April 14, 2008

No way out, Barack

Barack Obama realizes now that he made a huge mistake, in an unguarded moment before an "elitist" group of Democratic supporters in San Francisco, in describing distressed members of America's vanishing middle class as bitterly "clinging to guns and religion." Let's face it, he committed the politician's cardinal sin: he spoke his mind. Now he's in the impossible position of explaining away an accurate comment as a "misstatement" because it's political suicide to delve deeper into the reasons for his assessment. For example, he can't say that the burgeoning religiosity and theocratic tendencies which have been ascendant in the U.S. over the last several decades are a sure sign of radical social decay. He's about as likely to add Richard Dawkins to his council of advisors as he is to cite the following 2005 study from Creighton University's Journal of Society & Religion:

"Among the developed democracies absolute belief in God, attendance of religious services and Bible literalism vary over a dozenfold, atheists and agnostics fivefold, prayer rates fourfold, and acceptance of evolution almost twofold. Japan, Scandinavia, and France are the most secular nations in the West, the United States is the only prosperous first world nation to retain rates of religiosity otherwise limited to the second and third worlds (Bishop; PEW)...There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms (Aral and Holmes; Beeghley, Doyle, 2002). "

Reading this thorough and well-resourced study, one is left with the impression that conditions in the United States today are somewhat analogous to those immediately before the Civil War, except that the South and Midwest (remember the Missouri Compromise?) have been deprived of the advantages of slavery. Ironic, in some ways, that it took a man of partly African-American descent to point out the obvious: the rural folks first lost their plantations, now they've lost their manufacturing base and their jobs. As Barack said, those jobs have now been gone for a generation, and the "bitterness" does indeed incite fear and loathing of "the other," in modern times, the illegal immigrants who are perceived as taking their jobs (although the quality jobs have been lost for everyone). Part of the reaction is in reasserting the superiority of the dominant whites, battered and bruised as they might be by changing times. So naturally there is a great cry of defiance when this cheeky black man points out the obvious, and the unscrupulous Hillary, a panderer to the last, starts slamming beers-and-shots and rising to their defense. Didn't our newest Pulitzer honoree, Bob Dylan, write about just this tendency in "Only a Pawn in Their Game"?

"A South politician preaches to the poor white man,
"You got more than the blacks, don't complain.
You're better than them, you been born with white skin," they explain.
And the Negro's name
Is used it is plain
For the politician's gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game."

So Barack must pass up the opportunity to talk about what is really going on in this country. Instead, like any Presidential candidate, Obama must praise and adore the very traits in America, its extreme religiosity, its obscurantism and anti-intellectual tendencies, its armed-to-the-teeth nuttiness, which most strongly correlate with its "dysfunctionality" across a broad array of indicators of societal health. Guns & God do go together, as demonstrated by America's astonishing "outlier" status as the homicide capital of the world's developed nations.

I'm sure you've learned by now, Barack, it is audacious indeed in this country to indulge in hope.

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