Sunday, April 13, 2008

The "Bitter" Truth

Obama's recent "bitterness" gaffe (or at least the media wants to call it a gaffe) has got me thinking. And what I just realized is that this issue ties in very much with an article by Charles Pierce called "Greetings from Idiot America." The issue at hand is America's distrust of anything that smacks of elitism - elitism being the quality of someone with a higher education or income level than you who disagrees with what you say. When Obama observed that people in small towns with no positive economic future tend to cling more tightly to certain social customs - religion, guns, xenophobia, etc - isn't he kind of right? What was the cause of American isolationism during the Great Depression? (I hate to use Nazis as an example, but) How did Hitler rally the German people during the 30's? There are plenty more examples.

I understand how people might get upset at these notions, because something like religion is a very personal thing for many people, and I disagree with Obama about the guns part. But in the big picture, he's right. Why else would he say something like that? He was pointing out that people in these areas don't feel like anyone's looking out for them except God, and he wants to help these people improve their situation. But because the big city college-educated professor guy thinks these people need help and are clinging to traditions, he's an "elitist." All of a sudden "Yes We Can" has been magically perverted into "No You Can't (because Barack thinks you're a rube)".

I decided to write this post because of a Politico article about Barack's comments. Some if not all of them are legitimate reasons that his comments are harmful to his campaign. The problem is that it's become a proxy battle of the political elite. I'll explain.
1. Almost every reason that these comments constitute a "gaffe" are for purely political reasons - "It gives the Clinton campaign new arguments for trying to recruit superdelegates," "It helps Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) frame a potential race against Obama,". The article devotes 2 of its 12 bullet points to the actual concerns/rebuttals of Pennsylvania residents, and seeing that it's written in Politico (a political junkie website), I can guarantee that the author is probably no more in touch with small town folk than Barack is. They just want to perpetuate the idea of the "clueless elitist liberal.
2. The way various characters in this story are going to react will be exactly predictable, and it seems to have panned out that way. Hillary and McCain have criticized Obama, putting him in the hot spot and thus relieving them of the responsibility of having to care about the Pennsylvania voters. Instead of "Here's my plan for you guys," they get off easy with "well, the other guy just doesn't care about you."
3. I don't think anyone in the media is going to look too hard at the truth of the matter. A few months ago John Edwards was drawing a decent number of votes and his position was exactly one of the pissed-off small town champion. The news is going to go out and find a couple pissed off rural folks and ask them something like "Are you bitter? Do you cling to God because your income is low?" and they aren't going to look at the actual stats on the economy or anything.

Finally, here's a transcript of what Barack had to say in response to the uproar"

And so people end up — they don’t vote on economic issues because they don’t expect anybody’s going to help them. So people end up, you know, voting on issues like guns, and are they going to have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. And they take refuge in their faith and their community and their families and things they can count on. But they don’t believe they can count on Washington. So I made this statement — so, here’s what rich Sen. Clinton says: ‘No, I don’t think that people are bitter in Pennsylvania. You know, I think Barack’s being condescending.’ John McCain says, ‘Oh, how could he say that? How could he say people are bitter? You know, he’s obviously out of touch with people.’

“Out of touch? Out of touch? I mean, John McCain — it took him three tries to finally figure out that the home foreclosure crisis was a problem and to come up with a plan for it, and he’s saying I’m out of touch? Sen. Clinton voted for a credit card-sponsored bankruptcy bill that made it harder for people to get out of debt after taking money from the financial services companies, and she says I’m out of touch? No, I’m in touch. I know exactly what’s going on. I know what’s going on in Pennsylvania. I know what’s going on in Indiana. I know what’s going on in Illinois. People are fed-up. They’re angry and they’re frustrated and they’re bitter. And they want to see a change in Washington, and that’s why I’m running for President of the United States of America.”

I hope Ewan might have something else/more to say about this, I've been really busy so I had to dash this off so I could focus on everything else.

(posted by Matt)

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