Sunday, April 13, 2008

Of Whales and Bitterness

This morning's online New York Times includes an article on Senator Obama's efforts to explain comments he made a few days ago about voters in small towns in Pennsylvania. As the Times has it:
“And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not,” Mr. Obama went on. “And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or antitrade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Senator Obama has since admitted that he did not express himself very well, and he has clarified along these :
“So I said, well, you know when you’re bitter, you turn to what you can count on,” he added. “So people, they vote about guns, or they take comfort from their faith and their family and their community.”
My interest here is not in what Obama said or what he meant or the velocity at which he is spinning. My interest is in a reply to this from Senator Clinton. Here's how the New York Times presents it:

“I grew up in a church-going family, a family that believed in the importance of living out and expressing our faith,” she said at a rally in Indianapolis. “The people of faith I know don’t ‘cling to’ religion because they’re bitter. People embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich.”
Aside from the rhetorical play on the phrase "cling to", there is an obvious lapse of logic here. Senator Obama said that some people who are bitter cling to religious belief. Senator Clinton implies - with her usual forced mix of outrage, derision and condescension - that Senator Obama believes all religious people (that is, people who cling pathetically to religious belief) do so because they are bitter.

Consider an analogy. Senator Obama asserts that all whales are mammals. Senator Clinton wants to give the impression Senator Obama thinks all mammals are whales, so she rushes to the microphone to declare, with barely concealed contempt, that she has known many mammals (Socks the cat, for example) who are very happy not to be whales.

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