Monday, April 14, 2008

America is Picking a Wartime President: Please be Careful!

Religion, politics, and culture are not the primary focus of this blog. All three are inextricably entangled in the War on Terror, though, so these subjects will come up from time to time.

This is one of those times.

The American presidential election is a political process which will determine the leader of the United States of America: most likely for the next four years, possibly for the next eight.

Unless something very strange happens, that president will be either Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or John McCain. Even with a restricted field like this, deciding which set of character, policies, and outlook to choose can be a challenge for responsible voters.

Statements made in the last week or so may have made that job a great deal easier.

American Presidential Candidates Speak About Heartland Aborigines, Religion, and other Exotic, Foreign, Topics

Barack Obama unintentionally helped American voters decide which candidate they want, by trying to explain the natives of inner Pennsylvania to a roomful of sophisticated Californians.

Based on the context of the 51:03 audio recording, I think that he was earnestly trying to explain what, to his San Franciscan audience, was an alien world-view.

Particularly since it was part of a presumably unscripted Q & A session, I think it also gives a good look into Mr. Obama's view of what the aborigines of rural America are like:

"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to[ward] people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." [emphasis mine] (Adapted/corrected from The Huffington Report, in "A Xenophobic Remark by a Gun-Toting Religious Small Town Person" Another War-on-Terror Blog (April 12, 2008).)

Mr. Obama has been clarifying his remarks since then. I think a particularly interesting assertion was his 'I speak in paragraphs' statement. It's a good point: remarks should be taken in context.

The other two leading candidates have been essentially quoting each other, in their response to Obama's paragraphs. I'll limit myself to a selection of McCain's, as quoted in the Washington Post.

... "These are the people that have fundamental cultural, spiritual, and other values that in my view have very little to do with their economic condition."

[The Depression did not destroy] their confidence that America and their own lives could be made better. Nor did they turn to their religious faith and cultural traditions out of resentment and a feeling of powerlessness to affect the course of government or pursue prosperity."

[instead,] their faith, their faith, had given generations of their families purpose and meaning, as it does today. And their appreciation of traditions like hunting was based in nothing, nothing, other than their contribution to the enjoyment of life." ("McCain Calls Obama's Comments 'Elitist'" Washington Post (April 14, 2008))

Clinton has been saying essentially the same things about Obama's attack of foot-in-mouth disease.

I think that Obama was making an earnest, and moderately successful, effort to educate his Californian audience. In response to a question from the audience, Barack Obama was trying to present the natives of rural Pennsylvania as human beings. In some respects, his response was as eloquent as Shylock's "If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?" (Shakespeare, "Merchant of Venice, Act III, scene I). I go on at (much) greater length about Mr. Obama's remarks, in "A Xenophobic Remark by a Gun-Toting Religious Small Town Person" (April 12, 2008), and posted a link to "
"Obama, in his own words............"
, a very interesting and enlightening view into the eloquent candidate's mind and beliefs.

Oh, For the Days of Yesteryear: Steel Plants, Buggy Whips, and the Information Age

In a speech televised this morning (April 14, 2008), another candidate said that, in sharp contrast to the other party, if elected she would have America "making things like steel and commodities again" - A fine campaign promise, for 1960. (Clinton's remarks were being carried by Fox News this morning- I haven't found a transcript, recording, or quotes online yet. The quote was transcripted by me, and is to the best of my knowledge correct. Clinton's remarks probably occurred around the time of her appearance at a "Compassion Forum" hosted by CNN.)

Quite a bit has happened in the last half-century, including the emergence of a 'knowledge economy.' Although I sympathize with people who lived most of their lives in the Industrial Age, and find the transition difficult, that was then, and this is now.

In my opinion, steel mills and auto plants are important. But, they're not the heart of the American economy in the way they were when I was young. (More about this in "War on Terror Destroying Defunct American Economy!!!" (April 13, 2008).)

An emotion-laden promise to bring back the steel mills and factories makes about as much sense today, as promising to revitalize the production of blacksmiths' anvils and buggy whips.

What We Have Here is a Failure to Comprehend

I believe that an American president should have at least two qualities:
  1. A rudimentary knowledge of the diverse cultures and lifestyles which make up America today
  2. Awareness of changes in society and the economy brought by the Information Age
One of the three major presidential candidates has, arguably, shown that he either has no clue as to what the natives of non-urban, non-coastal, America are like: or lies through his teeth on occasion, when trying to explain ideas and concepts. Either way, Barack Obama wasn't living up to my presidential ideals at that San Francisco fundraiser.

Another candidate has, by a brief comment directed at people whose lives have been affected by economic and societal changes of the last few generations, given the impression that she will pull America back into "Happy Days."

While I enjoy watching The Fonz, I would prefer having someone in the White House who knows what century we're at.

Politics, Presidents, and the War on Terror

It's about six long months before the November election in America. And, based on petulant responses in previous elections, I suspect that there'll be months 'it's not fair' lawsuits after that.

Until it's time to vote, American citizens need to take a close, hard look at who they'll be electing as president.

My hope is that the president we chose is one for whom rural America is not a terra incognita of strange people and foreign ways, and one who noticed the advent of the Internet and the Information Age.

America doesn't need a wartime president who is ignorant about the diversity of America's cultures and beliefs, or of the times we live in.


Anonymous said...

In a speech televised this morning (April 14, 2008), another candidate said that, in sharp contrast to the other party, if elected she would have America "making things like steel and commodities again"

Oh my heck! Don't tell me Paris Hilton is running for president now! Seriously, 'making things like steel and commodities'? heh

Interesting and sober analysis. Obama shows such a deep contempt for grass roots Americans it's frightening. His rise to popularity is a really strange phenomenon when you consider he's so unlike the vast majority of Americans, including the Black American community, as to be unable to comprehend how they think and why. I read an excerpt from his book which quoted some of his remarks about the white boys of the South being 'sewn into' their underwear and who stunk (I can't remember the metaphor). The revulsion he feels towards many Americans is something which Americans will really feel if he gets into power.

Brian H. Gill said...

Don't knock the steel industry. It was a vital part of the American economy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And, it's still important. Just not quite as central.

Seriously, I was very impressed by that anachronistic remark.

I'm not sure how much Obama's attitude toward what you call grass roots Americans is contempt, and how much is ignorance.

Either way, it's not a good quality for a potential president, in my opinion.

As to Obama and black Americans, I trust that you're right, but I found a remarkable post yesterday:

"Obama, in his own words............"
geeZ! (April 13, 2008)

There's a little text, and a YouTube video.

I found the collection 'black power' rhetoric in this video drearily familiar, from my memories of the sixties.

Brigid said...


Isn't that something that can be sold or otherwise used commercially? I thought we *were* making commodities.

Or don't sugar beets count?

Brian H. Gill said...


American English usage of the word is what you said.

Here are some more formal definitions:

"Commodity" 1. Something useful that can be turned to commercial or other advantage: “Left-handed, power-hitting third basemen are a rare commodity in the big leagues” (Steve Guiremand, [Long Beach, CA] Press-Telegram June 2, 1995). 2. An article of trade or commerce, especially an agricultural or mining product that can be processed and resold. 3. Advantage; benefit."
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

The term, in Marxist theory, is similar: "A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside of us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference. Neither are we here concerned to know how the object satisfies these wants, whether directly as means of subsistence, or indirectly as means of production"
Karl Marx, from "Marx and the Idea of Commodity"

In the context of an American presidential candidate addressing American reporters, explaining her position in reference to the effect of an uncaring government on the welfare of the working class in an industrial state, my educated guess is that Hillary Clinton was using "commodities" in the usual American English sense, as the A.H. #2 definition, above, or possibly the A.H. #1 definition.

I find it unlikely that she meant it in the Marxian sense of the word, since the American electorate in general has not developed a positive attitude toward Marxism.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.