October 23, 2012

The center of America, Obama wrote, is "a place where decency and endurance and the pioneer spirit were joined at the hip with conformity and suspicion and the potential for unblinking cruelty."

I'm just dipping back into "Dreams from My Father," looking for something — looking to see if the young Obama, the child Obama, ever played the Hasbro game "Battleship," which somehow sprang to his mind last night at the debate as he was talking about the military. That phrase has nothing to do with battles or toys, but it leaped out at me for its similarity to his old "bitter clingers" remark:
"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... 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."
Here's the larger context for the quote in the post headline:

But an old, sepia-toned photograph on the bookshelf... showed Toot’s grandparents, of Scottish and English stock, standing in front of a ramshackle homestead, unsmiling and dressed in coarse wool, their eyes squinting at the sun-baked, flinty life that stretched out before them. Theirs were the faces of American Gothic, the WASP bloodline’s poorer cousins....
 That was the world in which my grandparents had been raised, the dab-smack, landlocked center of the country, a place where decency and endurance and the pioneer spirit were joined at the hip with conformity and suspicion and the potential for unblinking cruelty. They had grown up less than twenty miles away from each other—my grandmother in Augusta, my grandfather in El Dorado, towns too small to warrant boldface on a road map—and the childhoods they liked to recall for my benefit portrayed small-town, Depression-era America in all its innocent glory: Fourth of July parades and the picture shows on the side of a barn; fireflies in a jar and the taste of vine-ripe tomatoes, sweet as apples; dust storms and hailstorms and classrooms filled with farm boys who got sewn into their woolen underwear at the beginning of winter and stank like pigs as the months wore on.

62 comments:

pbAndjFellowRepublican said...

"replaced them... And it's not surprising"

What is the larger context for the middle of this quote? Why choose to leave it out?


P.S.
Does Althouse really think that BHO's comments were a spontaneous response (somehow tied to his youth) to a well worn Romney talking point? Sheesh.

Freeman Hunt said...

The middle part of America is more cruel than the side parts? Or rural areas are more cruel than city areas?

I do not believe that crime statistics bear that out.

bagoh20 said...

Those bitter clingers Obama was referring to are my people. I know them. They are split on politics, and split on Obama/Romney, with a longstanding preference for Democrats in general. They are mostly pro union. But, all this is changing as the new generation forgets the past. His strength is with the clingers there.

Moose said...

So it's the other for Obama. He was a tourist in so many other cultures, he couldn't help but see his own country as a stop on a sightseeing tour.
Look at the non-colorful natives! How icky! How unlike my diverse background!

Kirk Parker said...

'dab-smack'???

See? More proof he's not really American, he got that backwards...

Mitchell said...

According to Obama, if you go to the center of America, you'll find Siamese twins.

Perhaps they migrated east from San Francisco, along with the Chinese.

Michael said...

"unblinking cruelty" Ah, the heartland.

Shouting Thomas said...

My family is from the same place.

bagoh is right. Obama's strength is with the clingers.

Nostalgia for the days when people were "guaranteed" a job is what drives Obama supporters among my family in the Midwest. So, the fact that the old jobs died is the source of great anger.

The fact that new jobs were created doesn't register. I keep telling my family that I work in the internet and that my jobs for the past 20 years were created by investment by venture capitalists.

It's as if they are incapable of registering that remark. The only thing they have to say is that the awful Romney "shipped jobs overseas."

There are always winners and losers. What the Obama clingers want is for the government to pick the winners and losers.

X said...

have you wingnuts never heard of New York charm or hospitality? Do you know nothing of L.A. nice?

Pogo said...

Obama seems unaware that "conformity and suspicion and the potential for unblinking cruelty" are the basic condition of man the world over, unchanged for centuries, until decency and endurance and the pioneer spirit were set loose in America in 1776.

EMD said...

Pogo wins.

furious_a said...

Those bitter clingers Obama was referring to are my people.

Amen. My older cousin (35 years teaching in Western PA public schools) still clings bitterly to her Bible as a Presby deacon. Her husband (retired brakeman and UTU Local president) clung bitterly to his rifle as an airborne trooper in Korea back in '52.

creeley23 said...

I read colorful, well-written passages like this from Dreams and I just don't believe Obama wrote them without editorial help so vast that the book was effectively ghostwritten.

Obama has no history as a writer beyond some perfectly dreadful college poems and a letter to the editor he published after becoming president of Harvard Law Review so replete with grammatical errors and incomplete sentences that it would be embarrassing to an undergraduate, much less the president of the Harvard Law Review -- a position which ordinarily, though not in Obama's case, involves much writing and editing.

Nonetheless, about the time he wrote this letter, he received a call from a literary agent who got him a contract to write a book. He sailed through the deadline, she got him another advance and contract and a few years later, Dreams was published to great acclaim even from literary prizewinners like Michael Chabon.

Another Obama fairy tale. I'm beginning to believe that we will see the full deconstruction of this man sooner rather than later.

chrisnavin.com said...

ST-

That's partly why Obama picked Biden. He's the old school, protectionist, blue-collar, working man's Democrat.

Obama is the new school coalition: Blacks, Hispanics, Greens, The New Left, White liberal elites, women if he can pander successfully to Althouse.

You've put your finger on the most important part: the economy has shifted to high-skill, high-pay, positions. It's tech driven, competitive (finance and tech merging to gain any advantage...like the quants), and it's more global.

Our politics are behind the times, and maybe so are we.

Tim said...

"...a place where decency and endurance and the pioneer spirit were joined at the hip with conformity and suspicion and the potential for unblinking cruelty.

Because, you see, the people who left the comforts of home to push and build America's frontier, who fought in the Civil War and all the wars that followed, who dealt with tornadoes, drought, dust-storms, unstable crop prices, out on the prairies, really did have time for a rich cultural diversity and tolerance for the strange stranger, but failed to do so because of close-minded intolerance for the "other."

Because, you see, New Yorkers, New Englanders, and other cosmopolitans in "blue state America" aren't amongst the very most provincial and close-minded people you'll meet in America. Just visit the faculty lounge or read any major city newspaper editorial.

They make those who live in "fly-over" country seem positively free of orthodox and cant.

Ann Althouse said...

"What is the larger context for the middle of this quote? Why choose to leave it out?"

Since I've given you the link, obviously you can see for yourself.

If you want to insinuate that I'm being devious, point to what I left out and say why.

alan markus said...

Speaking of "context", I loved the Scott Adams (Dilbert creator) reactions to his blog post endorsing Romney (mostly because of Obama's prosecution of someone selling medicinal marijuana. Talk about "context":

[Update: Congratulations to Politico for being the first to take this post out of context. I'm a little disappointed in Jezebel, Gawker and Salon for being slow to the party. Are all of their context-removers on vacation or something?]

[Update 2: Nipping on the heels of Politico, Mediaite.com weighs in with their own out-of-context outrage. They managed to throw in some charges of racism and something about rape. Well done.]

[Update 3: Kudos to Reason.com for doing a good job preserving the context of this post while still quoting from it. Notice their story headline shows they understand the central point of my post. And since their readership probably overlaps a lot with mine, my writing makes sense in their environment too. That rarely happens. -- Scott]

[Update 4: Meanwhile, at Huffington Post, where context goes to die, a key point in my blog post has been summarized as: ". . . cartoonist Scott Adams said he's under the impression Romney would be softer on marijuana than President Barack Obama." Is that how you would interpret my sentence "Romney is likely to continue the same drug policies as the Obama administration"? If not, you can't write for Huffington Post.

[Update 5: Daily Kos takes the context destruction trophy by proudly quoting from the Politico article's out-of-context treatment. Daily Kos scored a rare "double" by taking out of context a piece that was already out of context. Their under-informed readers chimed in to point out that they are sure I don't believe in evolution, which I've often publicly said meets the tests to be called a scientific fact. Another commenter points out that I must hate women because the Alice character is getting less time in Dilbert. You can't get that kind of insight anywhere but Daily Kos."


My favorite, #4: Huffington Post, where context goes to die

'DILBERT' AUTHOR ENDORSES ROMNEY, PROFESSIONAL LEFT FREAKS OUT

Ann Althouse said...

""unblinking cruelty" Ah, the heartland."

Might explain Obama's icy stare trained on Romney for the entire debate last night.

DADvocate said...

Freeman - It's the potential for unblinking cruelty, not the actual cruelty. Besides, they blink a lot while being cruel in the coastal regions. Something to do with the salty air.

mccullough said...

You have to wonder if Obama ever thinks of people as individuals and knows how to communicate with people as individuals. Everyone is 2-dimensional in Obama world. He should be in academia.

bgates said...

They have that posted on the signs at the state line now.

Welcome to Kansas,
"a place where decency and endurance and the pioneer spirit were joined at the hip with conformity and suspicion and the potential for unblinking cruelty."

It was part of the stimulus bill.

A gift from Obama to Sibelius or something.

chrisnavin.com said...

Maybe that's why we're paying so much attention to our politics: The less we think we have, the more anxiety and uncertainty we feel, the more we try and cling and defend to what's here.

I'd submit that we're also reliving the rise of the New Left and the 60's through our politics. Stanley Ann Dunham felt many of the same forces that Althouse did in the 60's: Break with tradition and authority. Explore the world and the self. Try freedom. Don't be square!

Stanley went from Kansas to Seattle to Hawaii to Indonesia, flirting with communism and far Left liberalism, looking for the romantic true other and perhaps the "noble savage" the anthroplogical trap door out of those traditions and authority.


Althouse played it safer, was a hippie chick, artistic, counter-culture but rode the wave back into an extremely conservative tradition (law) upon the back of feminism, using her natural gifts and new opportunity in those institutions. In a sense, she's a truer feminist that these sad waves of activist idiots and establishment ideologues.

Anyways, now we're choosing between Romney (son of one of the big 3 auto makers who went from cars into finance along with his generation) and Ryan (Small town wonky, practicing Catholic who got bitten by Ayn Rand and objectivism). Both are family men and pretty conservative, but are of course politicians and bending with the times (less religious, less traditional).

and the son of Stanley...a family man, but a man of the New, progressive, activist and redistributionist Left. He's got to give race speeches and talk to white liberals on the Main Line and in Boston.

Either way, the economic ground is shifting beneath our feet.

Ann Althouse said...

"I read colorful, well-written passages like this from Dreams and I just don't believe Obama wrote them without editorial help so vast that the book was effectively ghostwritten."

It's obvious to me that the writing is bad, bad in that special way that's caused by trying to be good. It's "creative writing," and it's laughable.

You need to recognize what is so horrible about things like: "...standing in front of a ramshackle homestead, unsmiling and dressed in coarse wool, their eyes squinting at the sun-baked, flinty life that stretched out before them."

That's actually the style of writing The Onion often uses for comic effect, but Obama was trying to be super-deep.

People don't just look at things, their "eyes squint." And they squint at the flint. Inane rhyming. Things aren't just hot, they're "sun-baked." And it's not a person who is flinty and sun-baked, it's their whole life. And the future isn't just the future, it's "life... stretched out before them." It's some kind of desolate, parched plain, because they're out there on the prairie, with the baking sun, which is making them squint, and life is hard, so of course, they turn into dessicated hulls of humanity. What's left but guns and religion for these hard-bitten, flinty, squinty losers?

Don't Tread 2012 said...

Can someone explain to me exactly what are these VALUES that Choom is always going on about???

I'm thinking they have nothing to do with an American experience.

Lem said...

Battleship (also Battleships or Sea Battle[1]) is a guessing game for two players. It is known worldwide as a pencil and paper game which predates World War I. It was published by Milton Bradley Company in 1931 as the pad-and-pencil game "Broadsides, the Game of Naval Strategy", and as a board game in 1967...

I don't think they had horses and bayonets in battleships... they probably had binders of women though.

bgates said...

a place where decency and endurance and the pioneer spirit were joined at the hip with conformity and suspicion and the potential for unblinking cruelty

-except among the black people.

(A fun thing to do, when you hear someone casually slander America in whole or part, is invite him to make an exception for black people. Then he has to choose between slandering black Americans, which some people somehow find more distasteful than slandering all Americans, or senselessly elevating black people above everyone else, which sounds bigoted and silly because it is.)

PatCA said...

The immaturity of this man is astounding.

chrisnavin.com said...

Barry is deep, Althouse. Looooook into his eyes. Get lost in his adolescent prose and the story of Barry O.

Feel the magic again.

There, isn't that better?

Now get on down to that voting booth or Sandra Fluke will have to buy her own god-d**m birth control pills.

gerry said...

If you want to insinuate that I'm being devious, point to what I left out and say why.

But it's so much fun just to insinuate that you are being devious!

gerry said...

What's left but guns and religion for these hard-bitten, flinty, squinty losers?

Good heavens, LOL!

Dust Bunny Queen said...

That's actually the style of writing The Onion often uses for comic effect

Similar to the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest entries. Laughably bad overblown writing. But....at least they are trying to be bad on purpose.

X said...

creeley23 said...

I loved that illiterate letter creely. the best part was where Obama thought employers might look at Chen as an affirmative action beneficiary.

EMD said...

I don't want to pretend to know what minorities went through in the years prior to the Civil Rights movement. (Or even in specific instances afterward.)

The closest I've come is through books like Black Like Me or The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

It's true: American has often been a place of cruelty towards certain people. I can't ignore that.

What troubles me is the blanket-ism of his statements. The assuredness that the unenlightened are all the same and share the same habits.

They both come from the same weird place of not 'understanding the other.'

Paul Risenhoover said...

creeley23 said...

I loved that illiterate letter creely. the best part was where Obama thought employers might look at Chen as an affirmative action beneficiary.

Pogo said...

Obama was trying some fast-blinking cruelty in the debate last night, but Romney just smiled and tilted his head.

bgates said...

I read "Dreams From My Father" -- that is, I listened to Obama read it -- and I didn't think it was so brilliantly written. It had a creative-writing-class feeling to it that often made me feel a little embarrassed for the novice writer. There were so many times when the leaves or the sky were expressing his feelings and so forth. It was good, but earnest.

Althouse four years ago, in a post I won't link because of an almost certainly spurious Google warning about malware, emphasis added.

It's obvious to me that the writing is bad, bad in that special way that's caused by trying to be good. It's "creative writing," and it's laughable.

Althouse today. It's bad, bad in that special way that's caused by trying to be good, and it is good, but earnest. Earnest and laughable.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

"What troubles me is the blanket-ism of his statements. The assuredness that the unenlightened are all the same and share the same habits. "

The progressive pushes the 'fairness' meme as a means to an end - where a malleable and ignorant populace can be controlled.

"The salvation of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants".

DADvocate said...

It's obvious to me that the writing is bad, bad in that special way that's caused by trying to be good. It's "creative writing," and it's laughable.

It reminds me of those "It was a dark and stormy night..." bad writing contests.

BarrySanders20 said...

bgates said:

"Althouse four years ago, in a post I won't link because of an almost certainly spurious Google warning about malware, emphasis added.

It's obvious to me that the writing is bad, bad in that special way that's caused by trying to be good. It's "creative writing," and it's laughable.

Althouse today. It's bad, bad in that special way that's caused by trying to be good, and it is good, but earnest. Earnest and laughable."

And comparing the book review then and now is a stand-in for the evolution of Althouse's changed opinion of the man. Then he was earnest and full of hope. Now he's laughable.

Rusty said...

EMD said...
I don't want to pretend to know what minorities went through in the years prior to the Civil Rights movement. (Or even in specific instances afterward.)


I don't know, but prior to 1969 and the Great Society, the black middle class closely resembled the white middle class and weren't far behind economically.

grackle said...

… the potential for unblinking cruelty.

What type of society would not possess at least the potential for cruelty? A politically correct, hypocrisy-riddled, unrealistic utopia that always ends up being much crueler than what it replaced, I think

creeley23 said...

You need to recognize what is so horrible about things like: "...standing in front of a ramshackle homestead, unsmiling and dressed in coarse wool, their eyes squinting at the sun-baked, flinty life that stretched out before them."

You need to understand that I don't think Obama is up to even this level of writing.

Compare that passage with the Letter to the Editor I linked where Obama is unable to manage basic subject-verb agreement, proper comma useage, and sentences that don't wander turgidly over the page, sometimes without reaching a destination.

I'm not crazy about the prose style of Dreams either, but it's a treat compared that letter and most of what I've seen written or supposedly written by Obama.

Also, as I mentioned, Obama's writing has been lauded by many prizewinging writers, from Toni Morrison to Philip Roth. Chabon loves Obama too, but it was this quote from Jonathan Safran Foer that I had in mind:

But finally having a writer-president - and I don't mean a published author, but someone who knows the full value of the carefully chosen word - I suddenly feel, for the first time, not only like a writer who happens to be American, but an American writer.

Michael K said...

"Do you know nothing of L.A. nice? "

When I came to LA as an 18 year old college freshman, the first thing I noticed was how phony LA residents were in showing friendship. In the midwest, you might not be a best friend at first but, once you were, the other person could trust you. In LA everybody was best friends instantly. Then came the knife in the back. I eventually got used to it. It got worse since 1956 when I first came here.

Michael K said...

"It's obvious to me that the writing is bad, bad in that special way that's caused by trying to be good. It's "creative writing," and it's laughable. "

Someone posted an excerpt from "Dreams" on a leftist site and attributed it to Sarah Palin. The vicious ridicule was hilarious. They didn't know it was Obama's writing.

Shanna said...

Because, you see, New Yorkers, New Englanders, and other cosmopolitans in "blue state America" aren't amongst the very most provincial and close-minded people you'll meet in America.

Provincial is right. It's downright funny to get lectures from people about where you come from right as they are telling you they've never been west of pennsylvania. (or south of DC)

EMD said...

I don't know, but prior to 1969 and the Great Society, the black middle class closely resembled the white middle class and weren't far behind economically.

I don't disagree ... but I was talking more about specific instances of behavior.

mccullough said...

Looking at a "sepia-toned photograph" and waxing philosophic about the folks in the picture was a tired cliche long before Obama wrote this. in fairness to him, he was still young when he wrote this. He will probably cringe when his daughters mockingly read passages like this to him.

edutcher said...

I can't help thinking of the "Not One Of Us" ad Barry's been running.

If anybody isn't, it's him and not the Romster.

mccullough said...

You have to wonder if Obama ever thinks of people as individuals and knows how to communicate with people as individuals.

I think that's one of the secrets to his personality.

Sam L. said...

That's NUTHIN! My ancestors were Neanderthals!

Yes, our predecessors didn't have the advantages we have today, and it all their fault!

Sheesh!

And speaking of the PuffHo,see this:

http://www.gocomics.com/brevity/2012/06/26

Rustling Leaves said...

Obama's mother succesfully instilled in him a deep sense of oikophobia and self hatred, much like any white anthropologist I have ever encountered.

sydney said...

It's downright funny to get lectures from people about where you come from right as they are telling you they've never been west of pennsylvania. (or south of DC)

New Yorkers can be that way, too. Even if they live in one of the poorest counties in the country up there in the Adirondacks and beyond. I'll never forget the reaction I got from a hairdresser in the North Country when I told him we were moving to Ohio. Such disdain. And all the time I was thinking, "Dude, you're cutting hair on your mother's porch in the Applachia of the North. Who are you to slam Ohio?"

yashu said...

But finally having a writer-president - and I don't mean a published author, but someone who knows the full value of the carefully chosen word - I suddenly feel, for the first time, not only like a writer who happens to be American, but an American writer.

Oh, brother. That's just embarrassing.

chickelit said...

I'm not getting the "unblinking cruety part" and perhaps need more context. Is he refering to the cruelty of his mother being given a man's name?

Nora said...

"Potential for cruelty" is very marxist notion, with key word being "potential". "Potentials" are exactly what gives justification for "progressives" to decide for others how to live. For, because they, "progressive intellectuals" (as opposite to "reactionary intellectuals") are enlightened to see the "potentials", they are somehow above the rest of the masse and have the right to lead them toward "the bright future of humanity", aka communism, aka "new dawn". Obama's seal represents the road toward new dawn, and I do not believe it's accidental.

Also, now I wonder why Nobel committee did not give Obama literary prize in addition to the Peace Prize? O well, I see more books coming from him, so I my bet is he'll get a couple of literary prizes, hopefully sooner than later.

Kirk Parker said...

Lem, whadda ya mean no horses? Prince Albert had an elephant on board HMS Galatea (and a bear too, iirc)

rcocean said...

"classrooms filled with farm boys who got sewn into their woolen underwear at the beginning of winter and stank like pigs as the months wore on"

Wow, that's bad writing. Guess 'Farm Boys' don't have Mom's with soap.

pbAndjFellowRepublican said...

"If you want to insinuate that I'm being devious, point to what I left out and say why."

Not devious.

Uninteresting.

Rather than pretending that BHO's comment in the debate wasn't preplanned. You should have explored how the missing part of the BHO quote would fit in the rhetoric of 2012.

How would that quote be updated today?

Western Colorado and Northern New Mexico have lost jobs, while rural Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Georgia have been notable job gainers. Less clinging?

Freeman Hunt said...

"unblinking cruelty"

I wonder what he was picturing there. Hard bitten farmers staring while they tortured someone? People staring at outsiders they planned to hoist up and sacrifice like in Children of the Corn? What was he talking about?

Freeman Hunt said...

Was there an unmentioned eviscerated dog or shackled child in the photo he was riffing on?

pbAndjFellowRepublican said...

Freeman,

How do you combine your scenarios w/ decency and endurance and the pioneer spirit?

Much like BHO's so-called bitter clinger comment, it is not obvious that he's actually describing anyone. Read exactly how he uses 'and' to describe the folks who are bitter. That's a very specific person.

But, we do know that BHO can use 'or' too. Read how 'or' is used re the clingers. Clinging to anti-trade sentiment--so what?

rcocean said...

Ironic, isn't it Biden? This anonymous clan of slack-jawed troglodytes has cost me the election, and yet if I were to have them killed, I would be the one to go to jail. That's democracy for you." --Barrack Obama

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