Monday, April 14, 2008


I'm not surprised to see William Kristol, in today's New York Times, comparing Barack Obama's remarks at that fund-raiser to a passage from Marx -- hell, his fellow GOP propagandist Mickey Kaus beat him to the commie-baiting punch by several days. But I'm puzzled by one aspect of the Kristol riff: Why does he go into the original German?

...Obama was explaining his trouble winning over small-town, working-class voters: "It's not surprising then that 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."

This sent me to Marx's famous statement about religion in the introduction to his "Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right":

"Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of a soulless condition. It is the opium of the people."

Or, more succinctly, and in the original German in which Marx somehow always sounds better: "Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes."

... it's one thing for a German thinker to assert that "religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature." It’s another thing for an American presidential candidate to claim that we "cling to ... religion" out of economic frustration....

Why is the German in there at all? It doesn't advance Kristol's argument. (The statement is just as memorable and succinct in English.) Is Kristol just trying to pad his column to get up to a minimum word count? Is he acting like a showoffy, grade-grubbing undergraduate?

The obvious answer is that he thinks this could have the same impact that calling John Kerry "French" had four years ago. But America is full of people with German ancestry, and we don't mock contemporary Germans the way we mock the French. Not that I want to give the guy advice, but I think Kristol should have left it at "commie."

And then we get "it's one thing for a German thinker to assert..." -- and I really might be overthinking this now, but it almost seems as if Kristol wishes he could stir up the anger of the citizenry the way a demagogue of an earlier time might, by comparing Obama's words to the words of "a Jewish thinker." Of course, Marx was Jewish, but Kristol, obviously, isn't going that route. Still, I can't help imagine he wants that kind of impact with the rubes (who, I know, don't read the Times but might see the column at Free Republic or herar it quoted by Rush), so he's aiming as close to that target as he can.

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