shooters — know a decoy from the real thing.

If someone quacks like an elitist, he just might be one.

© 2008, Washington Post Writers Group

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