By Joe Bageant
There seems to be no end to the media mediocrity we must suffer in this country. Now we have the Obama Guns, God and Bitterness shit storm, with the shit pouring forth from the same media scuppers (scuppers are outlet sewage blowholes on the sides of ships) as usual: The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, CNN.com, the Associated Press, Fox News, Reuters, Politico, the Lou Dobbs Show, Hardball, Olbermann’s Countdown, The Atlantic.com, The DailyKos, TalkingPointsMemo…
And all because Obama mentioned something we’ve known for at least a couple of decades now: That the government has been fucking over the nation’s heartland towns and the “little guy” Americans inhabiting them.
To quote Obama:
“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. … 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.”
So what the hell else is new?
Then Obama adds: “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 anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
While not precisely correct, it’s a good enough generalization for an American audience not really listening anyway. Obama’s remarks were not in the least controversial and just plain boring in terms of content. Certainly not newsworthy.
Yet he had no sooner closed his mouth than this media manufactured hell broke loose. “Oh my gawd,” they screamed. This guy has the unmitigated gall to suggest that their might be some bitterness out here in the lily white realms of Grant Wood, grange halls and Methodist church suppers! Right here in River City!” … where the combination of God rhetoric and Chamber of Commerce boosterism have managed to ban the word from public discourse. Even the mention of it can be explosive, simply because there is so much if it stuffed inside working folks, inside the lockbox of denial that comes with being the citizen of a culture in collapse.
Put more simply, the self-serving “blogger-reporters” and Hillary Clinton media machine had managed to kick Obama in the balls from behind.
Along with the bitterness charges came the guns and God stuff. Well, we Red State rubes out here in the working world do own a lot of guns, though very few of us “cling” to them in the desperate sense the speech implied. As to what Obama described as our clinging to religion, we do not so much cling to it as it clings to us … as a vestige of our heritage. It’s neither a good nor bad thing in and of itself, but mighty damned useful to fear mongering politicians and the screen writers of television crime shows. Hell, even I made a few bucks writing about its nastier side in my book Deer Hunting With Jesus.
For me, listening to politicians talk, then listening to the media talk about politicians talking, rates right up there with swapping spit with a gingivitis victim. I do not like nor trust nor much listen to Hillary, McCain or Obama. And I wouldn’t vote for any of the three even if they knocked on my door bearing a bucket of smoked pork ribs and a bottle of Jack Daniels. However, after hearing Obama’s March “race speech,” in Philadelphia, I can understand the Obama cult a little better. Although his speech was full of national clichés and meaningless soaring rhetoric, somehow it was still a goddamned good one, and right on in my opinion. Maybe I liked it because, like the poverty victim he brought forth in typical Democratic Pity Party fashion, I too have eaten mustard and relish sandwiches growing up (or when lacking those condiments, plain sugar on white bread.) I loved the speech. But I still ain’t drinking the Kool-Aid.
In any case, Obama has proven you cannot even use the innocuous word bitterness in conjunction with the national lie of white American culture. In the officially sanctioned media lexicon, Blacks can be angry, disillusioned and even bitter enough to burn down Watts. But the white race, being blessed by a Christian god and divine providence, never harbor bitterness in their hearts. The reason the word bitterness has caused such horror is because what is really going on out there is the sprouting seeds of class animosity. And no candidate or pontificating media mugwump dares touch that one because they are in the class that benefits from our classist society.
I’m from Winchester, Virginia, the very kind of place and people Obama was talking about when the rotten tomatoes started hailing down. So allow me to say this: we white members of the sweating class have been working alongside laboring immigrants, legal and illegal, for decades and have not been killing them with our personal arms in a rage of antipathy, in so far as I know. The reason, near as I can tell, is that we do not give a happy shit one way or another because most of us do not have interest or knowledge enough to fester on the topic. Nor the time. When we fester on stuff, it’s about making car payments and trying not to default on our mortgages. Working two and sometimes three jobs per household does not leave much time to develop political opinions, much less informed ones. I’d be willing to bet there is not a working class person within four blocks of where I now sit who has even heard of this media manufactured Obama fracas. Yesterday Smokey, the apartment maintenance man next door, helped me haul a dead washing machine to the city dump. I asked him what he thought about the Obama thing.
“Huh?” he said.
He spoke for millions.
Nobody out here that I know particularly “hates niggers”, blames Mexicans or is willing to use their personal firearms against any of those people, unless they find one of them crack crazed and coming in through a bedroom window at 2 AM, in which case there will be a loud boom, and the perp is gonna look like a pizza splattered up against the wall. Otherwise we just stand before the incompressible system that fucks us blind. And in that there is certain bitterness.
Let’s get to the nub of this thing here: Obama, Hillary and McCain are farting through silk while playing out their roles in our theatrical state’s false drama called presidential elections, while smug and media sanctioned pundits snark from the edge of the proscenium arc of politics, each hoping to draw enough attention to have his or her own proscenium in that national cathedral of the American consciousness — television.
Before too long this earth shaking “incident” will be drowned out by the accumulating noise of the election year. Then even the election’s hoopla will all be wiped away when Oprah Winfrey, in one of her ever grander spectacles of televised largess, gives away the city of Detroit to the sixth grade author of the most heart rending essay on black poverty.
November is still seven months away. No normal person can stand, much less relish, seven more months of all this. But we will wallow in it all for the same reason a hog spends most of its life knee deep in shit. It has no other choice, it has plenty of company, and doesn’t know any other way of life.
One of these days, when it comes to the thundering non-controversy of Obama’s remarks, the blogosphere and the media may start asking the right kinds of questions. The kind Smokey asked me after I explained the Obama controversy to him:
“Who the fuck cares?”
Joe Bageant, A Senior Contributing Editor to Cyrano’s Journal Online, is the author of Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War, from Random House/Crown about working class America. Bageant is also a contributor to Red State Rebels: Resistance in the Heartland edited by Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank, forthcoming this fall from AK Press. A complete archive of his online work, along with the thoughts of many working Americans on the subject of class, may be found at: http://www.joebageant.com. Feel free to contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.