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Friday, April 11, 2008

Obama's Turn-The Latest Political Gaffe

In what is quickly becoming known as the latest political gaffe, Barack Obama gave a speech at a San Francisco fundraiser, to a group of his wealthier Golden State backers, where he attempted to describe small towns in Pennsylvanians.
His comments are being described as elitist and condescending.

Hillary Clinton and John McCain have already come out fast and hard in their criticisms of Obama's speech that was not caught on video, but was caught caught on audio.

The portion of the speech that has the media and blogosphere buzzing is this:

"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," Obama said. "And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then 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."

These words and audio were brought to the public's attention by the very liberal website, Huffington Post. The writer of that piece has been following the Obama campaign through Pennsylvania and describes the Pennsylvanians that she met along the way as friendly, patriotic, and says she witnessed them being especially nice to Barack Obama along his campaign trail.

The writer explains that the qualities of hospitality, patriotism and endurance are exactly what Californians need to hear about Pennsylvanians and instead they got a speech that included what I quoted above and to the Huffpo writer, that was a mistake.

Obama made a problematic judgment call in trying to explain working class culture to a much wealthier audience. He described blue collar Pennsylvanians with a series of what in the eyes of creamy Californians might be considered pure negatives: guns, clinging to religion, antipathy, xenophobia.

Hillary Clinton and the John McCain Campaign have both now spoken out against that description of small town Pennsylvanians.

Hillary's criticism which she made during a town hall meeting at Drexel University, is on video, and she says, "It’s being reported that my opponent said that the people of Pennsylvania who faced hard times are bitter. Well that’s not my experience. As I travel around Pennsylvania, I meet people who are resilient, who are optimistic, who are positive, who are rolling up their sleeves. They’re working hard everyday for a better future, for themselves and their children. Pennsylvanians don’t need a President who looks down on them, who fights for them, who works for your futures, your jobs, your families."

In a statement from a McCain adviser, Steve Schmidt, called it, "remarkable statement and extremely revealing" , adding, "It shows an elitism and condescension towards hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking. It is hard to imagine someone running for president who is more out of touch with average Americans."

Schmidt wasn't done though and he concluded the statement with, "This statement demonstrates that he will have great difficulty connecting because it’s clear he holds the people he’s describing with some measure of contempt. The condescension and elitism inherent in the statement is remarkable. The notion that because people are in a tough economy, that’s why they go to church, thats why they have guns, that’s why they’re anti -immigrant–it is a remarkable series of condescensions towards the heart and soul of this country. The people who live in small town America and I think people will resent it and be very angry about it because that is not how most Americans view themselves.”

The problem with addressing the topic of small town Pennsylvania or small town anywhere USA, to a group of wealthy Californians, is that while trying to keep the audience where you are speaking entertained and enthralled, one might tend to forget that the audience in the town you are speaking of, might just hear those words.

With the Pennsylvania primary between the two Democratic contenders, on the horizon, these are words that Barack Obama can be assured that Hillary Clinton will see to it that every Pennsylvanian will hear from now until primary day.

A large variety of pictures from the event can be found at ZombieTime.

[Update]- Obama's campaign response:

"Senator Obama has said many times in this campaign that Americans are understandably upset with their leaders in Washington for saying anything to win elections while failing to stand up to the special interests and fight for an economic agenda that will bring jobs and opportunity back to struggling communities. And if John McCain wants a debate about who's out of touch with the American people, we can start by talking about the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans that he once said offended his conscience but now wants to make permanent."

It isn't going to help. You don't belittle people by saying they are hanging on to their guns and religion because they are frustrated.

You also do not tell people that their frustrations are the reason they are against illegal immigration.