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By Dan Henninger
April 17, 2008
Hillary Clinton knows exactly what Barack Obama is feeling as he
struggles to contain his San Francisco faux pas. Her moment came during the
1992 campaign in an appearance on "60 Minutes" when she suddenly said:
"I'm not sitting here as some little woman, 'standing by my man' like
Why she said that doesn't matter now. What matters is that every Tammy
Wynette cooking dinner in a mortgaged house for three kids and a
working man in some small town rose up to say, "You're not me, Hillary."
So it came to pass last Saturday night, in what is surely the most
preposterous photo-op in campaign history, Hillary Rodham Clinton of
Wellesley and Yale was pounding down Crown Royal whisky from a shot glass at
Bronko's bar in Indiana. A friend emailed that if she really wanted to
win Pennsylvania, she would have drunk some of the draft beer in her
left hand, dropped the shot glass into the mug and slammed that back. But
hey, her heart was in the right place.
For those of us who monitor the political currents to discern direction
in the nation's life, this was one of the biggest weeks in the
Remember the culture wars? This week the Democrats sued for peace.
On Friday evening, email queues lit up everywhere with people reacting
to Barack Obama's thoughts on life being nasty, bitter and short in
small-town America. Time was not long ago that a Democratic candidate
could have said such folk cling to guns and religion and are hostile to
"diversity" with nary a peep from his party. Not now. Obama was
repudiated. Crushed. Media analysis suggested the damage could last til November.
Before midnight, Hillary was paddling down Whiskey River with the boys
at Bronko's. Then on Sunday evening, the white flag really went up over
the culture war's battlefield.
Hillary and Obama were both at an event in Grantham, Pa., in Cumberland
County. That's south of Mechanicsburg and east of Boiling Springs.
John Kerry took Pennsylvania by 2.5% in 2004, but Cumberland gave George
Bush 64% of its vote. Hillary and Obama were appearing on a CNN event
called the "Compassion Forum." They were at a place called Messiah
College. Connect the dots.
Campbell Brown to Sen. Clinton: "And you have actually felt the
presence of the Holy Spirit on many occasions. Share some of those occasions."
Hillary Clinton: "I have had the experiences on many, many occasions
where I felt like the Holy Spirit was there with me as I made a journey .
. . You know, it could be walking in the woods. It could be watching a
Hit rewind on the tape of history. It is 1992, the Republican
Convention in Houston, at the Astrodome. This was the moment of arrival for the
"Christian right." Dan Quayle, George H.W. Bush's VP nominee, spoke to
a huge throng of evangelicals about "family values." Pat Buchanan
delivered his "culture wars" speech. The press corps, for whom all this was
alien ground, was openly hostile to the GOP.
Shelves bend beneath the weight of books analyzing the "war" between
religiously oriented cultural conservatives and secular libs. "Piss
Christ" and all that. Abortion. Robert Mapplethorpe's erotic photographs
banned in Cincinnati. Abortion. Gun control. Michael Moore mocking
Charlton Heston. Hollywood's endless Babylon. Home schoolers. Abortion.
Though vilified, these people wouldn't go away. The exit polls for
George W. Bush's victory in 2004 revealed that the No. 1 issue for most
voters was "moral values." Liberal analysts furiously attacked Karl Rove
for "exploiting" these sentiments.
But even Karl Rove couldn't invent God, and God and faith were
everywhere in Grantham Sunday evening.
Sen. Clinton: Faith "is everything that makes life and its purpose
meaningful as a human being . . . We want religion to be in the public
square. If you are a person of faith, you have a right and even an
obligation to speak from that wellspring of your faith . . . Our obligation as
leaders in America is to make sure that any conversation about religion
is inclusive and respectful. And that has not always happened, as we
Sen. Obama: "Religion is a bulwark . . . Somebody like myself whose
entire trajectory, not just during this campaign, but long before, has
been to talk about how Democrats need to get in church, reach out to
evangelicals, link faith with the work that we do . . . There is a moral
dimension to abortion, which I think that all too often those of us who
are pro-choice have not talked about or tried to tamp down. I think
that's a mistake . . . A comprehensive approach where we focus on
abstinence, where we are teaching the sacredness of sexuality to our children."
Some bloodless analysts have said for several years that Democrats had
to say this to win because, you know, a lot of people "go to church."
And yes, what candidates seeking votes say may be false, faked or
fantastic. What remains is the fact that these two, in competition for votes,
have conferred political legitimacy and respect on this swath of
Set aside the controversies over the name-brand religious-right
leaders. Whatever one calls these people ??" Reagan Democrats, the religious
right, values voters ??" their main beef was not with the election
returns but with the manifest evidence that the big-city elites thought
their beliefs and their lives were stupid. That is what died this week.
Whatever he meant to say, Barack Obama's small-town "cling to"
statement was the Final Condescension. Hillary's trip from Bronko's bar to
Messiah College ratified drinkin' on Saturday night and prayin' on Sunday
Certainly, both as president would stock the judiciary from the liberal
flock. Conservatives should still pocket the fact that the awful
culture war has been replaced by a legitimate political competition whose
locus has moved rightward. What's left of the rancid war are guerrillas
in the Hollywood foothills, pot-shotting at Pat Robertson and other
bogeymen. But at the big-league level of presidential politics, it's over.
Say good-bye to the Michael Moore Mockathon. Say hello to the spirit in
Daniel Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's
By David Brooks
April 16, 2008
Three quick points on the Democratic debate of April 16:
First, Democrats, and especially Obama supporters, are going to jump
all over ABC for the choice of topics: too many gaffe questions, not
enough policy questions.
I understand the complaints, but I thought the questions were
excellent. The journalist's job is to make politicians uncomfortable, to explore
evasions, contradictions and vulnerabilities. Almost every question
tonight did that. The candidates each looked foolish at times, but that's
their own fault.
We may not like it, but issues like Jeremiah Wright, flag lapels and
the Tuzla airport will be important in the fall. Remember how George H.W.
Bush toured flag factories to expose Michael Dukakis. It's legitimate
to see how the candidates will respond to these sorts of symbolic
The middle section of the debate, meanwhile, was stupendous. Those
could be the most important 30 minutes of this entire campaign, for reasons
I will explain in point two:
Second, Obama and Clinton were completely irresponsible. As the first
President Bush discovered, it is simply irresponsible statesmanship (and
stupid politics) to make blanket pledges to win votes. Both candidates
did that on vital issues.
Both promised to not raise taxes on those making less than $200,000 or
$250,000 a year. They both just emasculated their domestic programs.
Returning the rich to their Clinton-era tax rates will yield, at best,
$40 billion a year in revenue. It's impossible to fund a health care
plan, let alone anything else, with that kind of money. The consequences
are clear: if elected they will have to break their pledge, and thus
destroy their credibility, or run a minimalist administration.
The second pledge was just as bad. Nobody knows what the situation in
Iraq will be like. To pledge an automatic withdrawal is just insane. A
mature politician would've been honest and said: I fully intend to
withdraw, but I want to know what the reality is at that moment.
The third point concerns electability. The Democrats have a problem.
All the signs point to a big Democratic year, and I still wouldn't bet
against Obama winning the White House, but his background as a Hyde Park
liberal is going to continue to dog him. No issue is crushing on its
own, but it all adds up. For the life of me I can't figure out why he
didn't have better answers on Wright and on the "bitter" comments. The
superdelegates cannot have been comforted by his performance.
By William Kristol
April 14, 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.
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."
Or, more succinctly, and in the original German in which Marx somehow always sounds better: "Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes."
Now, this is a point of view with a long intellectual pedigree prior to Marx, and many vocal adherents continuing into the 21st century. I don't believe the claim is true, but it's certainly worth considering, in college classrooms and beyond.
But it's one thing for a German thinker to assert that "religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature." It's another thing for an American presidential candidate to claim that we "cling to ... religion" out of economic frustration.
And it's a particularly odd claim for Barack Obama to make. After all, in his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, he emphasized with pride that blue-state Americans, too, "worship an awesome God."
What's more, he's written eloquently in his memoir, "Dreams From My Father," of his own religious awakening upon hearing the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's "Audacity of Hope" sermon, and of the complexity of his religious commitment. You'd think he'd do other believers the courtesy of assuming they've also thought about their religious beliefs.
But Obama in San Francisco does no courtesy to his fellow Americans. Look at the other claims he makes about those small-town voters.
Obama ascribes their anti-trade sentiment to economic frustration - as if there are no respectable arguments against more free-trade agreements. This is particularly cynical, since he himself has been making those arguments, exploiting and fanning this sentiment that he decries. Aren't we then entitled to assume Obama's opposition to Nafta and the Colombian trade pact is merely cynical pandering to frustrated Americans?
Then there's what Obama calls "anti-immigrant sentiment." Has Obama done anything to address it? It was John McCain, not Obama, who took political risks to try to resolve the issue of illegal immigration by putting his weight behind an attempt at immigration reform.
Furthermore, some concerns about unchecked and unmonitored illegal immigration are surely legitimate. Obama voted in 2006 (to take just one example) for the Secure Fence Act, which was intended to control the Mexican border through various means, including hundreds of miles of border fence. Was Obama then just accommodating bigotry?
As for small-town Americans' alleged "antipathy to people who aren't like them": During what Obama considers the terrible Clinton-Bush years of economic frustration, by any measurement of public opinion polling or observed behavior, Americans have become far more tolerant and respectful of minorities who are not "like them." Surely Obama knows this. Was he simply flattering his wealthy San Francisco donors by casting aspersions on the idiocy of small-town life?
That leaves us with guns. Gun ownership has been around for an awfully long time. And people may have good reasons to, and in any case have a constitutional right to, own guns - as Obama himself has been acknowledging on the campaign trail, when he presents himself as more sympathetic to gun owners than a typical Democrat.
What does this mean for Obama's presidential prospects? He's disdainful of small-town America - one might say, of bourgeois America. He's usually good at disguising this. But in San Francisco the mask slipped. And it's not so easy to get elected by a citizenry you patronize.
And what are the grounds for his supercilious disdain? If he were a war hero, if he had a career of remarkable civic achievement or public service - then he could perhaps be excused an unattractive but in a sense understandable hauteur. But what has Barack Obama accomplished that entitles him to look down on his fellow Americans?