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Matthews vs. McNulty

Posted on Apr 24, 2008

By David Sirota

If television is the nation’s mirror, then no two TV characters reflect the intensifying “two Americas” gap better than Chris Matthews and Jimmy McNulty.

A recent New York Times profile of Matthews describes a name-dropping dilettante floating between television studios and cocktail parties. The article documents the MSNBC host’s $5-million salary, three Mercedes and house in lavish Chevy Chase, Md. Yet Matthews said, “Am I part of the winner’s circle in American life? I don’t think so.”

That stupefying comment sums up a pervasive worldview in Washington that is hostile to any discussion of class divides. Call it Matthews-ism—an ideology most recently seen in the brouhaha over Barack Obama’s statement about economic dislocation.

The Illinois senator said that when folks feel economically shafted, they get “bitter.” Matthews-ism spun the truism into a scandal.

The Washington Post labeled Obama’s statements “Bittergate.” Tim Russert invited affluent political consultants on “Meet the Press” to analyze the “controversy,” with millionaire James Carville saying, “I’m hardly bitter about things.” Hillary Clinton called Obama “elitist,” ignoring her mansions in Washington and Chappaqua, $109-million income, career as a Wal-Mart board member, and legacy pushing job-killing policies such as NAFTA.

This sickening episode was topped off by ABC’s Charles Gibson, who only months ago humiliated himself by insinuating that typical middle-class families make $200,000 a year (95 percent make less). Last week, while moderating a debate, Gibson segued from the “bitter” comment into a tirade against rescinding capital gains tax breaks, implying the proposal would hurt most Americans. This, even though the tax cuts in question delivered the vast majority of their benefits to the richest 1 percent.

By downplaying inequality and couching royalism in middle-class arguments, the Beltway elite pretend there are not two Americas but only one: theirs.

Matthews routinely turns discussions of economic issues into debates about tactics, and then heads home to Chevy Chase telling himself he isn’t “part of the winner’s circle.” Tim Russert asks millionaires to explain working-class struggles, and then reminds viewers he roots for the Buffalo Bills—as if that proves he speaks for blue-collar America. Hillary Clinton makes a career out of speaking for powerful corporations, and then shows up at an Indiana bar to decry “elitism.” Gibson suggests six-figure salaries are common, and then says the masses should worry about rich people like him having to pay slightly higher taxes.

In sum, economic blindness, sports symbols, beery photo ops and uninformed idiocy have become the iconography of working-class solidarity that disguises the ongoing class war.

How could this happen, you ask? How could it not?

Pop culture tells us “The Cosby Show’s” economically privileged family represents the ordinary black experience, politics tells us a money-controlled electoral system is “democratic,” and pundits tell us that aristocrat George Bush is a “regular guy.” Propaganda is ubiquitous—and it results in Jimmy McNulty.

He is the cop from HBO’s “The Wire”—the quintessential everyman. For a time, he tries to understand politics by watching vapid Matthews-style talk shows, but quickly becomes frustrated. “It doesn’t matter who you’ve got [running for office], none of them has a clue what’s really going on,” he says, lamenting that politics treats him “like a [expletive] doormat”—as if the day-to-day challenges he faces are “some stupid game with stupid penny ante stakes.”

McNulty may be fictional, but McNulty-ism is a very real reaction to Matthews-ism. When the media responsible for explaining our world deny the existence of the world most of us inhabit, they breed—yes—bitterness. And the more the Matthewses treat us McNultys like reality is just “stupid games with stupid penny ante stakes,” the wider the gulf between the two Americas will become.

David Sirota is a best-selling author whose newest book, “The Uprising,” will be released in June. He is a fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network, both nonpartisan organizations. His blog is at

© 2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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By harpo, June 8, 2008 at 2:21 pm Link to this comment
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How much does Sirota make?

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By Kevin, April 26, 2008 at 9:56 am Link to this comment
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Considering that similar statements have been made by varying politicians - including Bill Clinton in ‘91 (or was it ‘92) - I find it fascinating that only now people are taking offense and getting bent out of shape (by taking the words and meaning) out of context. Better still - how come Obama get’s hammered incessantly over this - yet no one mentions Hillary writing off “lunch pail” democrats with worse statements?

Any, doesn’t matter - the point is people have purposely chosen to use these words and attribute meaning to them that is not there. Guess it’s easier than having to admit that their fundamental objections to the man have nothing to do w/ policy or rationality.

Sorry… if you carefully read his words and listen to the entire conversation that snippet was taken from, you couldn’t possibly make the statement(s) regarding Obama’s views on other’s embracing of religion…

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By KISS, April 26, 2008 at 3:52 am Link to this comment

Thanks Scott for the link. I think it is only fair to ask which 2 candidates are you voting against? I’m sure of the three candidates there is not one I or you would consider being For.
Today’s elections reminds me of the days of the old Poliburo, three candidates and they were all the same.

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By Iskandar Rabeendran, April 26, 2008 at 2:44 am Link to this comment
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is poor journalism (and I’m not even sure it’s journalism at all…more like a talk-show with no insight). I stopped watching it even when I’m bored, so lame it is. It’s so bad that Stephanopoulos on sunday is a tad better.

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By BobZ, April 25, 2008 at 12:07 pm Link to this comment

I used to enjoy Matthews, but he is starting to get a little full of himself. He was insufferable during the time leading up to the Pennsylvania primaries with his insights into the state of Pennsylvania. While Matthews was critical of Obama for stereotyping working class types in PA, Matthews was doing the same on his show every day. He made Pennsylvania sound like a northern version of Alabama and Mississippi, practically calling vast parts of PA redneck and racist. His other bad habit is “fawning” over certain guests like Ed Rendell, the Governor of Pennsylvania. I started tuning in more and more to CNN while Hardball is on, and then switching back when Keith Olbermann’s show came on. I noticed that Olbermann and Matthews seem to have opposing viewpoints regarding the presidential race.  Matthews can’t seem to hold a coherent viewpoint for more than a day at a time. MSNBC is still better than Fox News, but they should get rid of Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough.

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By Stephen Smoliar, April 25, 2008 at 11:51 am Link to this comment

Anyone interested in a slightly extended (and hyperlinked) version can find it on my own blog at:

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By Stephen Smoliar, April 25, 2008 at 11:47 am Link to this comment

What bothers me most about the AIDS part of the argument is that it has a SOURCE.  That source is the oral polio vaccine (OPV) AIDS hypothesis.  It has its own page on Wikipedia:

Anyone who bothers to read this page will learn that this is a highly-contested hypothesis and will be able to track down a variety of perspectives on the argument.  However, it seems like the media is more interested in portraying Wright as someone who comes up with wild ideas whole-cloth rather than someone who finds an interesting story and does not bother to look into how valid it actually is!

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By bert, April 25, 2008 at 11:36 am Link to this comment

Actually I liked the ‘oriole’ comparison better. Strutting preening idiots comes to mind with ‘orioles.’

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By GrammaConcept, April 25, 2008 at 11:36 am Link to this comment

Considerably deep and fitting food for thought, Mr.Smoliar…....

Excellent material for sincere pondering,
inspired by a genuinely excellent essay by Mr. Sirota..

We strive on…

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By felicity, April 25, 2008 at 11:22 am Link to this comment

Throughout this eternal nominating process, I have heard the megaphone-rigged members of the media analyze, parse, interpret…campaigner’s spiels.  The unsubstantiated, often careless opinions and/or asides of the media can become the stuff that ultimately determines the outcome of an election.

An individual media talking head may think that, afterall, his views are only his own and therefore of minor consequence.  They’re not. Combined, which they will be, they can and often do take on a life of their own to the point where they become the spiel.

(A snowflake never feels responsible for the avalanche either.)

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By Thomas Billis, April 25, 2008 at 9:42 am Link to this comment

Anybody dumb enough to watch American media after the job they did in the run up to war deserves what they are getting.The only way to find out what is happening in America is to read the foreign press.These people have as much knowledge as what is happening in America as George Bush.When one cannot understand that after 230 years of second class citizenship why some might say “God damn America"the only pulse they have their fingers on is a corpse.If you cannot understand bitterness in small town America when some are fighting with their sons too get a job in Wal Mart the only contact you have with that segment of America is when they polish your Mercedes.Finally let us put Wright’s comment about AIDS in context.If for fifty years my race had been subjected to the “Tuskegee experiment"I might have more of a conspiratorial outlook on events than other races.In dictatorial countries the media is controlled by sheer power.In America the media is shaped by corporate greed.When news was seen as a profit center say goodbye to ED R Morrow and Walter Cronkite.Say hello to Chris Matthews and Tom Brokaw.If you watch them and put any credence into what they say I have some swampland in Florida that you may be interested in.

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By cyrena, April 25, 2008 at 8:40 am Link to this comment

Get this Joey….YOU show ME the ‘proof’ AND NOT IN A SOUND BYTE, that Jeremiah Wright EVEN MADE THIS “AIDES” claim. Well, YOU CANNOT.

As for ‘chickens coming home to roost’….I’ve NEVER heard this in a black or white church, BUT AS A FIGURE OF SPEECH, I’ve heard far more WHITE PEOPLE say it than I have anybody else.

As for this ‘figure of speech’ in terms of 9/11, maybe if you weren’t illiterate, you’d figure out that far more people than Jeremiah Wright have MADE THE SAME CONNECTION. Another (and far more contemporary) terms employed to say the VERY SAME THING, (in reference to 9/11) is BLOWBACK!! There’s even an excellent book by the same title, where the case is made, (long before Jeremiah Wright said it in a sermon), that 9/11 was an inevitable CONSEQUENCE for the abuses and aggressions perpetrated for decades, BY the US AND ISRAEL (on-going genocide by Israel) against the rest of the world. Anybody paying even 10% attention to what goes on around them, and in their name, with their money, Like YOU SIXPACK, would figure this out. It is NOT rocket science. It’s very common sense…you beat and badger and harass somebody – anybody else, for long enough…JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN, they will eventually find a way to RETALIATE! THAT – MORON, is the meaning of ‘chickens come home to roost’.

So maybe you should read the book, “Blowback” and since it’s written by a white guy, maybe you’ll find his very same explanation more acceptable to your racist mind.

Spin that!

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By KISS, April 25, 2008 at 8:37 am Link to this comment

These hypocritical bourgeois orioles. Should read
” These hypocritical bourgeois oracles”

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By Stephen Smoliar, April 25, 2008 at 8:11 am Link to this comment

David, if you really want to turn old Jimmy into your metaphor, then I think you have to give his creator enough credit to look beyond the bitterness born of frustration (and, for that matter, beyond the booze and loose sex).  The most important plot element in the final season of THE WIRE was the pervasive role of lies (or any other euphemism you might prefer) in “getting the job done.”  This was most evident in the parallel between McNulty and Templeton.  Templeton employs fabrication to advance his career, and we are definitely left with the impression that his advance could well lead to his being the next Chris Matthews.  McNulty, on the other hand, fabricates just to do the stuff required by his job description in an organization whose budget has been gutted, regardless of either social norms or the consequences of his acts.  The result is a society that has evolved from Toole’s “confederacy of dunces” to a “confederacy of liars.”  Once we examine all the lies that support Simon’s plot structure, we appreciate that exposing any one of them will bring down the very social foundation in which all those characters abide.

This may lead to an alternative conclusion to yours.  The fictional McNulty depends on the lies of the fictional Templeton in order to sustain his own lies.  Could it be that, in some way we have not yet anticipated, your McNulty-ists DEPEND UPON (rather than react against) your Matthews-ists for reasons we may not yet have penetrated (such as, for example, their very sense of identity)?

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By Eric Barth, April 25, 2008 at 7:28 am Link to this comment
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“We have been here before”, as Howard Dean stated in his unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2004. He was referring of course to the Guilded Age that in actuality ran pretty much from the late 1800’s through 1929. The superwealthy (which Matthews is not)and the wealthy or very well off (which he is)cannot help but engage in conspicuous consumption and deride the rest of us. “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not!” Ha Ha! Like all human beings, they want to hang on to what they have even if they would hardly notice (like Matthews) if their taxes went up somewhat.  So, they accuse anyone who supports progressive taxation as a socialist.  They know that the Government backed by corporate interests spent decades conflating democratic socialism with State Communism in the minds of the American people. They advert to some faux populism like the Buffalo connection or (in Matthew’s case) the Pennsylvania blue-collar connection. The Philly cheese-steak WITHOUT the Swiss cheese.

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By Stringer Bell, April 25, 2008 at 6:55 am Link to this comment
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Years ago,in one of his first appearances on John Stewart’s Daily Show, Chris Matthews appeared to be little bit drunk and he was making the usual ass of himself. As happens with “A little bit drunk” some truth was told.  He was talking about Focus Groups.  He turned to Stewart and said “Do you know what WE call Focus Groups?”  Matthews answer to his own question was “PEASANTS under glass.” I have a hard time believing he does not think he is among the “Haves” and privilged.

The divide between the rich and poor is so wide that no one in office, the pundits, the lobbyists, etc or anyone in WDC can even imagine how the rest of us (the real people of this country) live. They never leave their bubble to experience the reality.  They only go for sound bytes and photo ops. And “Middle class at $200,000 a year?” Not in my lifetime.

I’m a Jimmy McNulty and old enough to remember when the people who held office cared about the rest of the country and worked to make life better for all of us, not just themselves.  I also remember decent health care, great daily newspapers and reporting that was unbiased and actually told the story, not just spin and propaganda.  I’m a relic!

Matthews and his ilk make me sick.  So do the rest of the professional politicos, pundits, and the like.
To quote someone else from the Wire, the newspaper editor, Gus:  “There is some shameful shit going on here.”

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By KISS, April 25, 2008 at 5:38 am Link to this comment

These hypocritical bourgeois orioles of the rich and corporate entity spew their paid advertising and crap to an audience made up of the proletariat. These overpaid corporate shills spew their propaganda and have absolutely no idea the plight of their general audience. Tim Russert, Bob Schieffer ,Chris Mathews, and the Bill O’Reilly’s
are the very worse of Amerika’s media, and yet million of my ignorant stupid fellow-man watch these spinners of lies, innuendos, and deceit as if this were the gospel from the gods of Olympus.

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By Scott, April 25, 2008 at 5:38 am Link to this comment
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The truth is a class war has been waged on in this country since around 1974. The war began with an ideology known as neoliberal economics, but had antecedents in Ann Rynd’s objectivism, which essentially states greed is not only good but is necessary for the creation of a greater society. To borrow a line from Al Gore, theirs an inconvenient truth being ignored by most people on this site and in other, so called liberal/progressive media. This inconvenient truth is that both democrats and republicans believe in neoliberal economics, and so now matter who wins this next election we are going to get more of the same economic and foreign policies, which allow the wealthy and well, connected to rig the system against average Americans and multinational corporations to rape and pillage third world countries with the Marines, CIA, World Bank and IMF acting as their protectors and enforcers.
  Read Pam Martens article on z communications [1] about Obama’s ties to hedges and then you will understand why with Obama you are just going to get another neoliberal DLCer like Bill Clinton before. Lent me finish this by saying, we need to quite attacking each other over these worthless sold-out candidates, for the truth is we are all in this together and no amount of sycophancy for either one of this democratic candidates is going to help regain control of country, and we have to regain control quickly, Wall Street has created a Ponzi scheme in the market with these third party derivate markets and credit default swaps and the hedge funds, who fund Obama and Clinton, have been making a killing off of this knowledge. So wake up, they are conning us, forget hope, forget change, get mad as hell and lent both of these democratic candidates know you are mad as hell and empty rhetoric about hope and change just isn’t going to get it done this time. Fool us once shame on Bill Clinton, fool us twice (Obama, Clinton2) shame on us.


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By Purple Girl, April 25, 2008 at 5:36 am Link to this comment

As a MI’er I’ve seen this movie before- Media, ‘Public Servants’ and Corps misrepresenting what is actualy happening in the ‘Fields ’ and the ‘slave quarters’ of their emmense Plantation.
How dare they smile & laugh, patting US on th eback after beating an dRaping US for decades- “Listen to their Hopeful songs”
‘Bitter’ was a Mild depiction of the real sentiment we are feeling- Pissed and ready to Revolt is more accuate. why do we ‘cling ’ to our God & Guns- They are the only Rights and Freedoms THEY have been Unable to Pry from Our Cold Dead hands!
An Uprising is in the works- we will no longer be considered commodities for the Global Auction block, Our children will Not be shackled to your Oppressive, Slave Trade Profiteering. The ‘Futures’ Market is about to be Burned to the Ground!
We will place those slave masters on the Boat back to THEIR Creditors to pay for the Debt THEY have Incurred. the Media who worked as the ‘Uncle Toms’ will find themselves being tethered to the Yoke to pull the plows for US- or they will be Hung, lynched, and Left to die from EXPOSURE!i hear th eterm “Reagan Democrats” once more I’ll Lose my mind- Same tactic used by the Neo Cons to Infiltrate & undermine the Republican Party- Corporationist BS Rhetoric and attempt to Rewite REAL History- REAL DEMS HATED RONNY!!!!!

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By Joe Sixpack, April 25, 2008 at 5:02 am Link to this comment

How can you take a comment like, “God Damn America” out of context? How can you spin that comment into something positive with a straight face? These aren’t the worst moments of a 30 year career on the pulpit, these are the man’s beliefs. That’s a reality, a truth, not spin. Further, why would it be wrong for reasonable people to take offense at the acusation that the AIDs virus was man-man for the purpose of genocide? Is there any evidence of this? Can you show me the facts? Can you tell me the truth? Can you back that up somehow with real evidence and not innuendo and supposition? Most people believe that this is crazy-talk, but if you can prove the case cyrena, then you go girl.

Is there not a common belief in the black churches that the 9/11 chickens came home to roost? I’m not an attendee, so I have no idea except from listening to people who do attend. If the arguement is that a US government capable of the Tuskeegee experiments must, therefor, be capable of creating AIDS. On the face this is not an unreasonable conclusion to jump to, right? When we listen to Rev. Wright, in his own words, in context, we begin to understand what the man believes. Obama may have stepped away from the controversial statements because “he is a politician” but I have no doubt that Wright believes what he preaches. I have no doubt that the Moyer’s interview with Wright will kick over the bee’s nest yet again and force Obama to once again reassure us that he doesn’t stand by his man.

Obama clearly doesn’t cling to his religion when it hurts him politically. That’s what he belives, that’s his truth.

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By cyrena, April 25, 2008 at 12:38 am Link to this comment

Actually Marshall/Maani/Hinnis/how many “ID’s do you have?

It’s not at all about the singular word ‘cling’ other than to those trolls like you, (and Maani and all of your other handles) who choose to MAKE it so…spinning hate wherever you can create it.

ONE word -  out of billions that Obama has spoken in relaying a TRUTH that resonates with 99.9 of the American public, and intentionally spun OUT OF CONTEXT, to create your hype and hate, just as you did with sound bites from hundreds of sermons by Jeremiah Wright.

And then you continue it by saying that some of you actually LIKE ‘religion? What a liar you are. You don’t LIKE religion…you HATE it! You’ve proven that by demonizing those who actually DO partake of a deep seated faith…like an ENTIRE congregation in Chicago, IL!!

THEY ‘like’ religion, and they LIVE it. YOUR ‘religion’ is HATE!

There is no ‘muffled’ cry for help in REAL religion, and Obama did NO SUCH THING as to insinuate that. REAL religion isn’t ‘muffled’ you hateful hypocrite. It speaks to and verbalizes all of the TRUTHS of life as we live it, with the never-ending goal of salvation and peace through the recognition of truth.

Because we are ALL (religious or not) smart enough to recognize the hate that YOUR religion uses to prevent that (truth) from uniting us all in a common goal.

Hate mongers are shown for who and what they are.

Maybe you should just go ‘cling’ to your guns, since hate and violence are your ONLY ‘religions’.

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By cyrena, April 25, 2008 at 12:20 am Link to this comment

Whew!! I’m tellin’ ya’ll, David Sirota saved my sanity with this piece, in part by providing a metaphorical ‘pinch me’ and a rescue from the crash/depression of articles like the most recent from Marie Cocco. (also fair to say that it temporarily restored my opinion of Truthdig, since I’ve really begun to wonder about them…asleep at the wheel, or just willing to accept ANY advertising dollars?) I don’t know. I’ll reserve opinion again, at least for the moment.

So yeah, this article is a drastically needed antidote to so much of the hype and trash we’ve been seeing lately, and a real ‘fix’ for those of us who idolize truth, and hate spin.

It also led me to discover another treasure…the site that Sirota is associated with…Campaign for America’s Future. Some time ago,  I was ‘in-tune’ with this organization, since it was among the first to tackle this ‘alternative reality’ that has been created by the neocons/Dick Bush Cabal/status quo democrats; the same that have created and perpetrated the class warfare that has continued to threaten our very existence.

But then…I lost track; or otherwise became side-tracked. (another tactic of the class warfare). BUT…this article, (like all of his others) was SO timely with the truth, and must have just found me in an extra-inspirational moment. So, I tracked down the website from the credits at the bottom of the piece, and was delighted to come upon an even more expanded project for progressives and those other truth lovers.

Meantime, a note to the Truthdig staff…I would actually be willing to PAY for this kind of excellent journalism on your site, (though I don’t have much) if it would keep you from having to accept advertising dollars from those who are determined to perpetrate the exact OPPOSITE of what progressive and investigative journalism is all about.

When I see an ad for the Hillary campaign, asking for donations of FIVE DOLLARS on one page, and FIFTY on the next, it just reeks of really, really, really, TACKY!! And then there was the ad asking us to send a THANK YOU NOTE to kiss ass, sell-us-out BETRAYUS! OMIGOD!!

Come on TD, you CAN be a classy operation. This piece from David Sirota proves it! (and others have as well).

By the way…here’s the website for Campaign for America’s Future ((for the 99% of us concerned)..Excellent work there..truth as we need it, and all of the lies de-mythed.

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By Marshall, April 24, 2008 at 11:34 pm Link to this comment

Typical of the left, the author ignores the important part of Obama’s comment which was not the “bitter” part, but the “clinging” part… you know, the part where he attributes people’s attraction to religion as a muffled cry for help.

Has it occurred to Obama that most religious people actually LIKE religion?  Apparently not.  And that’s the part that is frankly pretty scary.

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