Monday, April 14, 2008


William Kristol has a column in the New York Times claiming that Obama's "bitter" remarks showed the "true face" of Barack Obama. The column seems to suggest that this "true face" is communist.
My occasion for spending a little time once again with the old Communist was Barack Obama’s now-famous comment at an April 6 San Francisco fund-raiser. Obama was explaining his trouble winning over small-town, working-class voters: “It’s not surprising then 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 as a way to explain their frustrations.”

This sent me to Marx’s famous statement about religion in the introduction to his “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”:

“Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of a soulless condition. It is the opium of the people.”

Or, more succinctly, and in the original German in which Marx somehow always sounds better: “Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes.”


What does this mean for Obama’s presidential prospects? He’s disdainful of small-town America — one might say, of bourgeois America. He’s usually good at disguising this. But in San Francisco the mask slipped. And it’s not so easy to get elected by a citizenry you patronize.

Kristol claims to have read Marx, but in this column he gives the impression that he doesn't understand it. The "working class" that Obama is supposedly talking down too is the is the proletariat, not the bourgeois.
I think that Marx got it pretty much right with his "religion is the opium of the masses" comment (though it is other things besides). But would Obama agree with me? It seems very, very unlikely.
Obama commented that people in depressed economic background are likely to turn to religion. There happens to be a lot of good social science research backing this up.
Why is this controversial? It seems like the answer is a mixture of right-wing demagoguery and liberal self-hatred. Lots of latte-liberals (like me) are indeed out of touch with the working class, so we find it hard to defend comments like Obama's (though I wouldn't say that the conservative intelligentsia that jumped on the remark is any more in touch with blue-collar voters than I am). A lot of of people in the media see the white working-class as the most "true" Americans. The right-wing, on the other hand, classically uses "cultural" issues like this to eek out a victory for the American plutocracy. I think this is what Obama was pointing out. It is ironic that the response has made his point so well.
(Posted by Ewan)

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