Over at Powerline, there is an interesting post on how Barack Obama backtracked in his Indiana speech yesterday to counter "his elitist disparagement of 'small town' voters" in an earlier speech in San Francisco.
In San Francisco, Obama had said: "So it's not surprising then that [when voters] 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."
In Indiana, he polished this, so that it came out:
People don't vote on economic issues because they don't expect anybody is going to help them. So people end up voting on issues like guns and are they going to have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. They take refuge in their faith and their community, and their family, and the things they can count on. But they don't believe they can count on Washington.
While Obama is indeed engaging in spin, there is a far more disturbing aspect to his interpretation. He misses the essential nature of modern culture. People don't end up focusing on issues like the right to bear arms, gay marriage, faith-based and family-based issues, and the like, because of bitterness against Washington or a sense that they can't effect change there. People focus on these issues because modern American political culture is, effectively, about subcultures, variety, pursuing parochial aims, and shaping one's identity and personal agendas independently of the state.
What Obama implicitly regards (in both his statements) as signs of disintegration, as reflections of popular frustration, are in fact examples of a thriving culture. Exceptions to this, of course, are anti-immigration sentiment and bigoted protectionism, both of which Obama conveniently dropped in his Indiana comments. Yet Obama's approach betrays a very suffocating vision of the state as the be-all and end-all of political-cultural behavior. Outside the confines of the state there is no salvation, only resentment. This is nonsense, but it also partly explains why Obama is so admired among educated liberals, who still view the state as the main medium of American providence.