Coleman points out that "[n]o one has seized upon those words as 'talking down' to the inner city youth whose plight he was addressing." Was Obama condescending to blacks too?
Good question. The short answer is "yes." The longer answer, I think, is that it's different when you are explaining behavior that's unquestionably bad. Then the issue becomes whether you're making excuses (a point Coleman raises). Imagine if Obama had confined himself to explaining white Pennsylvanian racism--the "excuse-making" issue would get a lot more attention than the condescension issue. ... The trouble is Obama also tried to explain local Pennsylvania habits, like religious faith, that aren't incontrovertibly "destructive"--raising the additional question of why he felt a need to make an explanation in the first place. Imagine if Obama had tried to explain black churchgoing as a reaction to inner-city residents no longer feeling "relevant" in the global economy. Yikes! Condescension City! He'd be reamed and rightly so. ...
Making excuses for autonomous human actors is always a form of condescension, I'd say. But when you make excuses for what many people regard as normal, even laudable behavior, you double down on the disrespect, because you are also challenging your subjects' moral framework
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. [**See Correction, below] In short, Obama's explaining something that doesn't happen. ... I suppose one answer is that Obama wasn't explaining why Pennsylvanians wouldn't vote for a Democrat but why they might not vote for him--a black, liberal Democrat. But Obama says he's explaining why small-town Rustbelt voters don't buy the idea that government can help them, which sounds an awful lot like not buying Democratic ideology generally. ...
**Correction: I misstated emailer M's argument. He's not arguing that Pennsylvania's less prosperous areas are more Democratic than, say, Philadelphia. They aren't. He's arguing that they were Democratic in the '80s, when economic distress was at its peak, and have become more Republican since, as the distress eased. M cites The Almanac of American Politics, co-authored by Michael Barone, who wrote:
"Relieved of economic stress, voters here [Western PA] moved towards Republicans in the 1990s."
But I don't think Barone is saying that it's prosperity that bred Republicanism (which would be the opposite of the Obama "cling" theses). I think he's talking mainly about migration--the unemployed workers who voted Democratic in the 1980s have simply left, leaving behind older voters who are more content living where they are living. It's a sorting out frustration-reducing process, not a prosperity-driven frustration-reducing process. Either way, it's not the "cling" process that Obama is imagining (though in the absence of real prosperity some "clinging" could be going on too). ... P.S.: But it's mainly happening in Western PA's Pittsburgh suburbs. In the 2004 presidential race, rural towns seem to have remained pro-Republican by about the same margin as in 1988. ...
Update: Alter Untanked Jon Alter agrees with "M," not Obama:
[i]t turns out that working-class Americans have not left the Democratic Party, except in the South, where practically everyone except the black community has turned Republican. In the north, as Princeton political scientist Larry M. Bartels establishes in an important new book, "Unequal Democracy," working-class voters have actually been trending Democratic in recent elections, which helps explain why longtime bellwether states like Illinois and Pennsylvania have been more reliably blue. According to Bartels, more affluent voters are the ones who have been swayed by social issues like abortion and guns. Working-class voters, he writes, are still motivated by economics.
5:06 A.M. link