Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Missing the Point on Obama's "Bitter" Comments

There has been a medium sized dust-up over Barack Obama's recent comments that many small town and rural Americans are "bitter" from years of economic struggle and deindustrialization. He argued that, as a result, many have come to distrust government and instead cling to guns and religion. Hillary, who has made $100 million over the last few years, claims it proves Obama, who not too long ago paid off his and Michelle's student loans, is "elitist." And, Hillary is running around pretending she's Annie Oakley, a gun-loving, church-going, beer-and-a-shot good ole gal. This, of course, is a joke and if the media was halfway decent, they'd call Bill and Hill on it, but they've largely chosen to caricature Obama's statements, focusing almost exclusively on their impact on the horse-race, and thereby missing the opportunity to analyze the content of the remarks and explore the very real struggles of millions of Americans.

• Take a close look at the poster that appears above. That is a real poster from Pittsburgh. It speaks directly to the issues Obama raised. (Click the image to enlarge it) In fact, Obama's were words of compassion and understanding, not condescension or elitism. As he did with race a few weeks back, he was attempting to speak honestly about the struggles of everyday people in small towns and rural areas and the frustrations ('bitterness") they often experience.

• Here is what Barack had to say about Clinton's reaction to his remarks:

• Here is what Theda Skocpol, who knows the Clintons very well, wrote:
I have been in meetings with the Clintons and their advisors where very clinical things were said in a very-detached tone about unwillingness of working class voters to trust government -- and Bill Clinton -- and about their unfortunate (from a Clinton perspective) proclivity to vote on life-style rather than economic issues. To see Hillary going absolutely over the top to smash Obama for making clearly more humanly sympathetic observations in this vein, is just amazing. Even more so to see her pretending to be a gun-toting non-elite. Give us a break!

I wonder if she realizes that gaining a few days of lurid publicity that might reach a slice of voters is going to cost her a great deal in the regard of many Democrats, whose strong support she will need if she somehow claws her way to the nomination -- and even more so if she does not clinch the nomination. The distribution of "we're not bitter" stickers to her campaign rallies is the height of over-the-top crudity, and the reports are that very few audience members seem to have much enthusiasm for this nonsense. Not surprisingly, people cannot see the reasons for so much fuss.

Yes, she wants a big break, she desperately wants the nomination she and Bill believe is hers by right. We all know that. But where is her authenticity and her dignity and her sense of any proportion?

This has to be one of the few times in U.S. political history when a multi-millionaire has accused a much less wealthy fellow public servant, a person of the same party and views who made much less lucrative career choices, of "elitism"! (I won't say the only time, because U.S. political history is full of absurdities of this sort.) In a way, it is funny -- and it may not be long before the jokes start.

• Similarly, Rachel Maddow chastised the media for getting the story wrong:

To a certain extent, I think we’re really commenting on the caricature of his comments. If you look at what he said, what he said was not that these values of small town America, and rural America and working class white America are the product of economic hardships. He’s saying that those folks in America do not believe they’re going to get any economic help from Washington so they don’t’ vote their economic interests when they vote, they instead vote these other things. It’s actually…we’re not actually taking this on as a political issue and debating whether or not that’s right or wrong. We’re debating the damage of the caricature of his comments. It’s this…become this meta-narrative about how he’s been described rather than actually taking on the meat of what he argued.

• Here is a more thoughtful analysis of working class resentment and reaction in American politics

• Reacting to this story and to the hulabaloo over the fact that Obama isn't much of a bowler and Hillary is a good beer drinker and shot-taker, one diarist over at Daily Kos wrote this:
My first reaction was the sensible one: to pray to God to please kill me, immediately. Preferably by meteor. But one of the defining characteristics of my life is that God just isn't that into me, and/or all the meteors are already spoken for, so it never works.

In lieu of divine homicide, then, I suppose the only other avenue left is to try to pry some sense from the nonsense. So here goes: what you see, above, is the defense of the petty, the vapid and the embarrassingly trivial as valid "news", worthy of actual air time. The premise goes like this: the news media reports some minor absurdity about the race. Various pundits go on television to tell Americans how the latest triviality should make them "feel". Ten times as many pundits appear to analyze what would happen if Americans actually felt that way. Then comes the man-on-the-street interviews to see if people really do "feel" that way, and regardless of what actually gets said, by how many, the hypothesis is pronounced correct, or at least "newsworthy". (Note: the definition of "newsworthy" is simply "something we felt like putting on television." This could be a story about Abu Ghraib, or a story about a cat that has learned to ride a skateboard, or a story about what Robert Novak thinks about something. It is, in other words a meaningless phrase.)

Then George W. Bush and a half dozen cabinet members in some back room somewhere authorize the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody, but we can't pay attention to that because we've all got to decide whether we want a president with good bowling scores.

• John Farr points out that there is truth in Obama's words

• Former Clinton Labor Secretary, economist Robert Reich, agrees there is truth in Obama's remarks

• Matthew Rothschild, over at The Progressive magazine, writes that whatever Obama's sin on this "bitterness flap," it pales in comparison to Hillary's lies over her "experience" in Bosnia.

• Seth Grahame-Smith points out the obvious hypocrisy of Hillary's attacks on Obama

• Hillary used to sing a different tune on guns

• Bill Clinton has made similar remarks as Obama in the past

• It does not appear Hillary Clinton's attacks are resonating all that much with Pennsylvanians, although not surprisingly early polls do indicate slight slippage for Obama in PA since this flap hit. That said, anecdotally, Clinton was jeered and Obama cheered yesterday when the topic surfaced in their speeches. In fact, this reporter claims Hillary was booed outright at a union gathering when she raised the issue.

• This report suggests that most Pennsylvanians think Obama's statement was no big deal


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