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Armchair Sociology On Obama’s Comments Comes Up Empty

A full five news cycles have passed since Barack Obama either unforgivably or inartfully (take your pick) made the point that exurban people in economically depressed states respond to cultural wedge issues and fear social and economic change. Yet Survey … Read More

By / April 15, 2008

A full five news cycles have passed since Barack Obama either unforgivably or inartfully (take your pick) made the point that exurban people in economically depressed states respond to cultural wedge issues and fear social and economic change. Yet Survey USA, which has had the best record of any polling outfit throughout the primaries, registers no statistically significant movement in the Democratic primary race in Pennsylvania. Gallup's tracking poll shows Obama's large national lead over Hillary Clinton and small national lead over John McCain undiminished.

How could this be? I mean, Obama used the terms "bitter" and "cling" alongside "guns" and "religion." Smug prejudiced know-it-all that he is, Obama even suggested that economic and cultural insecurities have something to do with opposition to immigration in places where there are few immigrants, and with opposition to free trade given that something like four fifths of wage earners are under no pressure from international labor markets. (They are under real pressure from the ongoing shift to a post-industrial information-based economy in which increasingly higher premia are placed on acquiring and practicing abstract intellectual skills, as well as the advanced degrees that come along with them. But long-term secular economic trends don't make for convenient scapegoats.)

Could it be that those rubes and hicks out in Pennsyltucky are so dumb that they haven't noticed that Obama is a bigoted rich prep-schooled snob? Or that he's a dangerous fifth columnist Marxist radical? Or both at once, as Bill Kristol and Joe Lieberman have it — a neat trick for Obama to pull off, incidentally, working towards radical economic levelling and the abolition of traditional values at the same time he reinforces static class divides based on wealth, education, and cultural tastes. That Obama's opponents — one a Wellesley valedictorian and Yale Law graduate with tens of millions of dollars in the bank, the other a descendant of Anglo-Scottish colonials and several generations of navy admiralty with tens of millions of dollars in the bank — are superlatively qualified tribuni plebis who get ordinary plain-talking folks down to their bones?

Or could it instead be that the pundits who predicted a bitter demise for Obama are elites and elitists themselves who — in registering prescriptive judgments about what the fine upstanding salt of the earth red-blooded Americans of Bird in Hand, PA and the nearby environs along US Route 30 are bound to conclude from one stray sentence — are engaging in precisely the same sort of armchair sociology of which they accuse Obama? How impertinent of Pennsylvanians and indeed of all Americans to fail to conform to the unempirical generalizations of Mickey Kaus (LA-based lifelong journalist representing Newsweek, Slate, and TNR), Hugh Hewitt (AB Harvard, JD Michigan), Daniel Larison (Ph.D candidate, UChicago), Glenn Reynolds (JD Yale), Ann Coulter (BA Cornell, JD Michigan), John Podhoretz (AB UChicago) Bill Kristol (AB Harvard, Ph.D Harvard), and Joe Lieberman (BA Yale, JD Yale), to name just a few names.

It's almost as if some Bible-toting gun-thumpers are capable of thinking without being told by their betters what to think, believe in interpretive charity, and don't automatically write people off on the basis of one bad moment. Conversely, it sure looks like those who predicted that Jeremiah Wright would sink Obama — and before that that Louis Farrakhan would sink Obama, earlier still William Ayers, and before him the echoes of Mein Kampf in Dreams from My Father (as Coulter argued, and more than a few concern trolls concurred in a different argot) — aren't really giving a dazzling performance as fortune-tellers. It's enough to make you doubt the wisdom of valuing hunches over quantitative data.

But no, doubt not. Who needs numbers when you've got intuitions? Who knows the exceptionless motives and emotional touchstones of the working class residents of flyover country better than overeducated coastal pseudo-populists who (fairly obviously) agree with Obama's diagnosis in whole or in part? Their righteous decision to develop kidney stones in solidarity with the culture and people Obama so terribly wronged must not be allowed to come to naught. If Obama does eventually lose, that proves they were right all along and can claim vindication. In the meantime, perhaps we can cancel the Pennsylvania primary and apportion delegates based on whom Mickey Kaus would vote for if he were what he thinks the median voter is.

UPDATE: Daniel Drezner makes the same point a bit more succinctly. 

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