Could this be one of those moments when the middle class and poor people in this country awaken to the reality of their economic distress? It will be if people really listen to what Barack Obama had to say on this subject rather than digest only the snippets of quotes that the opposition are ranting about.
From Hillary Clinton to John McCain to a variety of newscasters and pundits, the attack on Obama has focused on his elitism and lack of sympathy for the average American. The focus is entirely on these two sentences Obama said during a fund-raiser in San Francisco:
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. 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.
The disadvantaged in this country hardly see themselves clinging to their guns or their religion as some form of therapy for their financial woes, and the press was quick to label this statement as a phenomenal blunder on Obama’s part, sure to turn off honest, hard-working Pennsylvanians, or at least the white ones.
Lou Dobbs canvassed his viewers on this very point, offering them a yes or no alternative on the following question: Do you believe that Senator Barack Obama’s comments reveal his elitist attitude toward every hardworking American? The only surprise to this sort of loaded question was that 50% of the respondents said No.
Maybe that is significant. Maybe the general public isn’t listening anymore to the demagoguery that for 25 years has played the middle class against the poor, the religious against the secular, black against white, straight against gay, and everybody against the immigrants ”“ all while the wealthy keep reaping an increasing amount of society’s production. Or maybe people actually read Obama’s extended response on this ”œcontroversy”:
When I go around and I talk to people there is frustration and there is anger and there is bitterness. And what’s worse is when people are expressing their anger then politicians try to say what are you angry about? This just happened – I want to make a point here today.
I was in San Francisco talking to a group at a fundraiser and somebody asked how’re you going to get votes in Pennsylvania? What’s going on there? We hear that’s its hard for some working class people to get behind you’re campaign. I said, “Well look, they’re frustrated and for good reason. Because for the last 25 years they’ve seen jobs shipped overseas. They’ve seen their economies collapse. They have lost their jobs. They have lost their pensions. They have lost their healthcare.
And for 25, 30 years Democrats and Republicans have come before them and said we’re going to make your community better. We’re going to make it right and nothing ever happens. And of course they’re bitter. Of course they’re frustrated. You would be too. In fact many of you are. Because the same thing has happened here in Indiana. The same thing happened across the border in Decatur. The same thing has happened all across the country. Nobody is looking out for you. Nobody is thinking about you. 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. Senator 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? Senator 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.
This is dangerous stuff. It challenges in some fundamental way the manner in which government and corporations have been running things for a quarter of a century. It is a pithy summary of arguments made in Thomas Frank’s book What’s the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. It approaches, but does not go as far as, the populist arguments of Sen. John Edwards or Dennis Kucinich, and it certainly is missing the point about the damaging consequences of empire described by Mike Gravel.
It is, in fact, a bit of a move forward for Obama (or leftward, if you will), and it is part of his campaign strategy to hit back hard when his opponents charge him with something. Some of the media are still reporting this story with the theme ”œObama is on the defensive”, but others are giving play to his rebuttal, and some like CNN have dropped the story altogether (at least for now).
Will people read his more detailed comments and pay less attention to the cat fight that the media usually make as the focus for their campaign coverage? It remains to be seen, but if they do, it could be the start of a sea-change in the publics’ attitude toward their economic condition. Given the rapid collapse of public confidence in the economy and in their own financial prospects, and given the likelihood of much further economic distress on the way, this little story might be part of a major rethinking by the voters on who is really to blame for the increasingly difficult economic conditions facing the average American.