In last night’s Clinton-Obama debate in Philadelphia, moderator Charlie Gibson asked Obama to clarify his remarks regarding Pennsylvanians' bitterness with government and their gravitation toward guns and God. The entire transcript is here. I am reproducing the crux of the answers from Obama and Clinton. I don’t think he appreciably changed the basic meaning of his earlier comments.
And so the point I was making was that when people feel like Washington’s not listening to them, when they’re promised year after year, decade after decade, that their economic situation is going to change, and it doesn’t, then politically they end up focusing on those things that are constant, like religion.
They end up feeling “This is a place where I can find some refugee. This is something that I can count on.” They end up being much more concerned about votes around things like guns, where traditions have been passed on from generation to generation. And those are incredibly important to them.
And yes, what is also true is that wedge issues, hot-button issues, end up taking prominence in our –in our politics. And part of the problem is that when those issues are exploited, we never get to solve the issues that people really have to get some relief on, whether it’s health care or education or jobs.
Is he really saying that people become single issue or ideological voters (e.g., values voters) because they feel government is insensitive to their economic plight? He clearly believes there is some causal relationship - he uses the phrase, “end up” four times in this short narrative to cast interest in religion, guns, social issues as the result of frustration with government. I think this seriously misunderstands those on the other end of the spectrum from him on social issues.
I think Clinton made a pretty accurate statement in response:
I don’t believe that my grandfather or my father, or the many people whom I have had the privilege of knowing and meeting across Pennsylvania over many years, cling to religion when Washington is not listening to them. I think that is a fundamental, sort of, misunderstanding of the role of religion and faith in times that are good and times that are bad.
And I similarly don’t think that people cling to their traditions, like hunting and guns, either when they are frustrated with the government. I just don’t believe that’s how people live their lives.
At any rate, perhaps the most troubling thing I heard in the debate was the promise of both Democratic candidates to bring the troops home from Iraq, no matter what military leaders advised. Even if they advise the country will destabilize and our interests will be harmed, they said they would bring the troops home. They also promised no new taxes on people making 250k or less. Shades of George Bush the First…
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