Maybe a few years ago, had Barack Obama said something as stupid as he did in San Francisco last week, his defense focusing on the least objectionable part of his remarks may have fooled the media into following suit. So far, though, Obama has had no such luck. Mainstream journalists have focused on the entire statement, and like John Dickerson at Slate, can’t see any way to spin his comments — and Dickerson gives it his best shot:
Obama has not helped himself in his efforts at damage control. First, he said he was just telling the truth, but edited the truth he was telling. People are “bitter” because they’ve been let down by previous administrations, he said; his campaign seeks to take up their cause. This ignored the incendiary religion, guns, and xenophobia portions of his remarks.
Obama then argued that he was really complimenting small-town voters. At the CNN Compassion Forum Sunday night, he said, “you know, Scripture talks about clinging to what’s good.” This works only if you close your eyes to the rest of Obama’s original sentence, since surely he wasn’t saying it’s a good thing to cling to xenophobia and racism. Which is to say it doesn’t work at all. Obama also admitted that he didn’t choose his words carefully when he spoke about small-town values in San Francisco. But this was more than a slip—it was an extended riff. …
Ultimately, in trying to explain what Obama was thinking, I run out of string. He wasn’t expressing a sweeping view of the human behavior of small-town people. He was making a tactical point about how politicians appeal to voters at election time, but that tactical point about electoral behavior still relies on an unflattering view of small-town voters. No matter what helping hand you extend him, Obama still claimed that voters have been hoodwinked on Election Day, and no one wants to be told that in the past they’ve been duped into voting for the wrong person.
Obama supporters should know just how offensive it is to hear this line of argument. They’ve been on the receiving end of it for months, as Hillary Clinton and her allies have described them as deluded cult members who are marching behind the inexperienced senator because he gives a pretty speech. Obama supporters don’t like it when they’re [sic] well-thought-out reasons for following Obama are dismissed as emotional, irrational, and thoughtless. They should understand, then, why people who don’t support Obama—or in the past haven’t voted for Democrats—don’t like being told that they’ve drunk some kind of crazy Kool-Aid.
That’s the problem. No matter how Obama tries to spin it, his statement assumes Midwestern voters are idiots. That’s also the Thomas Frank attitude as well — Why won’t Kansas voters support Democrats trying to buy them off? — which answers itself. And note that in Obama’s original remarks, the audience laughed at his assertions in their condescension, and recognition of his.
Dickerson doesn’t mention the ramifications of Obama’s citation of Scripture, but that may even compound the problem. People with religious faith are used to people throwing Bible quotes out of context at them to challenge their faith and their values. It’s the hallmark of someone who treats Biblical faith with contempt. It smells a lot like Obama (or more likely, one of his staffers) did a text search for “cling” on an online Bible site, and coughed up a particular verse to cover himself.
In fact, Obama’s quote comes from Romans 12:9 — “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” However, in the New International Version, “cling” appears 13 times (12 in the KJV), and almost all of them have negative connotations:
- Deuteronomy 28:60
He will bring upon you all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will cling to you.
- 1 Kings 1:51
Then Solomon was told, “Adonijah is afraid of King Solomon and is clinging to the horns of the altar. He says, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me today that he will not put his servant to death with the sword.’ “
- 2 Kings 5:27
Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and he was leprous, as white as snow.
- Job 8:15
He leans on his web, but it gives way; he clings to it, but it does not hold.
- Job 41:17
They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and cannot be parted.
- Psalm 31:6
I hate those who cling to worthless idols; I trust in the LORD.
- Psalm 44:25
We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.
- Psalm 63:8
My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
- Psalm 101:3
I will set before my eyes no vile thing. The deeds of faithless men I hate; they will not cling to me.
- Psalm 137:6
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
- Jeremiah 8:5
Why then have these people turned away? Why does Jerusalem always turn away? They cling to deceit; they refuse to return.
- Jonah 2:8
“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
Clearly, Scripture treats “cling” as a mostly negative term — just as we do in regular life. Perhaps what frustrates Obama and the fellow liberals is that most believers follow Psalm 31:6, and would rather trust in the Lord than cling to the statists that promise Utopia through government control of their lives.