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Ed Driscoll

Bitter Clingers in the Mist

August 20th, 2010 - 1:02 pm

Mark Finkelstein of Newsbusters spots Chuck Todd of MSNBC (who had worked for the 1992 campaign of phony Vietnam vet Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) before becoming a journalist) defending President Obama’s infamous “bitter clingers” speech from 2008 in a recent interview with Andrea Mitchell:

CHUCK TODD: I would say the real danger for the president on issues like this, is less about this, and more about — Paul Begala one time said this to me — he said, you know, the guy really is his mother’s son sometimes when it comes to studying society.  He’s anthropoligcal about it.  Remember that time when he was studying people in Pennsylvania, and he said to that fundraiser in Pennsylvania, you know they cling to their guns.  He wasn’t meaning it as demeaning in his mind, but it came across that way.

ANDREA MITCHELL: It’s intellectualized.

TODD: He’s the son of an anthropologist, and I think sometimes he goes about religion that way, almost in this, as I said because he’s very well studied on, not just Christianity but on a lot of religions, but in that, frankly, anthropological way, and that can come across as distant.

As the gang at Ricochet noted in their podcast yesterday, funny how a candidate sold to the public as “Spock-like” in 2008 turns out to be a president who’s cool, distant, aloof, and views half of the country as some sort of weird alien group to make First Contact with — when he isn’t insulting them of course. (For a guy sold as being “post-partisan,” he’s arguably the most openly partisan president since Harry Truman and FDR were explicitly comparing their ideological opponents to Nazis.)

But then, the far left viewing Middle America from a distant anthropological perspective is nothing new. Back in 2002, Jonah Goldberg described this anthropological mindset as an ongoing media theme of “Conservatives in the Mist.” As he wrote, “whenever I read liberals reporting about the goings-on of conservatives I always get the nature-documentary vibe:”

A liberal reporter puts on his or her Dian Fossey hat in order to attempt to write another installment of Conservatives in the Mist. I’ve followed this particular brand of reporting for years, it’s almost a fetish of mine. Most attempts fail. Of these lesser varieties, there’s fear (“Troglodytes!”), mockery (“Irrelevant troglodytes!”), condescension (“I had to explain to them they’re troglodytes.”), bewilderment (“Why don’t they understand they’re troglodytes?”), astonishment (Dear God, they’re not all troglodytes!”), and a few combinations of all the above. But sometimes they even succeed, to a point. Thus, like the real Dian Fossey, they manage to saunter into the leafy thickets of conservatism, and are welcomed into a band of gorillas. They hold out the equivalent of a banana or maybe a fistful of grubs for long enough and eventually we come sniffing around. We’re intrigued by the creature lavishing attention on us. And the reporter eventually begins to feel as though he has been accepted into the band. Eventually, we conservatives grow comfortable enough around them to return to our old patterns. We scratch and fight and do our gorilla things and the chronicler dutifully takes notes. The notes eventually make their way into an article for the New York Times or The New Yorker or Vanity Fair.

“Who knew?” the readers will say over their morning bagels and coffee in Southampton or Fire Island, “I had no idea conservatives were such intelligent creatures. Why they even have the capacity for emotion and even some rudimentary forms of kindness.”

Okay, this metaphor has gone on too long already. But there are a couple of points worth making before we abandon it. No matter how hard Dian Fossey tried, she was never actually a gorilla. Second, no matter how much attention she paid, it’s doubtful she understood what the gorillas were doing the way the gorillas themselves did. She may have gotten it right that BoBo was trying to woo Sally (or whatever the apes names were). But she probably could never understand the quality of the affection BoBo felt for Sally, in much the same way that an anthropologist or biologist can assert that you got married out of a natural human instinct to procreate but can’t tell you how you feel about your wife.

Oh, and one last thing: Conservatives aren’t gorillas, damnit!

Is it any wonder that wide swatches of the American public have tuned out on the president, and why the New York Times, which previously, had never met a religion it didn’t want to bash (well, until it found a religion that bashes back hard, of course) is forced to write damage control material such this:

The White House says Mr. Obama prays daily, sometimes in person or over the telephone with a small circle of Christian pastors. One of them, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, who was also a spiritual adviser to former President George W. Bush, telephoned a reporter on Wednesday, at the White House’s behest. He said he was surprised that the number of Americans who say Mr. Obama is Muslim is growing.

“I must say,” Mr. Caldwell said, “never in the history of modern-day presidential politics has a president confessed his faith in the Lord, and folks basically call him a liar.”

(As Frank Ross of Big Journalism quips, “Now where would anybody get that idea?”)

But then, never in the history of modern-day politics has a president viewed the American public not from the perspective of a fellow citizen, but as one of his Ruling Class boosters notes above, a research anthropologist.

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