Bitter Obama spat: Sullivan v. Kristol


William Kristol draws a line between Karl Marx and Barack Obama, and Andrew Sullivan cries foul.


My occasion for spending a little time once again with the old Communist was Barack Obama’s now-famous comment at an April 6 San Francisco fund-raiser. 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.”

Now, this is a point of view with a long intellectual pedigree prior to Marx, and many vocal adherents continuing into the 21st century. I don’t believe the claim is true, but it’s certainly worth considering, in college classrooms and beyond.

But 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.


You could argue, as Kristol and others hilariously will, that Lou Dobbs has no base,

that fundamentalist Christianism has no problem with “the other” in a globalized world, that dozens of state constitutional amendments banning civil marriages that had never and would never have taken place were just spirited forms of civic engagement, rather than scapegoating or politicking on resentment. You could also argue, as others legitimately will, that spasms of economic distress and social discontent are unconnected. Hey: Weimar had nothing to do with Hitler. But Kristol is doing something much more pernicious: he is saying that Obama is faking faith, that his very profession of faith is a “mask” that is slipping, and that Kristol is the person to determine whose faith is genuine and who is a fraud.

A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity is calling a Christian a liar about his own faith. That’s where they’ve gone to already. And it’s only the middle of April. What are they so scared of?

Recommended from JTA