More than three years before claiming that middle Americans “cling” to religion, guns, and bigotry because of economic turbulence, Barack Obama addressed the same themes with Charlie Rose on PBS. Three weeks after cruising to an easy victory over Alan Keyes, Obama told Rose that men went hunting and women went to church out of frustration with economic hardships because of the comfort of family and cultural traditions. He told Rose that Democrats had to learn to speak that kind of cultural language if they wanted to gain votes in these areas (h/t: BrianA):
Obama actually does a little better in this interview than he did three and a half years later in San Francisco. He doesn’t refer to bigotry or xenophobia at all, for instance, nor does he use the word “cling”. However, the construct still appears to follow the Thomas Frank assumption that voters who don’t vote for economic pandering are essentially idiots. Rose even mentions at the end how difficult it will be to keep the massive condescension it requires from becoming too obvious. Obama says, “Exactly” — but three years later, failed to heed Rose’s warning.
Ironically, at the same time, two columns in the New York Times, of all places, also challenge the Frankian assumptions of irrationality of Kansas rubes. Both Paul Krugman and Larry Bartels note that liberal elites also vote against their economic interests when they support higher taxes and redistributionism (h/t: Scott M). Clearly, the impetus for political philosophy doesn’t come strictly from economics, and given the evidence, not even primarily from economics. Rather, economics provides one battleground for competition between political philosophies, which decades and centuries of voting patterns prove.
The reliance on economics as the basis for political determinism serves as the basis for Marxist thought. It runs in opposition to the American experiment, which arose from isolation from the British political system more than any other impetus. The founding documents of the nation barely mention economics at all, with references only to minting currency and regulating interstate commerce. The focus on economic determinism insults the intelligence of the entire spectrum of American voters, and once again calls into question Obama’s concepts of politics, American culture, and the breadth and depth of how America changed the world.