The latest brouhaha over comments of Barack Obama taken out of context brought to mind those famous words Jack Nicholson’s character used in A FEW GOOD MEN.
Something like them have cropped up in many films, usually in the mouths of hardnosed, conservative, realists, as in the movie THE MISSING when a government official explains to Jack Lemmon’s character how without secret and often oppressive and violent actions by our government, us citizens wouldn’t enjoy the good life.
But in my experience, it’s exactly those hardnosed, conservative, so-called “realists” who can’t handle the truth. If it doesn’t fit into their ideology, they can’t believe it, no matter what the facts may be.
Because the fact is, Obama was telling the truth—as he has often done better and more clearly than most candidates in my lifetime. A truth that may come to permanently harm him politically, or not, but nonetheless true for that.
Any survey, let alone anecdotal accounts many of us know firsthand, will show that many working-class voters around the country, particularly in the rust belt, but to some extent everywhere, who have seen their lifestyles deteriorate as a result of the loss of industrial economy jobs to cheaper labor forces in Asia and Mexico and other lands, and their real wages worth no more than what they were in the 1970s, and their lifestyles permanently altered by the need for both spouses to work, and maybe have to work more than one job in order to afford a home and the cars necessary to get to those jobs, and all the other realities of the changes that have turned many in the so-called “middle class” into working poor or struggling-to-get-by-lower-“middle-class,” while the rich get richer, are “bitter” about the loss of those jobs and their once easier and more comfortable lifestyles.
And they often blame it on immigrants and on other "alien" groups, and on “liberals” who support immigrant rights, and the rights of all people. Alot of these working folks have been tricked into believing that the very champions of the kind of political and economic policies that have led to all this loss and downward economic spiral (most but not all in the rightwing of the Republican Party) are the candidates who best represent them because they believe in “family values” which often stands for “gun rights,” anti-abortion postures, and fundamentalist religious beliefs, and that even “free trade” is the fault of liberal politicians, or “out of touch” Washington political elites (who the rightwing Republicans have managed, incredibly well I have to admit, to still characterize as out-of-touch “liberals” even though it’s rightwing Republican elites that have dominated Washington politics for years now).
Obama was just telling it like it is, as he was in his speech on “race” relations in this country. His choice of the word “bitter” in his recent comments is what has been pounced on most, because it makes these people sound hardened and sour in ways they don’t see themselves, nor do any people I know want to be seen as.
But the reality is that is exactly what the Republican rightwing plugged into, under Nixon first, and continues to to this day—bitterness over the loss of an image, if not a reality, of what life in “America” once was or should be. The so-called “Silent Majority” of Nixon’s election campaigns were tricked into believing that the damn hippies and blacks and “East Coast elite” were responsible for whatever ails you.
Nixon’s camp was the first to use the whole “East Coast elite” label on Democratic Party liberals (as well as on some of their own party’s more moderate members), though the Eisenhower campaigns were the first to use the anti-intellectual angle (against Adlai Stevenson and the implied “intellectual elite” he belonged to). “Egghead” was one of the most potent putdowns of the “I like Ike” years.
A lot of Nixon’s strategy came out of his own bitterness over losing to JFK in 1960, (and being unsupported by Ike himself in that campaign). JFK was the poster child for East Coast elite liberals, except his war service, his commitment to helping those less fortunate than himself and his family, along with his obvious intelligence and charm made him a difficult target.
But once he was out of the picture (and later his brother, RFK, was taken out as well), and Nixon was in charge, his people made a point of attacking not just the “East Coast elite” as it was then characterized, and the “hippies” and blacks (the code words being “drug culture” and “uban crime”) but also higher education in the form of most liberal arts colleges and/or East Coast elite schools.
Nixon’s point man in this anti-intellectual, anti-higher “liberal arts” education was his vice president Spiro Agnew, until he got indicted on criminal charges. I remember these attacks well, because at the time I saw them for what they were, a response to the educational benefits of the G. I. Bill (which I was in college benefiting from) making higher education accessible to more people from working-class backgrounds, and the generally positive results of government supported public education at the lower levels, creating an up-and-coming generation of well-educated voters who could reason and weigh the facts in ways that made them less vulnerable to manipulation.
As working-class people without the benefits of those educations—products of poorer rural public schools or of parochial schools where the kind of Age of Enlightenment reasoning, logic, and belief in the scientific method, etc., were not taught, or if taught not encouraged to be applied to politics and religious beliefs (believe me, I tried and it didn’t work)—saw their lives worsen in many ways, it was easy, or at least possible, to exploit their fears and worries by turning them into resentment toward those who seemed to be getting some kind of “free lunch”—welfare “queens” etc.—or extra help—blacks immigrants, etc.—or just had it a lot easier and didn’t seem like their kind of people—“East Coast elites,” etc.
Now Hilary Clinton’s campaign is using those same kinds of tactics. I think I heard she told an audience over the weekend that she believes life begins at conception. Well, there’s certainly a case to be made that the fertilized egg is “alive,” as there is that the cells in my skin are.
But she seemed to be implying, for the first time as far as I know, that the “right to life” people have it correct, even though from her record and from other comments she’s made over the course of her life, she’s never believed that before. And she’s smart enough—in fact as I’ve said before, one of the smartest candidates, if not the smartest (in terms of classroom-style learning), in the race this year—to know that scientifically speaking, if you make a case to defend the right for a fertilized egg to be treated legally the same as a “human,” than you have to make the case that almost all living things be treated that way too, since almost all living things, creatures and plants, are more advanced on the human scale than a fertilized egg or an embryo etc.
Casting Obama’s remarks as “elitist” and meant only for a closed-door meeting of San Francisco sophisticates (read far-out lefties) may prove to be smart politics by the Clinton camp. But, as has been said by many, about her camp’s tactics in recent weeks—ever since it became clear that she could not win enough delegates to beat Obama—they are taking a page from the worst tactics of the rightwing Republicans that have done so much to turn politics into a game of deception.
That doesn’t change the reality that the eight years of the Bill Clinton administration were not just years of peace and prosperity, where almost every bad statistic in this country went down, and almost every good one went up (crime down, teenage pregnancies down, etc. income up, employment up, etc.), but were pretty good for the rest of the world too, though not all (Rawanda e.g.) and that a lot of that reality was a direct result of having a really smart president with a really smart cabinet.
The best example is when the Mexican money crisis hit, or the Asian economies started tanking, (as well as many other examples), the Clinton administration stepped in to bail them out with loans that were favorable enough to make sense, because they got how interrelated the world’s economies had become and knew if they didn’t step in it might mean chaos, or at least worldwide recession.
Bill Clinton’s critics warned of dire consequences (Mexico going bankrupt and taking us down with them, etc.). But Rubin and other Clinton advisors turned out to be correct and the world markets were put back on track and the peace and prosperity continued for us and for most of the rest of the world. Until Bush junior was “elected.”
Now, because of crony and lapdog appointments by junior, and the stated and obvious goal of his administration to reduce big government not by reducing its size (it has grown under this administration and actually was downsized by Clinton’s administration) but by making it as ineffectual as possible, resulting in no one minding the store when catastrophe hits, whether manmade or natural (9/11, Katrina, etc.). And now we have another catastrophe in the so-called “mortgage crisis,” which is actually a banking and investment crisis, and which is having a worldwide effect, as real estate prices begin to plummet everywhere, not just in the U.S.
Add to that the oil crisis. Not for the oil companies, which are making historic profits, i.e. greater profits than have ever been recorded in the history of the world (!) while the world economy sinks because of those prices (the food riots now being seen around the world are the result of rising food prices caused mostly by rising fuel prices etc.).
These are the issues the Democratic candidates should be talking about, not whether a man who has dedicated his life to helping the poor and the disenfranchised and the underrepresented and to healing the divisions that have prevented “America” from leading the world into the future (rather than causing the world to be dragged back into the violence and economic upheavals of the past) instead of taking a cushy job in a top law firm, is an “elitist.”
And besides, hasn’t it always been the supposedly hardnosed, conservative “realists” who defend elites, like the elite class of people who figure out how to manipulate the political and economic systems to enrich themselves and their cronies while the rest of the world goes to hell in a bitter haze of resentments and outrage over the possible loss of their belief systems to some imaginary assault on them by a “liberal elite,” that if it really existed would have ended this campaign by now.