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New Report: Human Rights in China

by Thomas J. Billitteri, July 25, 2008

Are crackdowns on basic freedoms increasing?

When the curtain rises on the Summer Olympics next month in Beijing, China will eagerly showcase its hypersonic economic growth and its embrace of what it calls the “rule of law.” But 19 years after its bloody suppression of protesters in Tiananmen Square, China will also be displaying its human-rights record for all to judge. Human-rights advocates say the sheen of Chinese progress and prosperity hides repression and brutality by the Chinese Communist Party, including the violent repression of pro-independence protesters in Tibet, forced abortions stemming from China’s one-child policy and the trampling of basic freedoms of speech, religion and assembly. Chinese government officials say their nation of 1.3 billion people has made huge strides on the legal and human-rights fronts and that the West has no business interfering in China’s internal affairs.

  • Is China’s human-rights record improving?
  • Will China’s exploding growth lead to Western-style democracy?
  • Should U.S. companies in China push for human-rights reforms?
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Coming Up in CQ Researcher

Internet Accuracy
Beware what you read on the Internet, warn many online experts. Undoubtedly, the Internet has been a huge boon for information-seekers. Videos, personal Web pages, blogs and postings by interest groups of all kinds – from government agencies to hobbyists and hate groups – now supplement newspapers and other traditional media as information sources available to anyone with access to a computer. But analysts caution that most traditional methods for locating information and determining its credibility are radically changed online. Instead of depending on a reference librarian’s expertise, readers must rely on search engines like Google, which tally how many people have accessed online documents and sources in the past. That process is open to manipulation by people who conspire to move biased pages to the top of the sources list. At the same time, anyone can publish an article or book online with no second pair of eyes checking it for accuracy, as in traditional book publishing and journalism. As a result, readers today must gauge the credibility of millions of individuals and groups posting online, a task calling for critical-reading skills that are not being taught in most schools.
By Marcia Clemmitt

Political Conventions
When the Democrats and Republicans hold their quadrennial national conventions later this summer, their primary goal is to produce a scripted television show that will boost their candidates’ prospects in the general election. The last thing they want is intra-party squabbling. According to that scenario, convention delegates will have nothing to do but cheer Barack Obama and John McCain, whose nominations were virtually assured before the conventions began, along with the party platforms. Politicians, political scientists and critics in the media are questioning whether the conventions have outlived their usefulness. If the important decisions are made before the conventions begin, they ask, why bother to hold them? It would be more democratic to select presidential nominees in direct primaries, which is how almost all other nominations are made, they say. Convention supporters argue that the gatherings are needed in case a nomination isn’t settled beforehand. The conventions are the parties’ final authorities, and they make decisions about party rules that can affect which candidates get nominated. The convention is also the one time every four years during which the party becomes a truly national organization, with delegates and other activists from around the country mingling face-to-face.
By Tom Price

Socially Responsible Investing
Rising concern about health and the environment has led to the rapid growth of socially responsible investing (SRI) in recent years. In fact, SRI is no longer just about avoiding “sin” stocks like tobacco, gambling and liquor – or companies that profit from war. Today’s socially responsible investors want to find companies that have clear strategies for meeting environmental and social goals as well as favorable corporate-governance policies. Today, some 260 mutual funds – up from 55 in 1995 – have $202 billion invested in socially responsible companies. But can an investor make money in a socially responsible investment? Experts are divided on that question, but one thing is certain: Demand for investment vehicles that align money and ethics is growing in popularity and becoming more and more mainstream in investment circles.
By Thomas J. Billitteri

In the News: Britain to Begin Iraq Withdrawal Next Year

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced that Great Britain will begin withdrawing its 4,100 troops in Iraq by the beginning of 2009. In comments before the House of Commons, Brown said the decision was based on progress being made in the training and mentoring of Iraqi troops, but he did not specify how many troops would return home. The planned reduction had been delayed while British and American troops supported the Iraqi government’s recent offensive in Basra against Shiite militias. Virtually all of Britain’s troops have been stationed in the southern province, which was handed over to Iraqi control last December. The handover allowed Britain to reduce its force by about 1,000 troops last year.

To view the entire CQ Researcher Online report, "Cost of the Iraq War," click here. [subscription required]

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In the News: China Sets Up Olympic Protest Zones

The Beijing Olympic Games organizing committee has agreed to allow protests of the Games and the Chinese government in three designated demonstration areas within the city. The move is intended to prevent disruptions by such groups as Muslim separatists from Xinjiang Province and Tibetan independence supporters. Protesters must first submit detailed applications to local police officials five days ahead of their planned gatherings. China has undergone massive scrutiny this year over its human-rights record and harsh treatment of Tibetan separatists. Critics say that allowing the protests is only a temporary measure to reduce the international community’s criticism of China and that only a few of the anticipated applications stand a chance of getting approved. The Games begin on Aug. 8 and continue until the 24th.

To view the entire CQ Global Researcher Online report, "Separatist Movements," click here. [subscription required]

In the News: Obama Addresses Big Crowd in Berlin

Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, kicked off the European leg of his international tour by telling an enthusiastic crowd in Berlin of the dangers of allowing new walls to come between the United States and its allies. He went on to encourage all people to stand together to face the challenges of the 21st century – such as terrorism, global warming and genocide – while making historical references to challenges overcome via cooperation in the past, most notably the defeat of communism. Earlier in the day he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the state of U.S. and European affairs; earlier legs of his trip took him to Afghanistan and the Middle East. He will visit France and Great Britain before returning to the United States.

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Overview of This Weeks Report: Human Rights in China

At a ceremony in March in flower-bedecked Tiananmen Square, Vice President Xi Jinping suggested the Beijing Olympics would lead China and people the world over to join hands in creating “a more harmonious and better future.”

The event underscored China’s hope that 19 years after its violent suppression of protesters in Tiananmen Square, it could present a new face to the world. China’s nationalistic pride in its rise as a global power is palpable, and the country is clearly anxious to showcase its hypersonic economic growth and its embrace of what communist officials call the “rule of law.”

But human-rights advocates say that while some facets of Chinese society have indeed improved in recent years, repression and inequity still affect millions of people. The critics say that behind the sheen of progress and prosperity – the ubiquitous construction cranes and thousands of new factories – the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) still stifles dissent and tramples basic freedoms of speech, religion and assembly at home and abets human-rights abuses in places like Sudan’s Darfur region.

“When you come to the Olympic Games in Beijing, you will see skyscrapers, spacious streets, modern stadiums and enthusiastic people,” Teng Biao and Hu Jia, two of China’s most prominent human-rights activists, wrote last year. “You will see the truth, but not the whole truth. . . . You may not know that the flowers, smiles, harmony and prosperity are built on a base of grievances, tears, imprisonment, torture and blood.”

In April Hu was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison. A month before his arrest, he had deplored the “human-rights disaster” in China during testimony via the Internet to the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights.

In many ways, China’s rigid societal control is at odds with its economic revolution and the accompanying rapidly expanding middle class, dynamic new urban architecture and thousands of new laws and regulations. By 2006 the nation boasted 11 million private entrepreneurs and 4.3 million private firms, banned until the early 1980s. China’s middle class, barely evident in the early 1990s, had exploded to 80 million people by 2002, and by 2025 is expected to number an astonishing 520 million.

Yet a litany of serious abuses by the Chinese government persists, according to the U.S. advocacy group Freedom House and others, including:

* Imprisoning more journalists than any other country;

* Maintaining one of the world’s most sophisticated systems of blocking Web-site access and monitoring e-mail;

* Prescribing the death penalty for scores of non-violent crimes, including tax fraud and “the vague offense of ‘undermining national unity.’ “ Amnesty International estimated 470 people were executed death last year, based on public reports, but said the true figure is thought to be far higher;

* Maintaining a one-child policy that sometimes leads to forced abortions and human trafficking; and

* Repressing religious freedom of Falun Gong adherents, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and others.

Security threats related to the Olympics have led China to take the kind of actions that have outraged the West and sparked internal unrest. In July, an execution squad publicly shot three young men in the public square of the city of Yengishahar. They had been convicted of having ties to terrorist plots, which authorities said were part of an effort to disrupt the Games by a separatist group seeking independence on behalf of Muslim Uyghurs. The executions did not quell fears of terrorism as the Olympics drew nearer, however. At least two died and 14 were injured in a pair of bus bombings in the city of Kunming as authorities tightened security for the Games.

Meanwhile, a scramble this summer to clear Beijing’s air and regatta waters in preparation for the Olympics highlighted China’s colossal environmental woes, which have sparked thousands of mass protests throughout the country over health and safety issues.

Reconciling the two faces of China – repressive yet forward-looking – is not easy. Many experts note that Beijing’s overriding goal is to develop the country as a world power and push its economy into the 21st century while keeping a lid on internal dissent that could weaken the Communist Party – a difficult balancing act given the country’s unprecedented speed of change.

Chinese embassy officials in Washington declined to discuss the status of human rights in their country. But in April, Luo Haocai, director of the China Society for Human Rights Studies, said that after three decades of rapid economic development, China is on a path to developing human rights with Chinese characteristics.

“ China believes human rights like other rights are not ‘absolute’ and the rights enjoyed should conform to obligations fulfilled,” he said. “The country deems human rights not only refer to civil rights and political rights but also include the economic, social and cultural rights. These rights are inter-related.”

The upcoming Olympics – and President George W. Bush’s decision to attend the opening ceremonies despite China’s human-rights record – has focused attention on the question of how far the West should go in pressing China to improve its human rights. Asked whether Bush’s attendance would induce China to concede on its human-rights issues, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang suggested that any changes would not be influenced by Western pressure.

“We have been committed to improving human rights not on the premise of the will of any nation, group, organization or individual, nor because of a certain activity to be held that makes us concede to the human-rights issue,” he said. Still, Qin said, a human-rights dialogue between China and the United States held in May – the first since 2002 – was “positive” and “constructive.”

Wu Jianmin, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University and former ambassador to France, said that in trying to modernize, China is “striking a delicate balance” among stability, development and reform. Stability is a “known condition for development,” and development is “the aim,” he said. “We are facing many problems. I believe that only development can provide solutions. Reform is a driving force. We can’t afford to go too fast. Too fast will disturb stability.”

Experts caution that China’s human-rights picture is highly complex and difficult to characterize without nuance and historical perspective. “Things are moving forward and backward at the same time at different paces at different places,” says John Kamm, executive director of the Dui Hua Foundation, a human-rights group in San Francisco and Hong Kong.

China ’s human rights present a “moving target,” adds Margaret Woo, a professor at Northeastern University School of Law and co-editor of the forthcoming book, Chinese Justice: Civil Dispute Resolution in China. “It really depends on what time you’re talking about, what particular topic, whether you’re looking at it in terms of its progress vs. where it is today. It’s not an easy, simple yes-or-no answer.”

The tension in China between progress and repression emerged in full force after the massive earthquake in Sichuan Province in May, killing nearly 70,000 Chinese. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao both toured the disaster zone, with Wen visiting an aid station and exhorting rescue workers not to give up on saving lives, and Hu clasping hands with survivors. But behind the scenes, local Chinese officials have tried to stifle complaints of parents whose children died in collapsed schools, reminding them that disturbing the social order is against the law.

Despite concern over China’s human-rights behavior, its rising prominence as an economic powerhouse and national-security ally has led U.S. policy makers to act in ways that satisfy neither Chinese officials nor Western human-rights advocates. In March, just as a massive pro-independence protest erupted in Tibet, leading to violent clashes with Chinese security forces, the State Department removed China from its list of the world’s 10 worst human-rights violators. Activists denounced the move, and The New York Times opined that removing China from the list “looked like a political payoff to a government whose help America desperately needs on difficult problems.” Yet the State Department’s annual report on global human rights called China an “authoritarian state” whose record remained “poor.” It cited:

* Extrajudicial killings, torture and coerced confessions of prisoners;

* Coercive birth-limitation policies sometimes resulting in forced abortions;

* Severe repression of minorities;

* Use of forced labor, and other violations;

* Judicial decision-making often influenced by bribery, abuse of power and other corruption and a criminal-justice system biased toward a presumption of guilt, especially in high-profile or politically sensitive cases.

In another report in May, the State Department charged that China “continued to deny its citizens basic democratic rights” and called for the government to bring its practices in line with international norms.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin called the May report “unreasonable.” “We remind the U.S. side to pay more attention to its own human-rights problems, stop interfering in the internal affairs of other countries with such issues as democracy and human rights, and do more things that are conducive to the advancement of Sino-U.S. mutual trust and bilateral relations.”

To view the entire report on CQ Researcher Online, click here. [subscription required]

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New Report: Race and Politics

by Peter Katel, July 18, 2008

Will skin color influence the presidential election?

The once unthinkable could happen this November: A black man may win the U.S. presidency. When freshman Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was born in 1961, African-Americans couldn’t vote in some parts of the United States. Now, as he prepares to accept the Democratic nomination in August, Obama is running slightly ahead of his presumptive Republican opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain, a 71-year-old Vietnam War hero. First dogged by questions of whether he was “black enough,” Obama now faces doubts about whether racial prejudice will prove a major obstacle to his historic campaign, especially among white working-class voters. Nonetheless, Obama is likely to benefit from changes in the country’s demographic makeup, which is growing less white as immigration diversifies the population. Meanwhile, younger voters are showing notably less racial prejudice than older generations. At the same time, some top Republicans acknowledge the GOP needs to appeal to a broader range of voters if McCain is to win.

  • Has Republican Party identification with white Southerners cost it support in other regions?
  • Can the Democrats attract white, working-class votes outside the South?
  • Is race a major factor in the presidential election?
To read the Overview of this week's report, click here.

To read the entire CQ Researcher Online report, click here. [subscription required]

To buy a PDF of this report, click here.

In the News: Guantánamo Interrogation Footage to Be Released

Several hours of interrogation footage of Canadian citizen and Guantánamo terror suspect Omar Khadr – who was 15 years old when he was seized in a firefight with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan in 2002 – are to be released this week. A ten-minute teaser shows Khadr displaying his wounds, crying uncontrollably and pulling at his hair in despair. Documents relating to the interrogations that have been available for the past week show “a victimized and exploited boy,” according to his attorney Nathan Whitling. The reports, however, do not include any line of questioning relating to Khadr’s supposed crime – the killing of an American soldier. Khadr has been the center of an ongoing controversy over whether suspected child soldiers should be prosecuted at Guantánamo.

To view the entire CQ Global Researcher Online report, "Child Soldiers," click here. [subscription required]

In the News: Pope Issues Warning on Environment

In his first address before the World Youth Festival in Sydney, Australia, Pope Benedict XVI urged the world to conserve natural resources while reinforcing the Vatican’s commitment to protecting the environment. In a broad criticism of consumer culture before a crowd of 140,000, the Pope largely blamed the destruction of the environment and depletion of resources on what he calls humanity’s “insatiable consumption.” He went on to warn of the hazards of such materialism and appealed to the audience to make faith the focal point of their public and private lives. The Pope also criticized television and the Internet for treating violence and sexual exploitation as entertainment. Sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church, the World Youth Festival works to improve the lives of youth around the world, with this year’s agenda focusing on social justice and the environment.

To view the entire CQ Researcher Online report, "Buying Green," click here. [subscription required]

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In the News: Obama Raises Over $50 Million in June

Presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama raised $52 million last month, more than double the $22 million raised by presumptive Republican nominee John McCain. The campaign now has $72 million on hand. Obama has been using much of the money to invest heavily in states that have traditionally been Republican strongholds, including over $1 million each in Florida, Virginia, Georgia and Indiana. Analysts expect him to maintain his financial edge over McCain in the closing months of the campaign. Obama opted out of public campaign financing last month.

To view the entire CQ Researcher Online report, "Campaign Finance Reform," click here. [subscription required]

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Overview of This Week’s Report: “Race and Politics”

When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, capping the historic 1963 March on Washington, he was talking about only the most basic rights. “I have a dream,” he thundered, “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ “

Perhaps only in King’s inner-most, private dreams did he even entertain the possibility of an African-American running for president, let alone being elected. At the time, standing up for voting rights for black people often meant laying your life on the line.

Yet, 45 years later, to the day, Sen. Barack Obama – a black man – is scheduled to accept the Democratic Party nomination for president. The freshman U.S. senator from Illinois boasts a relatively slim résumé for a major-party presidential candidate: before his Senate stint, eight years in the Illinois legislature and three years of community organizing. Where he most obviously differs from his predecessors, though, is his skin color, the result of having a black Kenyan father and white Kansan mother.

“A lot of black folks, myself included, occasionally pinch ourselves to see if this is really real,” says James Rucker of San Francisco, co-founder of, a Web-based network that aims to boost the political presence of African-Americans.

Perhaps adding to the dreamlike quality of the moment, Obama’s almost-certain Republican opponent, four-term Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a white, 71-year-old war hero – is running slightly behind in some polls. But even if McCain later moves to the lead, Obama, 46, already has upset expectations rooted in America’s complicated and violent racial history.

Obama’s strong showing may be as much generational as racial. “We have more racially conservative people being replaced by younger people coming into adulthood who are much more comfortable with the racial and ethnic diversity that characterizes the country today,” says Scott Keeter, director of survey research for the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

Even so, most recent poll results still show a close race. In June, a Washington Post-ABC News survey showed Obama with 48 percent support, against 42 percent for McCain. Estimates of electoral votes showed McCain ahead, but by only six votes.

Arguably, Obama should be leaving McCain in the dust. A Republican affiliation is a ticket to the political graveyard these days, as any number of GOP politicians are saying. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sees a “catastrophic collapse in trust for Republicans.” Yet Obama and McCain are in “a very competitive race for president,” Democratic pollster Peter Hart told The Wall Street Journal.

Is Obama’s race – as opposed to his relative inexperience or his policy proposals or his personality – holding his numbers down?

A national poll in early July found that Americans disagree on some – but not all – race-related issues. Twenty-nine percent of blacks thought race relations in the U.S. were generally good compared to 55 percent of whites. Yet 70 percent of whites and 65 percent of blacks thought America is ready to elect a black president. As to the candidates themselves, 83 percent of black voters had favorable opinions of Obama compared with 31 percent of whites. And only 5 percent of blacks had favorable opinions of McCain vs. 35 percent of whites.

Obama supporters and the candidate himself are predicting that Republicans inevitably will resort to race. “They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. ‘He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?’ “ Obama told a fundraiser in Jacksonville, Fla., in late June.

Republican officials and activists reject the notion that race will be the deciding issue. “I don’t believe this presidential election is going to be determined by the race of the candidates,” says Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican frequently mentioned as a potential vice-presidential running mate for McCain.

Republicans predict, however, that Obama’s camp will treat legitimate political challenges as racial attacks. “Every word will be twisted to make it about race,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a McCain friend and adviser. But GOP attacks on Obama on issues such as national security and the economy, he said, will have “nothing to do with him being an African-American.”

Still, no one disputes that race inevitably will affect the election. Race has been intertwined with American history even before nationhood, and racial issues have figured in virtually all past presidential elections for the past half-century – before a major party had a black candidate.

In the politically crucial South – a Republican bastion since 1980 – most white and black voters (when blacks could even register) have always joined opposed parties. When the Democratic Party carried the banner of segregation, blacks tended to be Republicans. After the Democrats aligned themselves with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the races switched parties.

“The majority [of Southerners] define themselves as conservative,” says political scientist Merle Black, a specialist in Southern politics at Emory University in Atlanta. “White moderates have tended to be more Republican than Democratic; that isolates the Democrats with white liberals and African-Americans, who are not a majority in any Southern state.”

Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 each failed to win a single Southern state. But some experts give Obama a strong chance in Virginia – and outside possibilities in North Carolina and Florida. As if to underline the point, Obama opened his post-primary campaign in Virginia on June 5.

Obama’s bold move exemplified the approach that has taken him further than any African-American politician in U.S. history.

Indeed, Shelby Steele, a conservative writer of black and white parentage, is disavowing the last part of the subtitle of his recent book, A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win. Steele, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., says: “I underestimated the hunger in America for what Obama represents – racial transcendence, redemption. He’s this wonderful opportunity to prove that we’re not a racist society. I thought that would take him a very long way, but I didn’t think it would take him all the way, but it may.”

However strong that hunger may be, it’s not universal. Hard-core race prejudice remains a factor in American life. If Obama wins, “We’ll end up slaves. We’ll be made slaves just like they was once slaves,” Johnny Telvor of Williamson, W. Va., told The Observer, a British newspaper. And Victoria Spitzer, an Obama campaign volunteer from Pennsylvania, told The Washington Post of even uglier comments. “Hang that darky from a tree,” she said she was told once as she made phone calls to dozens of prospective primary voters.

Obama argues that the country is indeed ready to rise above America’s centuries-old racial divide. “In the history of African-American politics in this country there has always been some tension between speaking in universal terms and speaking in very race-specific terms about the plight of the African-American community,” Obama said during a National Public Radio interview in 2007. “By virtue of my background, you know, I am more likely to speak in universal terms.”

“Universal” now describes a far more diverse population than the white-majority/black-minority paradigm that prevailed only a few decades ago.

The U.S. Census Bureau calculates the nation’s entire minority population – of whom Latinos make up the biggest single component – at 34 percent. “In a single lifetime, we will have gone from a country made up largely of white Europeans to one that looks much more like the rest of the world,” writes Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN (formerly New Democratic Network), a liberal think tank and advocacy organization.

Still, old-school racial issues persist. The “post-racial” aura of Obama’s candidacy suffered some erosion after a video clip surfaced in March of a fiery black nationalist sermon by Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, ending with the unforgettable: “God damn America.”

After cable news channels put the clip in round-the-clock rotation, Obama disassociated himself from Wright’s remarks. When that didn’t calm the waters, the Indonesia- and Hawaii-bred candidate gave a major speech on March 18 in Philadelphia, in which he confronted suggestions that his childhood outside the continental United States, and his Ivy League education had sheltered him from the U.S racial drama: “I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.”

The primary contest was winding to a close. Inevitably, the Wright affair and its aftermath permeated news coverage of the final elections.

In a Newsweek poll in May, 21 percent of white registered voters said they didn’t think America was ready to elect an African-American president, and 18 percent of non-whites agreed. But pollsters also tried gauging the extent of prejudice, asking white voters only if “we have gone too far in pushing equal rights in this country.” Thirty-nine percent said yes.

And in Democratic primary elections in the politically critical states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as in West Virginia and Kentucky, exit polls showed that Obama faced clear resistance among white voters with no more than high-school educations – the standard definition of “working class.”

But a Roanoke, Va.-based political consultant who specializes in rural voters argues that Obama’s race is a deal-breaker only with a small minority of voters in the Appalachian region that includes Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. “There’s one thing that could kill him – his gun record,” says David “Mudcat” Saunders. “He’s got to come to Jesus on guns. You start taking peoples’ handguns, which is how the National Rifle Association right now is defining him – if he gets branded with that, he’s done.”

Obama may have weakened his case with rural gun owners with his widely reported comments at a San Francisco fundraising event shortly before the Pennsylvania primary. “You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years, and nothing’s replaced them,” he told prospective donors. “Each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate, and they have not. So 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.”

To Obama’s foes, the comments confirmed their depiction of him as an arrogant and condescending Ivy Leaguer – someone who aroused class-based suspicion more than racial hostility.

Whether Obama, who grew up fatherless and whose family at one point relied on food stamps, fits the standard definition of “elite” is one question. Another, say some scholars, is whether depictions of negative personal reactions to Obama as working-class pride are a cover. “I don’t buy the argument that the racial argument is just a class discussion,” says Paula McClain, a specialist in racial politics at Duke University. “For blacks, it doesn’t matter how high you get. Millions of middle-class blacks still experience slights.”

Obama lost Pennsylvania. But a Washington Post reporter traveling through its small towns found voters who agreed with Obama’s basic assessment, if not with his wording. “People are sort of bitter, but they’re not carrying around guns and causing crimes like he specified,” said retired factory worker George Guzzi. “Everyone makes mistakes.” Guzzi plans to vote for Obama.

American voters may be more nuanced in their judgments than some pundits think they are. And Obama’s influence is undeniable. “No one up until this point has been able to change the dynamics like he has,” says Hanes Walton Jr., a political scientist at the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan. “Some people would call it a sea change.”

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