In the Arena

Bitter Cling

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Well, I don’t know. This Obama controversy, described below by JNS, is the sort of thing we journalists blow up into massive gas, mostly because we really don’t want to get down in the weeds about the things we need to get down in the weeds about…like whether trade deals really are so bad, especially with the weak dollar (I don’t think so) and whether we need a pause in the withdrawal schedule in Iraq (I don’t think so). Given the vast amounts of words that presidential candidates utter, a certain percentage are going to cause trouble, especially if the candidate has a tendency to, uh, tell the truth. And so we have 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.”

This is a pretty accurate description of the mood I’ve seen out in the country this year. But there is one unfortunate word, and it’s not bitter, it’s cling which implies a certain weakness and closed-mindedness in our fellow countrymen. Is it condescending? Slightly. But Hillary Clinton expressed the very same sentiments to me, minus the words “bitter” or “cling” when I asked her about the anti-immigrant feelings in Iowa last November. She said you didn’t see people reacting that way back in the 1990s, when the economy was good.

So, will this have an effect on the campaign? Probably not–not unless Clinton is able to build an Obama-as-Elitist narrative. We’ve seen some evidence of non-populism in the past from Obama. Early on, he talked about the high price of arugula at Whole Foods. Shoulda been iceberg at Kroger’s. And clearly, if there ever was an upper middle class family, it is the Ivy League Obamas.

But hey, we’re in the last stages of a long, exhausting campaign between two candidates who differ from each other not at all on the issues. I don’t see it as a window into Obama’s soul or a matter of much import at all. But then, I didn’t think Clinton’s Tuzla moment was all that important, either.

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