God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

Crossposted at DailyKos

So this is what all the fuss is about:

You go into some of 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," Obama said. "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 to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

-- Senator Barack Obama

This is the statement that democratic rival Senator Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee John McCain are using to paint Senator Barack Obama as "out of touch" with the American working class voter, or worse, as an effete "elitist" (the same line of attack successfully employed against Senator John Kerry in 2004).

I know that it is customary in some circles to play "Gotcha" politics, to pounce on snippets of out-of-context remarks, and to do battle with sound bytes.  Already, we've seen a deluge of diaries at MyDD that parrot right wing talking points from the likes of Republican Ultra-Sleaze, Grover Norquist.

Putting that aside, let's briefly examine Obama's statement, and see if there is any validity to the notion that people in rural Pennsylvania, having faced decades of economic woe, have any tendency to express their frustrations via religious fundamentalism or spiritual devotion, assertive gun rights, and/or xenophobia.


Is there a correlation between economic adversity and religion?  Clearly, common sense tells us there is.  For those lacking, this study indicates that, both regionally and on grand scale, economic disparity and religiosity are strongly linked:

The survey finds a strong relationship between a country's religiosity and its economic status. In poorer nations, religion remains central to the lives of individuals, while secular perspectives are more common in richer nations. This relationship generally is consistent across regions and countries, although there are some exceptions, including most notably the United States, which is a much more religious country than its level of prosperity would indicate.

Despite her wealth, the United States is far more religious than other western industrialized nations, which tend to be more secular.  Interestingly, the only other prosperous nations with such quantities of devout "believers" are Arab states like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.  Some company.

The degree to which religion is widespread in the US, and its correlation to economic hardships is difficult to quantify.  We do know from some social science research, namely Congregations in America by sociologist Mark Chaves, that approximately 20 percent of all religious congregations in the United States are located in poor neighborhoods, where an overwhelming majority of the congregations are Christian churches.  Why?  It's no surprise that what when people lose their job, and by extension their sense of control over their own lives and well-being, that they might seek shelter in the religious traditions of their forbearers, neighbors, and families.

In this 2003 study conducted by  Katherine Meyer and Linda Lobao of the Department of Sociology, Rural Sociology Program, at Ohio State University, the differential effects of economic hardship and religion were examined by way of a sample of 800 Ohio farm men and women who reaped the  bitter harvest associated with the Midwestern farm crisis in the 1980s.  Arguably, this economic strife is analogous to other sectors in the Rust Belt where plant closings, job loss, and unemployment have ravaged the electorate, even during the much vaunted Clinton years.  Here's what they determined:

Findings demonstrated that economic hardship was a consistent predictor of stress and depression for both genders.  Membership in Fundamentalist denominations increased men's well-being.  Affiliation with any religious group enhanced women's mental health. Physical health and social support were associated with lower stress and depression.  Coping techniques had mixed effects on stress and depression with both avoidance/denial and support seeking associated with more adverse mental health outcomes.  This study shows that macro-level structural changes can result in a context of economic hardship where factors assumed to buffer adverse mental health outcomes fail to do so and where previously neglected factors, such as religion, become important mediators of hardship.

Obviously, there are a diversity of impetuses for religion and spirituality.  We won't delve into those outside of the economic spectrum as they are not germane to the topic.  The aforementioned studies do suggest, in a nutshell, that some people do in fact cling to religion because it makes them feel better.  Where else can they turn when government does little or nothing to improve their opportunity?


Do the economically downtrodden cling to the ideology surrounding the advocacy of gun rights?

According to Joan Burbick, author of Gun Show Nation: Gun Culture and American Democracy :

The symbolic meaning of owning a gun is to reclaim political power, demonize minorities, distort the issue of crime in America, express contempt for women gaining access to power, and distract Americans from the real issues of democracy.

Ironically, the first hints of gun control in America emerged from the Civil War era South.  Such motivations, stoked by white fears of armed blacks, were anchored to the model of distrust for the South's class considered both different and inferior: Americans of African descent.

Joan Burbick (cited above) posits that the movement championing Second Amendment rights was born of the social unrest of the 1960s.  She argues that conservatives responded to blacks' and women's demands for rights by deliberately co-opting the language of civil rights to appeal to a disaffected white electorate, thereby birthing a strong conservative response to liberal efforts aimed at achieving social, economic, and racial justice.

Later, we've seen the National Rifle Association (NRA) secure their claim to a "gun rights ideology" that uses gun issues as political weapons to attack virtually every progressive idea, especially on issues of poverty and race.  It's a conservative wedge strategy that has successfully caused the rural people to vote against their own economic interests, and played a significant role in the creation of the bloc we now call "Reagan Democrats".

In addition to a move toward religion, it would seem that economic adversity may push people toward a gun rights ideology that, while cloaked in a mythic tradition and nostalgic "frontier" mentality, serves largely to ensure the political power of conservatives.


According to the American Psychological Association:

The causes of racism and related intolerance and the means for their perpetuation are complex, involving legal vulnerability and discrimination, economic and educational disadvantage, social and political marginalization, and psychological victimization.

Emphasis added, and that ought to be enough to link economic woe to racism and xenophobia.  It's ugly, but it happens. The discourse is ill-served to pretend that it doesn't.


Obama has often said:

We can't just tell people what they want to hear, we need to tell people what they need to hear.

Despite the Republican (and sadly some Democratic) wailings and trumped up outrage over condescending elitism, I'm of the opinion that he's done just that.  Catherine Crier notes:

Pulling the curtain back on a very effective political trick, the old bait and switch, is far from elitist. Americans are working harder than ever. Two job families are the norm. Yet the poor and middle class are falling further behind. What is breathtakingly condescending is watching two candidates stroke this group with platitudes about their being tough and resilient. What exactly has that gotten them? Nada. The real stereotype Clinton and McCain are playing on is that blue collar workers are easily manipulated and will 'stay down' if you just tell them they are hardworking, patriotic, value-driven Americans.

Has Senator Obama dealt himself a fatal blow with this "misstatement"?  Time will tell, but I seriously doubt it.  He's responded to the criticism aggressively, but has not altered his premise, saying only that he probably could've "said it better".  We've seen both derision and support from media outlets.

Over at Huffington Post, Tom D'Antoni concludes that:

The misguided mainstream media may be right about one thing, this may be a turning point, the point at which Americans begin to listen to a politician who tells the truth and refuses to pander, to stoop as low as Senator Clinton and the rest of the Republicans.


Tags: 2008, Barack Obama, elitism, guns, religion (all tags)



Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

The metanarrative - -

Even though everything you say may be true, it is the perception of these comments that matters - and matters in a very real political sense.

Being right doesn't mean getting elected.

by johnnygunn 2008-04-12 05:12PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

Only time will tell, I suppose.

by fogiv 2008-04-12 05:16PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

At least you are talking about this rationally. I am more than willing to have a reasonable conversation about whether or not this hurts Obama... I think it hurts in the short term but actually helps in the medium term... the long term is more complicated but I think it really depends on how he plays it from here on out.

What I am sick of is the people here, who probably are nowhere near the economic status of the people he was talking about, being outraged that he said it.

by JDF 2008-04-12 05:23PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

From rural PA, 36 yo White male, lower middle class...I wasn't pissed off at all...He told the truth...

by hootie4170 2008-04-12 06:00PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

I have the feeling you are very far from alone in those sentiments!

by JDF 2008-04-12 06:04PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

Sorry, I could not digest your comment fully...  I am still full from the screaming headline in huffingtonpost about Clinton becoming a gun lover...

Didn't that not work spectacularly with Kerry...?

by JenKinFLA 2008-04-12 07:53PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

Perceptions matter, but because they give us information about the world.

Politicians and pundits have been talking about media generated short term perceptions for the last 20 years. And you know what has happened...

Nobody trusts them anymore.

That Obama has touched these so called live rail issues, and survived, in fact often prospered, is one  of the most hopeful things you can take out this primary season

by brit 2008-04-13 12:34PM | 0 recs
Cup O Pencils.

Okay, this is my first diary.  It's not nearly as complete or thorough as I'd like, but these are some pretty heady topics.  Hopefully it will serve as a springboard for some open discourse (beyond the typical flame wars).


by fogiv 2008-04-12 05:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Cup O Pencils.

And a good one at that.

by johnnygunn 2008-04-12 05:19PM | 0 recs
Re: Cup O Pencils.


by fogiv 2008-04-12 05:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Cup O Pencils.
Great diary! Thanks and a recommendation.
Funny coincidence that we were composing similar thoughts into similar diaries at precisely the same time.  See mine immediately below yours.
by haystax calhoun 2008-04-12 05:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Cup O Pencils.

On my way.  Thanks!

by fogiv 2008-04-12 05:32PM | 0 recs
Re: The Beecher Rifle and Bible Church

And, obviously, many people do not know their Kansas history.

Anti-slavery settlers from Massachusetts and elsewhere in the North risked all to create a free state in Kansas when faced with the pro-slavery atmosphere of the 1850s, the political blackmail of Popular Sovereignty, and the physical intimidation of Missouri Pukes.

These folks were highly educated, prosperous, and devoted to the abolition of slavery.  And their church??

The Beecher Rifle and Bible Church:

http://abyss.kgs.ku.edu/pls/abyss/pubcat .phd1.View_Photo?f_id=2121&f_hd=Y

by johnnygunn 2008-04-12 05:18PM | 0 recs
Re: The Beecher Rifle and Bible Church

This was a different time when people were as a whole more likely to be religious and more likely to own guns. Lets at least be intellectually honest with our arguments.

by JDF 2008-04-12 05:24PM | 0 recs
Re: The Beecher Rifle and Bible Church

You are really full of yourself today.
I'm glad you define when and where people are "truly" religious and when and where they are not.  The responsibility must weigh heavily on you.

I use the example of the Jayhawkers for a number of reasons.  
First, they were people who were educated, hard-working, and relatively prosperous.
Second, there is the connection between Kansas and Senator Obama's origins.
Third, a community relied upon their faith and their ability to defend themselves to advance the cause of abolition - so not religious gun owners have been bigots.
And fourth, KU just won the NCAA title.

by johnnygunn 2008-04-12 05:39PM | 0 recs
Re: The Beecher Rifle and Bible Church

Happily, I won a six-pack on the Jayhawks.  :)

by fogiv 2008-04-12 05:42PM | 0 recs
Re: The Beecher Rifle and Bible Church

I wish I had been on Massachusetts St. in Lawrence.
Quite the party.


I'm just not ready to make totalizing statements about either religious affiliation or gun ownership. Remember that it was the SCLC that was central to the civil rights movement in the 1960s - along with support of many mainstream white Christian and Jewish congregations. And Canadians have gun ownership rates approaching that of the U.S., probably equal in rural areas of each country; yet, the Canadian discourse on guns is entirely different.

I can say one thing with certainty.  Rural people have guns.  I have an 87-year-old friend who went out in the middle of the night and shot a mountain lion that was going after her Mother Goose and her hens.  She is a wonderful, independent, progressive person - but you don't fuck with her chickens.

Are there some jackasses of the religious and gun-toting stripe? You betcha, but to paint with a wide brush is almost always incorrect - and inconsiderate, too.

by johnnygunn 2008-04-12 06:00PM | 0 recs
Fair Point

Are there some jackasses of the religious and gun-toting stripe? You betcha, but to paint with a wide brush is almost always incorrect - and inconsiderate, too.

I grew up in rural California.  My Dad and Brother combined have more guns than the Canadian Army, and they're progressive Dems through and through.  Rest assured, the story of the 87 year old friend rings true to me.

I certainly don't intend to lump everyone into the bible thumpin' nutso cateory, and I don't think Obama did either.  That said, when you look at a broad swath of people on a macro-scale, you gotta generalize to some extent, relative to the topic.

It's a diary, not a dissertation.  ;)

I assumed, maybe in error, that folks would know I wasn't trying to characterize EVERYONE as a dupe.  

by fogiv 2008-04-12 06:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Fair Point

And it's a very good diary.
One of the best here, of late.

I just don't agree with everything you say. Fair enough?
However, you have shamed me into trying a little harder.

by johnnygunn 2008-04-12 06:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Fair Point

Fair enough.

Thanks, I appreciate both the comment and the candor.  

by fogiv 2008-04-12 06:54PM | 0 recs
Re: The Beecher Rifle and Bible Church

It has nothing to do with being truly religous or not. Our society has become more secular since the era you were talking about. Look at the numbers of people who identify as non-religous. Look at the number of people who subscirbe to "alternate religions." Hell, look at the percentage of people who attend church now as opposed to then.

My point was not that people who are religious to day "don't mean it" it was that a higher percentage of people IN THAT TIME went to church, and a higher percentage likely would have identified themselves as relgious compared to today.

Clearly you missed my point or you wouldn't have been so hot-headed and snarky about it.

by JDF 2008-04-12 05:53PM | 0 recs
Re: The Beecher Rifle and Bible Church

As a brief follow up to my previous statement.

According to a Univeristy of Michigan Survey the number of Americans who attend church fell from 60% to 55% from 1984 to 1998.

According to a Time Use Survey by the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics weekly attendance fell from 42% in 1964 to 26% in 1994.

These two bits of data suggest that as of the mid 90's somewhere between 55% and 26% of people attended church on a regular basis.

Would you be willing to bet that those numbers were higher in the 1850's.

* Note***
I found these numbers using Google over the span of about ten minutes being as I didn't feel like spending the whole of my evening researching something I think we all understand as common sense.

and yes, I am full of myself. I am an elitist. I an live with that.

by JDF 2008-04-12 06:01PM | 0 recs
Re: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Jonathan Edwards didn't preach this sermon because the congregation was a model of Christianity.  In fact, they were backsliding.  The Great Awakening was waning.  People were going back to their wayward ways.

New Englanders were famous for valuing material advancement over spiritual advancement - thus the need for the Half-Way Covenant since it was harder and harder to find the really, really true believers. Why would you have something called the  Half-Way Covenant if you had enough people who went all the way?

But if you talk numbers, many Americans were "unchurched" - in fact the word, in its colonial and early republican meanings, points to a society with a wide range of religious views and participation. Many slaves from West Africa still practiced versions of Islam or animism, albeit secretly. People in frontier areas had no access to churches.  Records indicate that there were always plenty of vitriolic nonbelievers.

The religious era you may reference took place about a century ago during the third great wave of religiosity in American history. On the positive side you had the emergence of the Social Gospel and Reform Judaism. On the more negative, you had the anti-evolutionists and anti-Catholicism.

by johnnygunn 2008-04-12 06:37PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

Check out the "Great Disappointment"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Disap pointment

Not unlike the Rapturists of today, the Millerites believed that Christ would return on various dates - pushed back a few times - in 1843 and 1844. When they finally settled on October 22nd, the faithful went out to hilltops across the country dressed in pure white robes - waiting to be transported to heaven.

The name given the day shows how broadly they were mocked in the wider American culture - in fact, I would argue, far more than Rapturists and Creationists are today.

The young American nation was more irreligious and heathen than many are aware. British missionary societies - esp. the Methodists - were always sending preachers across the ocean to save lost American souls.

by johnnygunn 2008-04-12 06:16PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

I always why there isn't a movie about the Millerites.  

by fogiv 2008-04-12 06:24PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

Arggg.  Wondered.  I always wondered...

Must.  Use.  Preview.

by fogiv 2008-04-12 06:26PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

Comedy or tragedy?

by johnnygunn 2008-04-12 06:38PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

Coen brothers.  SO both.  :)

by fogiv 2008-04-12 06:43PM | 0 recs
Re: A Story

We can't just tell people what they want to hear, we need to tell people what they need to hear.

Years ago I worked at a Mexican restaurant near Duke University. I was finished with undergrad, but continued to study with my piano professor.  One Wednesday night I was scheduled to be the early person - early on, early off.  My professor was giving a concert, but I felt that I would get out in time with no problem - even though I was unable to switch nights with anybody.  Well, Dina never showed up - so I had to stay to closing and missed the concert.

Now Dina was famous for powdering her nose.  In fact, some friends said that they had seen her out all night the night before - totally fucked up.  On Friday afternoon I got to work and just waited for her to show up. My friend John said, "Don't bother. It's a waste of time and energy." I replied, "Well, she NEEDS to know what she caused."

Dina walked in the kitchen entrance. I waylaid her. Told her in no uncertain terms all of her transgressions.  And you know what she said?

"Go fuck yourself."

I learned from then on that what somebody may need or not need to know is immaterial.

by johnnygunn 2008-04-12 06:47PM | 0 recs
Re: A Story

Ahh.  The horse to water argument.  No denying that one.

by fogiv 2008-04-12 09:48PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

Good night, bucket.

by johnnygunn 2008-04-12 06:58PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

Night JG!

by fogiv 2008-04-12 09:55PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

I study sociology of religion, especially religion in American Politics...and your diary is dead on.  I think Obama was actually rephrasing the much-overhiped but sound "Whats the Matter with Kansas."

I wish he hadn't of said it, yes.  But, I also find it rather wrong for the Clinton Campaign to attack on something that is truthful

by CardBoard 2008-04-12 07:16PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth


by fogiv 2008-04-12 09:48PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

The whole guns thing has to do with power and dominance that men in America need to feel. It stems from the beginning of the US. The fact we won a violent revolution made our people very arrogant, as great as it was that we won. That, I think is behind the whole NRA in the first place, and why gun laws have been so lax in the US over the years. But it HAS been used as a wedge issue. It may have been the reason Al Gore didn't win other states in 2000 that coulda landed him in the White House. We should be careful, and Obama should have been careful about that. Now, the NRA will do what it can to take him out. They cost us 2000. With the religion, yea that was bad, but tomorrow at the faith forum I have a feeling he will redeem himself. This long campaign is almost good for him, so he can get his gaffes out now before November.

by DiamondJay 2008-04-12 08:32PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

Yeah. Well, your partly right.  The whole gun issue is so complex and nuanced.  As El Duderino would say, "There's a whole lot of facets to this thing, Man."  It's funny, beacuse I thougt I had a fairly good grasp of the issue until I started the remedial research for the diary.

It wasn't long before I was like:  Whoa, I'm in over my head here.  SO MUCH INFORMATION.

Thanks for the comment!

by fogiv 2008-04-12 09:54PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth

Great analysis Fogiv. Though the top and tail of this piece is partisan, the research and work you've put into nailing these wedge issues is fantastic. Better than I've seen in the mainstream media. And if there was such a prize for MYDD Diary of the Month you'd win it.

by brit 2008-04-13 12:36PM | 0 recs
Re: God, Guns, and Politics: The Power of Truth


by fogiv 2008-04-13 12:50PM | 0 recs


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