It was said behind closed doors to the chablis-and-brie set of San Francisco, in response to a question as to why he was not doing better in that benighted and barbarous land they call Pennsylvania.
Like Dr. Schweitzer, home from Africa to address the Royal Society on the customs of the upper Zambezi, Barack described Pennsylvanians in their native habitats of Atloona, Alquippa, Johnstown and McKeesport.
"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and ... the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them.
"And it's not surprising then 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 is the pitch-perfect Hollywood-Harvard stereotype of the white working class, the caricature of the urban ethnic -- as seen from the San Francisco point of view.
As Linus clung to his security blanket, Barack is saying, out-state Pennsylvanians, bitter at the world that has passed them by, cling to their Bibles and guns and naturally revert to ancestral bigotries against "people who aren't like them" -- blacks, gays and immigrants.
Though he sees himself as a progressive who has risen above prejudice, Barack was reflecting and pandering to the prejudice of the class to which he himself belongs, and which he was then addressing.
A few months back, Michelle Obama revealed her mindset about America with the remark that, "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country." Barack has now revealed how he, too, sees the country. The Great Unifier divides the nation into us and them.
The "us" are the privileged cosmopolitan elite of San Francisco and his Ivy League upbringing. The "them" are the folks in the small towns and rural areas of that other America. Toward these folks, Obama's attitude is not one of hostility, but of paternalism. Because time has passed them by, Barack believes, they cannot, in their frustration and bitterness, be held fully accountable for their atavistic beliefs and behavior.
Though neither mocking nor malicious, Barack's remarks are, nonetheless, steeped in condescension. Inherent in his words is that these folks in Middle Pennsylvania are in need of empathy, education, assistance and perhaps therapy.
His remarks are of a piece with his address on civil rights that liberals have compared favorably to Lincoln's Second Inaugural.
Note, from that Philadelphia address, the highlighted words.
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