At some time in the future, it is not impossible to imagine a fresh faced, third year college student, perhaps studying rhetoric – if only they will bring it back as a course of study in colleges – laboring over a thesis that has as its center piece the recent so called “debate” between Democrat presidential candidates senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
The paper might be called “A comparative Study in Wiggles.”
Concerning her “sniper under fire” remarks, Clinton said, “On a couple of occasions in the past week, I said some things I knew weren’t the case. I’m embarrassed by it. I’ve apologized for it.”
Not too much wiggle room there: “I said some things I knew weren’t the case” means, to put it in the vernacular, “I lied,” or more tenderly, to borrow a phrase from Huck Finn talking about Mark Twain, I told “a stretcher.”
Here is Obama on his “bitter” statement: “I think there’s no doubt that I can see how people were offended. It’s not the first time that I’ve made … a statement that was mangled up.”
The statement that was “mangled up” – by others of course – was this one: Obama said that small town Americans become bitter because of economic adversity and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”
Among the people who have “mangled up” Obama’s very straight forward assertion is George Will, who wrote in one of his recent columns: “Explaining why many working-class voters are ‘bitter,’ he said they ‘cling’ to guns, religion and ‘antipathy to people who aren't like them’ because of ‘frustrations.’ His implication was that their primitivism, superstition and bigotry are balm for resentments they feel because of America's grinding injustice.”
This is an explication, not a mangle. And putting Obama’s most damaging assertion “into context” as was suggested recently by, among others, Colin McEnroe, does not relieve Obama of offering a straightforward apology, minus the rhetorical dodges, if Obama does not mean what he so clearly said.
It is not the structure of the assertion that is offensive but the assertion itself.
Here is another commentator, Mickey Kaus reacting to Obama’s assertion in Slate, an internet magazine: “It lumps together things Obama wants us to think he thinks are good (religion) with things he undoubtedly thinks are bad (racism, anti-immigrant sentiment). I suppose it's logically possible to say 'these Pennsylvania voters are so bitter and frustrated that they cling to both good things and bad things,' but the implication is that these are all things he thinks are unfortunate and need explaining (because, his context suggests, they prevent voters from doing the right thing and voting for ... him). Yesterday at the CNN 'Compassion Forum' Obama said he wasn't disparaging religion because he meant people 'cling' to it in a good way! Would that be the same way they 'cling' to 'antipathy to people who aren't like them'--the very next phrase Obama uttered? Is racism one of those 'traditions that are passed on from generation to generation' that 'sustains us'? Obama's unfortunate parallelism makes it hard for him to extricate him from the charge that he was dissing rural Pennsylvanians' excess religiosity.”
Others have supposed that Obama, feeling at ease in the company of the illuminati in California from whom he expected generous contributions, slipped into the Marxian fallacy so prevalent among academics: the notion that the lower orders suffer from a “false consciousness,” the result of feasting on religious opium.
None of the commentary will get any better if Obama continues to insist that someone else mangled his truth.
The “truth” he so clearly asserted simply is not true. Men do not turn to religion because they are stricken with false consciousness. They turn to it because they perceive in it a meta-reality that is invisible to the hard of hearing and the hard of heart, as well as the solipsists in California and elsewhere who have ears, and deep pockets, “but who hear not…”