Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Telling like it is isn't a winning strategy

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Once again, I'm stunned about the absurdity of the U.S. presidential race. Front-running Democratic contender Barack Obama sparked another weekend of angry debate after he suggested that some voters, embittered by their depressed economic prospects, turned to guns and religion as solace. These comments prompted challenger Hillary Rodham Clinton to respond that Obama as "elitist" and out of touch with common Americans.Where to start?First, Obama and Clinton are both elitists. It's part of the particular style of democracy embraced in the western world that elitists generally dominate politics. That's a blessing and a curse, as many voters know. Good because it puts smart, successful, educated people in positions of power; bad because those smart, successful, educated people sometimes have their heads up their well-read asses. But the issue here is not whether politicians are elitist, it's about whether elections help to solve or entrench the biggest problems faced by a society.Eruptions of self-righteous indignation have dominated the Democratic leadership campaign. Whether it was former president and possible first husband Bill Clinton's suggestion that African-American voters were voting for Obama just because he was black, or Obama's slick dance around his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., an incendiary religious leader who has garnered attention for scathing speeches in which he describes the U.S. as a deeply racist, war mongering nation. Now, we have Obama on the defensive again for his portrayal of certain pockets of the American public for whom religion and their obsession with the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment eclipses every decision they make in an election.Second, although reasonable people might still object to the tone of some of these comments (in particular, Wright's rantings) there is very little in what any of these people have said that is evil. African-American voters are passing over Clinton for Obama, much in the way many women are turning their backs on Obama in the hopes of electing the first woman president in U.S. history. Racism is still alive in the U.S. (as it is in every country) and as for war mongering - the cost in dollars and human lives of the effort in Iraq is certainly fodder for debate. Obama's recent comments about bitterness, god and guns may have been poorly worded, as the senator now claims, but there are signs that he's not too far off the mark.Consider that alongside the New York Times article about the Democratic dust-up is a Google ad for something called The Church of God, and its collection of books and pamphlets which predict that the United States will drift closer to the Kingdom of God in 2008 when the aforementioned God arranges for the return of Jesus Christ and thus kicks off the destruction that results in the end of the world.Now, we still have most of 2008 to get through, so I'll be cautious in my assessment of the Church of God. But is there a small possibility here that demand for books like this have a little bit to do with the tumultuous international events, such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the deepening fiscal crisis now gripping the U.S.? Suffice to say those conditions haven't hurt sales of the Church's books, which in true apocalyptic fashion are actually free. (I mean, why go through the hassle of on-line billing and charging for shipping and handling if the world is ending this year?)Perhaps Obama doesn't expect evangelical gun nuts to vote for him, and thus making comments like this don't really worry him. Or, perhaps he is a rare breed of politician who doesn't mind talking about these things because, out in the open, perhaps there is a better chance of addressing and repairing the fractured American populace. Remember, this is a country where a gun-loving, anti-government libertarian blew up a federal office building in Oklahoma City and killed 168 people in response to the federal government's mishandling of a raid of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, the resulted in the death of 76 devotees.At first blush, there appears to be a connection between guns, religion and economic disparity, and the potential for violence that springs out of this equation will not be alleviated if politicians are afraid to talk about the underlying causes while occupying the spotlight of an intense election campaign.-30-

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.

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