Thomas Frank, the author who redefined the perception of the red state/blue state divide in America, says he doesn't find Sen. Barack Obama's comments on the bitterness of small-town Midwesterners all that alarming.
"People are bitter in small towns," Frank told the Huffington Post. "People are bitter everywhere. I don't know if you have seen the stock market -- people are bitter about their situation. It doesn't strike me as a very controversial statement."
Frank, who famously penned the book "What's The Matter With Kansas?" had been away this past weekend and missed the controversy surrounding Obama's remarks. Read the quotes over the phone, he said he was "disinclined to comment" further as he was hoping to devote his time to his upcoming book on Republican politicians in Washington D.C. rather than media requests.
However, his comments on the Obama flap reflect what was the underlying premise of his hit book: mainly, that people were voting against their economic interests because conservatives had galvanized them around political-identity issues.
"I chose to observe the phenomenon by going back to my home state of Kansas, a place that has been particularly ill-served by the conservative policies of privatization, deregulation, and de-unionization, and that has reacted to its worsening situation by becoming more conservative still," Frank wrote of the methodology behind his book in 2004. "Indeed, Kansas is today the site of a ferocious struggle within the Republican Party, a fight pitting affluent moderate Republicans against conservatives from the working-class districts and the downmarket churches. And it's hard not to feel some affection for the conservative faction, even as you deplore their political views. After all, these are the people that liberalism is supposed to speak to: the hard-luck farmers, the bitter factory workers, the outsiders, the disenfranchised, the disreputable."
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The recent political, and at times sociological, debate comes after Huffington Post's OffTheBus reported that Obama claimed workers were bitter and clinging to guns, religion and anti-immigration sentiment because of their difficult economic situations. Since then, Obama has acknowledged that his statement was ill constructed. But he has stuck by the premise, repeating it during CNN forum last night.
"What I was saying is that when economic hardship hits in these communities, what people have is they've got family, they've got their faith, they've got the traditions that have been passed onto them from generation to generation. Those aren't bad things. That's what they have left," he said. "And, unfortunately, what people have become bitter about -- and oftentimes have told me about, as I traveled through not just Pennsylvania, but I was referring to states all across the Midwest, including my home state -- is any confidence that the government is listening to them. They don't think that government is listening to them."
Obama's political opponents have not granted him such leeway. At the same forum last night, Sen. Hillary Clinton ripped into the Illinois Democrat, saying his marks were elitist, patronizing and all to reminiscent of Democratic failures from the past.
"But from my perspective the characterization of people in a way that really seemed to be elitist and out of touch is really something that we have to overcome," Clinton said. "The Democratic Party, to be very blunt about it, has been viewed as a party that didn't understand and respect the values and the way of life of many of our fellow Americans."