Obama’s Bitterness

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Yesterday the Huffington Post had this exclusive audio of Obama speaking at a California fundraiser. An excerpt:

“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.”

Rival Hillary Clinton immediately latched on to his remarks saying she seems optimism in Pennsylvania. “As I travel around Pennsylvania, I meet people who are resilient, who are optimistic, who are positive, who are rolling up their sleeves,” Clinton said yesterday. “Pennsylvanians don’t need a president who looks down on them, they need a president who stands up for them, who fights for them, who works hard for your futures, your jobs, your families.”

And the GOP weren’t far behind. House Minority Leader John Boehner called Obama’s remarks “condescending.” McCain advisor Steve Schmidt echoed: “It shows an elitism and condescension towards hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking,” he told Politico.com. “It is hard to imagine someone running for president who is more out of touch with average Americans.”

Obama was quick to respond, defending his remarks yesterday at an event in Terre Haute, Indiana (by the way in French this town’s name means the high ground). The campaign then emailed a transcript of his remarks around to reporters. An excerpt:

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.

Obama repeated these sentiments today at another event in Muncie, Indiana. And Clinton stepped up her criticism, calling Obama’s remarks “elitist and out of touch” at an Indianapolis event today. Obama labeled the uproar “a little typical sort of political flare up.” The degree to which this “little” gaffe becomes a big gaffe will depend on how this plays out. Clinton is not going to waste this window of opportunity and neither is McCain. And, unfortunately for Obama, fixing this problem – trying to relate better to middle America and seem like a regular guy — is hard to fix with a soaring speech.