Some might characterize Barack Obama’s 6 April 2008 comments as standard What’s the Matter With Kansas sort of stuff. Not William Kristol. For him it rings more reminiscent of Karl Marx (“The Mask Slips,” The New York Times, 14 April 2008):
I haven’t read much Karl Marx since the early 1980s, when I taught political philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. Still, it didn’t take me long this weekend to find my copy of “The Marx-Engels Reader,” edited by Robert C. Tucker — a book that was assigned in thousands of college courses in the 1970s and 80s, and that now must lie, unopened and un-remarked upon, on an awful lot of rec-room bookshelves.
My occasion for spending a little time once again with the old Communist was Barack Obama’s now-famous comment at an April 6 San Francisco fund-raiser. Obama was explaining his trouble winning over small-town, working-class voters: “It’s not surprising then that 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 sent me to Marx’s famous statement about religion in the introduction to his “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”:
“Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of a soulless condition. It is the opium of the people.”
This isn’t completely inconceivable. When I read What’s the Matter With Kansas I was struck by a certain Dialectical Materialist tendency, but similarity is not identity. Barack Obama as Marxist dialectician? Can Denish D’Souza be far behind with a comparison between the Senator’s remarks and some musings from one of Osama bin Laden’s videos?
The grounding in sound judgment of the imaginings of the right aside, at this point I would say that whatever crossover appeal Barack Obama once had is gone. The vitriol towards him on the right is now every bit as unhinged and hysterical as that over Hillary Clinton. I regularly get forwards from my tap into the right-wing psyche describing his as “scary” and a socialist with lurid scenarios about how he will wreck everything that is decent about the U.S.
I argued early in the primaries that anticipated perceptions of the right shouldn’t be a factor in Democratic deliberations about their candidates because the right wing mentality is not one with which there can be any negotiation (insofar as the personal characteristics and voting record of a candidate are our negotiating position). The tactic presently on display is not one that takes careful stock of the facts about a Democratic candidate and reacts accordingly, but a stock tactic which, when the facts of the matter don’t fit the stereotypes on offer, simply doubles down on the demagoguery and looks twice as hard for minutia to link candidate to cliché. It was inevitable that eventually Barack Obama would end up looking about as attractive as Hillary Clinton. Lest anyone need any reminding, in 2004 a Vietnam veteran with a Purple Heart and a conscience was made the dishonorable one and a cocaine using draft dodger was lifted up as the one whose record honored the military.
This is perhaps the central point that Democrats need to learn about the operation of the right today. It doesn’t matter what candidate we choose: the resultant smear campaign will be the same. The thing is that the Republicans are a one trick pony, so you might think that Democrats would have caught on and developed a counter strategy by this late date. Apparently we don’t even have one trick.