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Bitter Clingers 2.0

Clingers 1.0: “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. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Clingers 2.0: Certain circumstances around being the first African-American president that might not have confronted a previous president, absolutel.  … If you are referring to specific strains in the Republican Party that suggest that somehow I'm different, I'm Muslim, I'm disloyal to the country, etc., which unfortunately is pretty far out there and gets some traction in certain pockets of the Republican Party, and that have been articulated by some of their elected officials, what I'd say there is that that's probably pretty specific to me and who I am and my background, and that in some ways I may represent change that worries them…. If you are living in a town that historically has relied on coal and you see coal jobs diminishing, you probably are going to be more susceptible to the argument that I've been wiping out the economy in your area .… I think if you are talking about the specific virulence of some of the opposition directed towards me, then, you know, that may be explained by the particulars of who I am.”

Barack Obama in the final stretch of his 2008 primary campaign explained away—off the record in an unguarded moment—his unpopularity in Pennsylvania. The problem then was a biased “them”—not so much the hard-left policies and principles of Barack Obama.

These narrow-minded clingers were supposedly not fond of Obama and similar others “who aren’t like them.” Thus, because of their parochialism, nativism, and fundamentalism, the unenlightened voters of Pennsylvania were unable to appreciate Obama’s message of “hope and change” and vero possumus—much less his landmark promises to return the Presidency to constitutional restraint, radically improve American health care, end the role of big money in politics, solve the “bad” Iraq war and win the “good” Afghan war, cool the planet and recede the seas, end government scandal, bridge the racial divide, balance the budget, reset relations with Russia, and win back the hearts and minds of the Muslim world.

For some reason, the under-educated voter seven years ago was skeptical that Obama would do any of that. Of course, Obama smeared the Clingers off the record, given that what he really thought of the white working class of Pennsylvania did not quite synch with his purported racial and class ecumenicalism.

Seven years later an unpopular (43% approval rate in the RealClearPolitics.com aggregate poll), lame-duck President Obama has come full circle in his angst and pouting. Now with no more elections looming, nothing apparently is off the record. He recently gave an interview with NPR, in which he offered a sort of Clingers 2.0 exegesis for his current poor approval ratings and absence of a legacy.

Once again the fault is with an ignorant “them” and their biases (e.g., “I may represent change that worries them”), not Obama’s own unimpressive record of governance.

A liberated Obama is more overt in his sense of victimization. Now he can be more explicit than his Clingers 1.0 indictment and quite openly allege that his family’s background and race best explain his plight ("I think if you are talking about the specific virulence of some of the opposition directed towards me, then, you know, that may be explained by the particulars of who I am”). But as before, the Obama victimization argument fails in a variety of ways, and, sadly, tells us more about the president himself than those who he alleges were captives of their prejudices.

If “who I am” explains Obama’s nosedive in the polls, why, for example, did voters or “pockets” of “the Republican Party” for nearly a year, at least in opinion samplings, seem to like newcomer African-American Ben Carson more so than better connected white male candidates, both party functionaries such as Jeb Bush and John Kasich, and erstwhile Tea-Party favorites such as Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker? Was Ben Carson less authentically representative of the American black experience than Barack Obama?

How did it happen that Barack Obama in 2008 won a larger share of the white vote than had white liberal presidential candidates of the past such as Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, and Walter Mondale? And if the white votes of nearly 55% against Obama in 2008 and 59% in 2012 are, according to the president, windows into racial bias, what would he call the 93% of the black vote that went to an African-American Obama?

Was that unprecedented margin likewise driven, in Obama’s worldview, by “who I am” rather than his prior record of political achievement? If Hillary Clinton continues to support the Obama agenda, will she too garner 93% of the African-American vote? But if not, will it be due to “who I am” considerations?