Marc Ambinder worries that Obama really has no empirical leg to stand on with his "cling to their guns and religion" gaffe, linking to this scholarly refutation of the whole "What's The Matter With Kansas" concept.
Well, if Obama's San Francisco ruminations were weak as analysis, dare we call Obama "out of touch"? Scary to read this, from John Fund of the WSJ:
"...the fact that his aides tell reporters he is privately bewildered that anybody took offense is even more remarkable."
Geez - does anybody have a spare ticket for the Clue Train? Obama's so out of touch he doesn't even know why he is out of touch.
Timothy Noah of Slate joins in the the whole "What The Matter With Kansas, and Why Is Obama Echoing It" issue (and cites the same study as Ambinder - great minds, etc.) From Noah (my paragraph breaks):
2) The white working class isn't the problem; Dixie is. This theory has been forwarded by Paul Krugman and Thomas Schaller, among others... But after the convention, Obama, if he is the Democratic nominee, might as well write off the South, because Democrats can't win there.
Princeton's Larry Bartels made the case two years ago in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science. According to Bartels, the white voters lacking college degrees who have abandoned the Democratic Party in droves are nearly all Southerners. Outside the South, the decline among voters in this group who support Democratic presidential candidates is less than 1 percent. Moreover, if the white working class's interest in "guns or religion" indicates derangement or bitterness, then the white working class isn't very deranged or bitter. According to Bartels, there is no evidence that social issues outweigh economic ones among white voters lacking college degrees.
Social issues have admittedly become more important to voters during the past two decades, but the derangement/bitterness index has risen most steeply not for the proles but for the country-club set. For example, white voters with college degrees give more than twice as much weight to the issue of abortion than white voters lacking college degrees. Most devastating to Frank's analysis, "most of his white working-class voters see themselves as closer to the Democratic party on social issues like abortion and gender roles but closer to the Republican party on economic issues" (italics mine).
Having paged through the study, let me add this possibly clarifying thought - Bartels took "no college degree" as his measure of working class in response to an exhortation from Thomas Frank himself, who was criticizing an earlier Bartels rebuttal to his work. However, Bartels goes on to note that "no college degree" does not overlap well with "economic loser":
Even in 2004, after decades of increasingly widespread college education, the economic circumstances of whites without college degrees were not much different from those of America as a whole. Among those who voted, 40% had family incomes in excess of $60,000; and when offered the choice, more than half actually called themselves “middle class” rather than “working class.” Meanwhile, among working-class white voters who could even remotely be considered “poor” – those with incomes in the bottom third of the national income distribution – GeorgeW. Bush’s margin of victory in 2004 was not 23 percentage points but less than two percentage points.
Over the entire half-century covered by my analysis the mismatch between Frank’s definition and his concern for “the poor,” “the weak,” and “the victimized” (2004, 1) is even more striking: white voters without college degrees were actually more likely to have incomes in the top third of the income distribution than in the middle third, much less the bottom third. However, Frank himself now seems curiously uninterested in such material economic distinctions, or in the political behavior of the unlucky members of his working class who are not earning middle-class or upper-middle-class incomes. His only reaction to the finding that tens of millions of white voters in the bottom third of the income distribution have become significantly more Democratic over the past half century is to dismiss as “well-known to poll-readers everywhere [the fact] that society’s very poorest members tend to vote Democratic” (2005, 3). Apparently Frank has little interest in meeting the poor Democrats.
Between Frank and Bartel I smell blood - bad blood. As to the equation of "working class" with "no college degree" - anyone run that past Bill Gates? Bartels eventually illustrates this point about class and income with charts, graphs, text, free beer and dancing girls (And you think I leaf through these studies just to save you the trouble...)
In the white working class, as in the electorate as a whole, net Republican gains since the 1950s have come entirely among middle- and upper-income voters, producing a substantial gap in partisanship and voting between predominantly Democratic lower income groups and predominantly Republican upper income groups.
The voting behavior of Frank’s white working class in the 2004 election suggests
that, if anything, the partisan divergence between its richer and poorer segments is continuing to increase. John Kerry received 49% of the two-party vote in the poorest third of Frank’s white working class, virtually identical to the 50% received by previous Democratic candidates over the preceding three decades. However, his support fell to 40% among middle-income whites without college degrees, and to 30% among those in the top third of the income distribution. Thus, insofar as Kerry’s performance reflects a continuing erosion in Democratic support among Frank’s white working class, that erosion continues to be concentrated among people who are, in fact, relatively affluent.
So the "working class" folks drifting away from the Dem message may in fact be voting their own economic interest rather than their bitterness. It's not their false consciousness, it's Frank's false analysis - somebody alert Barack!
INTERIM UPDATE: Ross Douthat of The Atlantic takes inspiration from Mr. Noah, excerpts a different study and concludes this:
But Obama didn't make an argument along these lines. Instead, he said something that wasn't just politically dumb - it was analytically dumb, as well. And that, pace Ezra and Andrew and sundry others, is why these comments matter: Because they suggest that Barack Obama buys into a narrative of American politics, and American life, that simply isn't true.
Here is the coup de grace from Mickey Kaus on "What's The Matter With Pennsylvania":
3) Alert emailer M wonders why Obama is applying a Tom Frank analysis--of working class voters who vote Republican--to Pennsylvania, since unlike Kansas, Pennsylvania is a blue state that "hasn't voted for a Republican presidential nominee since 1988." And the most economically distressed parts of the state are the most Democratic, despite all the clinging to guns and God that's going on. In short, Obama's explaining something that doesn't happen.
"Not happening" could describe Obama's Presidential prospects right now.
Well, many libs are being given the opportunity to discover that Obama's anaysis was not just politically tone-deaf but flat out wrong - it may take a few days to see how this is digested.
Meanwhile, let's survey other reaction.
J Judis of TNR is gloomy:
So to win in November, Obama will have to win almost all of these heartland states. Which is a problem, because even before he uttered his infamous words about these voters "clinging" to guns, religion, abortion, and fears about free trade, Obama looked vulnerable in the region.
George Will puts Obama in historical perspective:
By so speaking, Obama does fulfill liberalism's transformation since Franklin Roosevelt. What had been under FDR a celebration of America and the values of its working people has become a doctrine of condescension toward those people and the supposedly coarse and vulgar country that pleases them.
When a supporter told Adlai Stevenson, the losing Democratic presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956, that thinking people supported him, Stevenson said, "Yes, but I need to win a majority." When another supporter told Stevenson, "You educated the people through your campaign," Stevenson replied, "But a lot of people flunked the course." Michael Barone, in "Our Country: The Shaping of America From Roosevelt to Reagan," wrote: "It is unthinkable that Roosevelt would ever have said those things or that such thoughts ever would have crossed his mind." Barone added: "Stevenson was the first leading Democratic politician to become a critic rather than a celebrator of middle-class American culture -- the prototype of the liberal Democrat who would judge ordinary Americans by an abstract standard and find them wanting."
The Duke, Al Gore, and John Kerry projected condescension quite nicely too.
Thomas Sowell put Obam's condescension towards the working class in a longer historical perspective:
Obama is also part of a long tradition on the Left of being for the working class in the abstract, or as people potentially useful for the purposes of the Left, but having disdain or contempt for them as human beings.
Karl Marx said, “The working class is revolutionary or it is nothing.” In other words, they mattered only in so far as they were willing to carry out the Marxist agenda.
After the likes of Al Gore and John Kerry, Republicans had to be wondering, “Could Democrats possibly nominate yet another candidate easily portrayed as an out-of-touch elitist?” With Obama, Democrats appear to be responding with a resounding “Yes, we can!”
But here are the two remaining Democratic candidates, Obama by speaking carelessly and Clinton by piling on shamelessly, doing all they can to make it easy for Republicans to pretend one more time that they are the salt of the earth.
John Dickerson strains to recast Obama's comment in a favorable light and gives it up as a bad job:
Ultimately, in trying to explain what Obama was thinking, I run out of string. He wasn't expressing a sweeping view of the human behavior of small-town people. He was making a tactical point about how politicians appeal to voters at election time, but that tactical point about electoral behavior still relies on an unflattering view of small-town voters. No matter what helping hand you extend him, Obama still claimed that voters have been hoodwinked on Election Day, and no one wants to be told that in the past they've been duped into voting for the wrong person.
And this was funny, from Melinda Henneberger of Slate:
Poor wording was not the problem; on the contrary, it was his precision that was so unfortunate, and his ability to pack half a dozen unintended insults into a single sentence uncanny. And in San Francisco, no less? Roger Ailes couldn't have planned it better, unless he'd maybe followed up the event with some impromptu windsurfing in the bay.
Ann Althouse on "Dreams From My Father":
The story he tells culminates with a trip to Africa as an adult to meet the many relatives who had nothing to do with his upbringing. This he presents as the ultimate homecoming. From a feminist perspective, this troubled me.
I once heard a similar reaction from a very liberal and very irate grandmother, too, since Obama's deplorably racist grandparents raised him for years.
Karl at Team Protein reacts to the Ambinder post and the Bartels study, checks a few exit polls, and opines:
Instead of suggesting that working-class voters have been bamboozled by GOP appeals to their values and culture, [Obama] should have been mocking their intelligence for agreeing with Republican economic policies. That probably would not have gone over well either, but at least Obama would have been addressing his real problem.
RELATED: As an alternative hypothesis, dare we suggest that working class victims of false consciousness have looked at, or are vaguely aware of, the results achieved by European nations attempting to tax and regulate their way to job creation and growth, and been unimpressed by Democrat attempts to work similar magic here? I know I was not impressed by the European experiments when I was forming my political allegiance as a much younger man. [HELP - someone today mentioned that dumping Obama would hurt the Dems more than dumping Hillary because people form their political allegiances in their 20's. Did anyone else read that, and where?]
And setting aside the 80's, even today I see Europe lags. I am also laughing out loud in reading this study, which includes this:
Three traditional welfare states – Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden – have been the best performers. In 2005, prime-age employment rates were higher in the Netherlands (81.5 percent), Denmark (83.9 percent), and Sweden (87.7 percent) than in the United States (79.3 percent).
I probably ought to stop laughing and look it up, but what I remember is that the Netherlands reduces their unemployment rate, and raises their employment rate, by declaring a staggering fraction of a vital and dynamic people "disabled".