Just Shoot Me | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Just Shoot Me

Drinking the bitter dregs of the campaign season.

"When I hear of culture, I release the safety on my Browning."

-- German playwright Hanns Johst


I wasn't bitter before. I am now. And not just at Barack Obama.

Obama did, of course, start the ruckus by suggesting small-town voters in Pennsylvania adhere to conservative social values because they are desperate. Given shrinking economic opportunity, he told a crowd of supporters in California, "It's not surprising" such voters "get bitter" and "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them ... or anti-trade sentiment."

The political spin cycle kicked into overdrive, so much so that the word "bitter" now leaves an aftertaste that is ... well, I'll have to find another adjective for it.

Let's acknowledge the obvious. First, nobody likes it when a politician (or anyone else) claims to understand your behavior better than you do. Obama may as well have said that people like guns because they serve as a substitute phallus. Freud and Jung might agree, but nobody likes the insinuation that they are compensating -- for a tiny paycheck or anything else. Second, implying an equivalency between religion -- or anti-trade sentiment -- and bigotry against "people who aren't like" you is even dumber.

Some Democrats I know are bemused by all the outrage. All Obama was saying, they contend, was that people often focus on "wedge issues" when the real problems they face are economic. Truth to tell, I've made similar arguments when it comes to issues like gay marriage: Conservatives use divisive issues to castigate others and shore up their base of support.

But here's the larger point that everyone is missing: That stunt only works because Democrats and the media let them get away with it.

Bullshit wedge issues only work when voters see few other differences. In the case of this year's Democratic primary, that's the result of having two candidates whose policy positions don't differ as much as either wants you to believe. But too often in the past, there hasn't been that much difference between Democrats and Republicans either. Democrats, too, have become beholden to the corporate sector, especially Wall Street. Consider Obama's vote in favor of the Bush energy bill ... or Clinton's shifting position on bankruptcy reform favored by finance companies.

Obama, of course, pledges to change all that. (Though according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama has received more than $15 million from the financial sector, just behind Clinton's $18 million.) But even if he means it, thanks to shoddy media coverage, it would be impossible for most Americans to know.

The Sunday-morning airwaves are filled with gasbags discussing the political implications of what he said.

How much will this cost him in Pennsylvania?

Does this worsen a divide among blue-collar whites?

Will this help McCain?

But in all the furor, almost nobody has raised the most obvious question: What is Obama's actual, you know, position on gun control?

It's as if we're afraid to let actual policy get in the way of a political debate. In fact, a recent post on the blog Politico.com -- a post gleefully circulated by the Obama crowd -- suggests just that. The site professes to have spoken with a "Clinton aide" who accuses "the "Obama campaign [of] trying to turn the debate ... into one about gun policy, when [Clinton] contends the issue is elitism."

So Obama's theory is out-of-date. In the old days, politicians might bring up issues like gun rights to avoid talking about economic matters. Now they can bring up the issue without even talking about guns.

On the off chance you're curious, the National Rifle Association gave both Clinton and Obama an "F" grade for their legislative track record. But some gun owners prefer Obama: The American Hunters and Shooters Association -- a group the NRA decries as a front organization for its support of gun control -- has said that Obama is somewhat more gun-friendly than Clinton.

Obama has also said that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to guns. That's a potentially intriguing position, since many gun-control advocates say the Second Amendment makes gun ownership a collective right, conditioned on the existence of a "well-regulated militia."

It's unclear what difference this would make in an Obama administration, or what impact any of this will have in our April 22 primary. What is clear is this: Whoever wins, Pennsylvania has finally seen a primary battle up close and personal ... and it sucks about as much as I think we all expected.

Not to sound bitter.