Ken Connor

If you happen to be a conservative in a small town, you might be chafing at Senator Barack Obama's recent comments at a fundraiser in San Francisco. Obama described small town blue-collar workers as "bitter", saying that 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." In plain English, Obama was saying that small town folk (among whom he apparently wasn't polling too well) are red-necked, xenophobic, gun-toting, Bible-pounding bigots who don't have a clue about how markets work in the real world.

Sadly, Mr. Obama's views are not uncommon among the elites who walk the corridors of power in the Federal City. These are the people who think Washington knows best. They think they are smarter than everybody else. They believe they can spend your money better than you can. And they know more about raising their children than you do.

Rural folk are seen as uninformed and unrefined. Their values are antiquated and their beliefs are passé. If one worries that they are going to be displaced in their job by someone who doesn't speak English and who will work for a cheaper wage, they must necessarily harbor some form of animus against those who are foreign-born. The idea that guns would be used for recreation is a foreign notion to the elites. Why on earth would you need them for protection, when big government exists to take care of you?

Senator Obama's comments are indicative of the lack of understanding many politicians have about the middle and lower classes. Democrats and Republicans alike speak of promoting the values and livelihood of the middle class, but few of the candidates seem to know what really drives these people's lives. Mayhill Fowler, a Huffington Post blogger who first leaked Obama's comments, argued that Obama's approach emphasized stereotypes instead of providing his wealthy audience with a window into the lives of blue collar workers.

Obama's remarks show the increasing distance between small town conservatives and those who control our government, media and major businesses. Obama says that the simple ideas of small town people are merely a result of their under-privileged economic status. As David Paul Kuhn of Real Clear Politics explains, however, this misunderstanding of rural culture has undercut liberal efforts for decades. In reality, the middle and lower classes in middle America are not "clinging" to their beliefs because they're poor or struggling. Their beliefs are fundamental to how they live their lives, and until liberals begin to understand this, they will not attract middle-America voters.


Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.