Monday, April 14, 2008

Now Who’s Patronizing?

Well, that didn’t take long. If you were wondering which of the mainstream right-wing pundits would come right out and call Barack Obama a Marxist for his “clinging to religion” comment, wait no longer. William Kristol, whose idea of a small town is Greenwich Village, whips out his college-worn edition of Marx to find the exact quote about religion being the opiate of the masses; or, as he quotes from the original German, “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.

And you would think that Mr. Kristol would trip over his own concept of irony — assuming he has one — to see how funny it is for him and his fellow right-wingers to take Mr. Obama to task when it has been they who have exploited the fear and loathing of the religious for their own political gains for a generation. The Republicans have counted on the Marxist opiate concept of religion to fill their coffers and the voting booths. It was the Republicans who whooped up the culture war against gay marriage, reproductive choice, stem-cell research, and Hollywood entertainment at the hands of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson, all in concert with the GOP and the RNC, and it was the Bush administration who went to the length of setting up a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives only to have them laughing up their sleeves like Elmer Gantry at the gullibility of the faithful. “Thanks for the money and the votes; now get lost.”

But wait; it gets even better.

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?

It’s ironic for Mr. Kristol to be chastising Sen. Obama for not having accomplished much, especially since he has established his reputation by doing little more than sitting in his own ivory tower and looking down his own nose at the small town people he has patronized and exploited for all these years and trying to stir up some outrage, not to mention hauling out the old nostalgia for the days of red-baiting.

It would be hilarious were it not for the grim fact that it was also Mr. Kristol and his chickenhawk fellow travelers who urged us into the war in Iraq and did so by exploiting the patriotism and economic distress of the young men and women from these small towns and used them as cannon fodder for their neocon dreams of American domination. The economic woes that Sen. Obama spoke of are the reasons a lot of them joined the military; both out of a strong sense of patriotism and a need to find a way to better themselves through promises of education and a steady job. But how many of these young men and women have returned home either wounded or in coffins, leaving their families to cling to nothing more than their memories?

It takes a certain amount of gall for William Kristol to criticize someone else for snobbery, but when it comes to things like that, he’s full of it.