"Bristling from charges that he is an out-of-touch elitist," Barack Obama offered "an unusually detailed biographical sketch" in a speech at a luncheon for newspaper reporters, editors and executives 4/14 in DC. Obama: "Contrary to current reports, I wasn't born into a lot of money. I was raised by a single mother with the help of my grandparents who grew up in small-town Kansas and went to school on the G.I. Bill and bought their home through a FHA loan" (Murray, "The Trail," WashingtonPost.com, 4/14).
While Obama told a story of "struggle and sacrifice," he also used the speech to "contrast his own humble beginnings with" those of Hillary Clinton, "who earned more than" $100M over the past eight years, and with John McCain, "whose father and grandfather were four-star admirals."
Earlier on 4/14, McCain addressed the same crowd and "refused to say whether he regards Obama as an elitist." Still, McCain had this to say about Obama's San Francisco comments: "I think those comments are elitist. I think that anybody who disparages people who are hard-working, honest, dedicated people who have cherished the Second Amendment and the right to hunt ... and their values and their culture that they value and that they've grown up with, and sometimes in the case of generations, and saying that's because they're unhappy with their economic conditions? I think it's a fundamental contradiction of what I believe America is all about." When his time came, Obama responded by saying McCain criticism "was an attempt to distract voters from his support" of GOP economic policies. Obama: "It's a philosophy that says there's no role for government in making the global economy work for working Americans, that we have to just sit back, watch those factories close and those jobs disappear" (Shepard, Cox News Service, 4/15).
More Obama on McCain: "If John McCain wants to turn this election into a contest about which party is out of touch with the struggles and the hopes of working America, that's a debate I'm happy to have. In fact, I think that's a debate we need to have." More: "If I had to carry the banner for eight years of George Bush's failures, I'd be looking for something else to talk about too." Obama "dismissed" charges that his comments were elitist. Obama: "I may have made a mistake last week in the words that I chose, but the other party has made a much more damaging mistake in the failed policies they've chosen and the bankrupt philosophy they've embraced for the last three decades."
Obama also "turned his attention" to Clinton. With a "smile on his face, his tone verged close to mocking, when he was asked whether she should exit the race." Obama: "There aren't many figures in American politics who could sustain 11 straight losses and hang in the race and raise $35 million. So in that sense, she's unique. The fact that former President Clinton is there -– and the structure that he has of loyalty all across the country, the brand name that they have, makes them very tough." More Obama: "I'm sure that Senator Clinton feels like she's doing me a great favor because she's been deploying most of the arguments that the Republican Party will be using against me in November. So it's toughening me up. I'm getting run through the paces" (Zeleny, "The Caucus," New York Times, 4/14).
The McCain camp "responded" before Obama "concluded his speech." McCain advisor Mark Salter: "It's hard to keep a straight face when you're accused of being out of touch by a guy who thinks the whole country is worries about the high price of arugula or that you can hunt ducks with a six shooter" (Bellantoni, Washington Times, 4/14).
Won't Be Turned Around
While speaking in DC, Obama also "said he would not back down from his intended message." Obama: "I regret some of the words I chose, partly because the way that these remarks have been interpreted have offended some people and partly because they have served as one more distraction from the critical debate that we must have in this election season." More: "But I will never walk away from the larger point that I was trying to make and have made in the past. For the last several decades, people in small towns and cities and rural areas all across this country have seen globalization change the rules of the game on them" (Washington Times, 4/14).
Chances For Survival
The "bitter" comments might not be a boon to Clinton as Obama "has consistently rebounded from previous gaffes." Pollster John Zogby: "Every misstep by Obama does not necessarily translate into an advantage for Clinton. "It's a hard-fought race and there are very few undecideds." Zogby said most Dems "have made up their mind about" Clinton and "will not change based on" Obama's negatives. But these "flaps could persist to turn off voters in a match up with" McCain. Zogby: "We're going to hear it again and again and again."
Still, others think Obama is "wounded." Clinton supporter/Dem strategist Maria Cardona: "It will hurt him in the upcoming primaries, and if he is the nominee, it will hurt him in November" (Bellantoni/Dinan, Washington Times, 4/15).
Independent Women's Forum pres. Michelle Bernard: "The bitter battle will not be Barack Obama's Kryptonite. I think he has weathered a lot of storms. ... If he could weather Reverend Wright ... I think he can most definitely weather this storm" ("Race for the WH," MSNBC, 4/14).
Washington Post's Zimmerman, on how Obama can move past the controversy: "It's about credibility. That's what it will come down in this election. For Barack Obama to come back on track, he has to step up and apologize for his statements and understand how divisive they were, and start focusing consistently on a real message and real issues" ("Lou Dobbs Tonight," CNN, 4/14).
CNN's Crowley: "With Pastor Wright, we all thought this would have an affect on Barack Obama. And yet, you know, he got to a point where he just went right back up to where he was before. So this is a little different, because these are his words as opposed to someone else's" ("AC 360," 4/14).
Meanwhile, In Steeltown
Before coming to DC 4/14, Clinton gave a speech to "hundreds of manufacturers" in Pittsburgh, PA, wherein she "reiterating her criticisms" of Obama "for the fourth straight day." Obama, who addressed the same group before her, said: "Senator Clinton and Senator McCain are singing from the same hymn book, saying that I'm 'out of touch' -- an 'elitist' -– because I said a lot of folks are bitter about their economic circumstances. You've heard this kind of rhetoric before. Around election time, the candidates can't do enough for you. They'll promise you anything, give you a long list of proposals and even come around, with T.V. crews in tow, to throw back a shot and a beer."
In response, Clinton said: "I understand my opponent came this morning and spent a lot of his time attacking me. Well, you know, I know that many of you, like me, were disappointed by recent remarks that he made." At which point, a "smattering of boos was heard across the floor, and some people in the crowd shouted, 'No!'" Clinton continued: "I am well aware that at a fundraiser in San Francisco he said some things that many people in Pennsylvania and beyond Pennsylvania have found offensive. He said they cling to religion and guns and dislike people who are different from them. Well, I don't believe that." More: "I don't think he really gets it that people are looking for a president who stands up for you and not looks down on you" (Bosman, "The Caucus," New York Times, 4/14).
Maybe A Couple Points
Before introducing Clinton at a Philly Dems fundraiser 4/14 p.m., PA Gov. Ed Rendell (D) said "he thinks the uproar over Obama's remarks" will cost him a "couple of points at the most" and that the contest "will probably go the distance." Rendell: "It depends on the next nine elections that are after this" (Kraus, Allentown Morning Call, 4/15).
As Seen On TV
All three network newscasts led with coverage of Obama's remarks to the DC media forum.
ABC's Gibson: "Presidential politics is first. Because topic A continues to be what Barack Obama said about rural and working-class Pennsylvanians. ... Hillary Clinton isn't missing a single opportunity to contend to voters that Obama is out of touch" ("World News," 4/14).
CBS' Couric: We begin tonight, though, with the bitter battle for the White House, and 'bitter' is the key word" ("Evening News," 4/14).
NBC's Williams: "Three members of the United States Senate are all accusing each other of being members of the ruling elite class in the this country. This started with something Barack Obama said about people in Pennsylvania where the crucial primary is a week from tomorrow" ("Nightly News," 4/14).
Are They Bitter About It?
"Hardball" hosted several PA Dem chairs to talk about the aftermath of Obama's comments:
Clinton supporter/PA Montgomery Co. Dem chair Marcel Groen: "I think outside in the suburbs where we are, it's not going to have a significant impact. What it will do is, I think there was a lot of building momentum towards Senator Obama. It stopped that."
Clinton supporter/PA Allegheny Co. Dem chair James Burn: "I think there's going to be a little bit more of a hit out here in the numbers versus what you might see in the east. It's evidence, in our opinion, that Senator Obama needed to spend more time in western Pennsylvania. ... Senator Obama outspent Senator Clinton almost four to one in the last two weeks, and yet the numbers are pulling away to the advantage of Senator Clinton, I think, significantly, in part, because of the statements he made."
Obama supporter/PA Lackawanna Co. Dem chair Harry McGrath: "Yesterday, we had our Lackawanna County Democratic breakfast that comes about once a year at this time, and I went around and talked to a lot of people. And the word 'bitter' never came up. ... I think that in Lackawanna County, it's not going to have a great effect on the ultimate outcome of the vote here. ... I think the issues will speak for themselves, and I think this comment will come and go. I think it's more an issue that the press is playing up than it is on the street. And I take that, again, from my conversations just yesterday with about 250 party regulars" (MSNBC, 4/14).
Newsweek's Fineman: "I do think what this does is kind of freezes things in Pennsylvania. I think the bottom line of it, in terms of the horse race, is it probably means that this thing is going to go on and on and on, and any hope that Obama had of trying to shut it down with a surprise victory in Pennsylvania is probably lost" ("Hardball," MSNBC, 4/14).
The Old Demographic Slice And Dice
GOP strategist Ed Rollins, on who plays best with rural voters: "What is important is Barack Obama is not believable when it comes to blue-collar people right now. That has a contagion. [Clinton] is more believable, regardless of income returns and everything else" ("Election Center," CNN, 4/14).
Philadelphia Inquirer's Polman: "It wouldn't surprise me if on the margin this hurt Obama's attempts to cut into that very crucial demographic in this race. I mean, the problem is, there's sort of a visceral shorthand that this can feed into, fairly or not. You know, along with the elitist thing; you know, the flag pin; his middle name. All these notions about whether he is sufficiently American" ("Charlie Rose," PBS, 4/14).
Dem strategist Hank Sheinkopf, on Obama's chances with rural voters: "It's going to be very difficult for him to get rural voters back, going to be very difficult for him to get white Catholics, white ethnics back in Pennsylvania. His shot's in the city of Philadelphia, but the cost per point is huge. If I'm him I slowly back off. I poll and I go on to the next battle" ("Election Center," CNN, 4/14).
Don't Forget The Super Delegates
Dem strategist Hank Sheinkopf, on how superdelegates might respond to Obama's bitter comments: "They're going to say 'Wow!' they're going to say Obama has really not done the appropriate thing here in Pennsylvania, he has really screwed up, and it may be Dukakis all over again. ... The Democrats won't want to hear that" ("Election Center," CNN, 4/14).
FNC's Garrett: "Obama's defense is all about the adjective 'bitter.' Clinton's attack all about the verb 'cling.' Clinton advisers say this one word crystallizes what polls have long suggested, that small town blue collar Democrats fear Obama doesn't now and may never understand them. Look for relentless Clinton attacks on this front, on the stump, and very soon on television" ("Special Report," 4/14).
Karl Rove, on Clinton: "She's helped herself in how she handled this. This is one of the first good attacks that she's made on him in a while. She launched it in an appropriate way, at well-modulated language, hung in there even when some of Obama's supporters were critical of her. And I think she made up some headway here, certainly blunted his drive in Pennsylvania and helped herself in Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, places with a lot of small towns" ("Hannity & Colmes," FNC, 4/14).
Time's Halperin, on how Obama's bitter comments may help Clinton in PA: "Well, it's too soon to say but certainly the Clinton campaign would like this to be the discussion and one great way is put up an ad. This is the topic that they think can allow them to do well enough here to blow that lead back out. ... She's hoping now that this controversy gives her the win here she needs to go forward with some strength" ("American Morning," CNN, 4/15).
Halperin, on how Clinton can best capitalize off of Obama's remarks: "Well, I think she'd probably would be wise to talk more about Senator Obama and his remarks, which I think she believes he still hasn't fully explained, rather than talking about her own life as a hunter. That's a thing that could make the controversy bounce back on her. ... She's trying to use his remarks to reframe the way people think about him and, again, it's too soon to say how effective it's been, but certainly it's dominated the discussion for the last several days, and will continue along with this new ad on the air here" ("American Morning," CNN, 4/15).
Time's Klein: "What's happening now is I think that both of these candidates are diminishing themselves as the weeks go by. Obama's being diminished by the attacks against him, the fact that he can't connect or is having difficulty connecting with white working-class audiences. And Clinton is being diminished by the fact that she is launching all these attacks in a way that is very unusual for a Democratic candidate" ("Charlie Rose," PBS, 4/14).
Words On Paper
Obama's "bitter" comments, and Clinton's response, continues to be fodder for opinion writers:
•Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorializes, "Strip away Mr. Obama's image and eloquence -- which has seemingly mesmerized the media -- and what's revealed is the arrogance of an unapologetic, full-bore liberal" (4/15).
•New York Times' Herbert writes, Obama "has spent his campaign trying to dodge the race issue, which in America is like trying to dodge the wind." So when he answered the question in San Francisco, he didn't say: "A lot of folks are not with me because I'm black -- but I'm trying to make my case and bring as many around as I can." Instead, "he fell back on a tortured response that was demonstrably incorrect" (4/15).
•Washington Post's Robinson writes, Clinton's "argument assumes that 'regular' is a synonym for 'unsophisticated' -- that to communicate with voters who have not attained a certain income or educational level, a candidate has to put on an elaborate disguise and speak in words of one syllable." So: "who's being patronizing?" (4/15).
•Washington Post's Dionne writes, Obama "by speaking carelessly and Clinton by piling on shamelessly," are doing "all they can to make it easy for" GOPers to "pretend one more time that they are the salt of the earth" (4/15).
•Washington Post's Cohen writes, Obama "was right about the economic roots of bitterness and anti-immigrant sentiment. And he's been right, too, about the patent insincerity of Clinton's criticism. ... It's old, tiresome politics -- the politics of politics -- and, paradoxically, more patronizing than anything Obama himself said" (4/15).
•New York Daily News' Lupica writes, "Now that we know how much Sen. Clinton loves guns, it can't be long before she changes her Bosnia story again and tells us that when the snipers opened up on her that day, she started firing back" (4/15).
•Philadelphia Inquirer's John-Hall writes, "Substance will have to wait another day. Instead, we've wasted all weekend wallowing in word politics. ... Just goes to show the bizarre spin cycle of politics. Two multimillionaire career politicians can describe a guy who paid off his student loans not so long ago as 'elitist' and people actually believe it" (4/15).
•Las Vegas Review-Journal's Neff writes: "Blue-collar voters, especially those who work on the Strip, can sure get riled up when a politician appears elitist." Obama's "comments about 'bitter' voters who cling to religion or guns was immediately manipulated" by Clinton "into some kind of terrible comment." Obama and Clinton "do no one down-ticket any good by talking at all about guns. Sure, it's blue-collar union workers who are as mad as anyone about the endless inaction on immigration. And plenty of middle-class Americans believe strongly in their faith and their freedom to hunt when they please." Obama's statements, "made in San Francisco of all places, may just be the final nail in the coffin for some independents who decided to give him a pass on his former pastor. None of this matters of course, because at least" in NV, "Clinton is still on top" (4/15).
Every Rose Has Its Thorns
Obama supporter/Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) was on "Charlie Rose" last night to talk about the controversy:
Casey: "When you read his comments just on paper, I could see why some people would be offended. But he said he regretted that, and I think he has articulated very well since that time what his intentions were. ... I don't think there is any question that from the time he started campaigning in Pennsylvania until now, he's made progress. I'm not sure with or without this recent back-and-forth, whether or not he can make up for frankly what is on the other side"
PBS' Rose: "And he has as much capacity as she does and has shown in this campaign to connect with blue-collar voters?"
Casey: "I think he can."
Rose: "He can? He can?"
Casey: " He can and I think he has. But he has got a ways to go. I do think that because it's his first national election, even though there is a lot of coverage, I think he still has got a ways to go with a whole host of voters. I think that's why we have ... a primary election process and a general election process. He can have a great, triumphant primary season, but still have a lot of work to do in the general election, and I think he understands that" (PBS, 4/14).
TN Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) said "he disagrees" with Obama's San Francisco remarks. Bredesen: "I feel almost exactly the opposite ... as you might imagine, you know me. I'm sort of deeply grounded in a view of the world in which guns and religion and self-sufficiency and that are very much a part of the American character." More: "I don't see it as the refuge of the bitter in any way" (Sher, Chattanooga Times Free Press, 4/15).
Rove: "There are two narratives here which he cannot allow to be developed for the general election, because both of them are destructive to him. One is that he's Adlai Stevenson, an elitist, smarter than everybody else, and feels that way. And the other one is that he is very left wing. The problem for him is, both are accurate narratives" ("Hannity & Colmes," FNC, 4/14).
MSNBC's Shuster: "I do think this is a big problem for Barack Obama, but not in terms of the primaries or getting the nomination. ... When you do the calculus as far as the nomination, you have to think back. ... First, is this enough to cause Hillary Clinton suddenly to win North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Indiana, all the ones to follow by 19 points, which is what she needs in order to catch up in the popular vote. And if not, is it enough to somehow convince the superdelegates that Barack Obama is unelectable. ... And I don't think it is in either case. ... I think where it matters is that at some point then in the general election, Barack Obama is going to have to figure out some way to explain this or to try to get people to see some different sort of context than they see it now" ("Morning Joe," 4/14).
What The Elites Think About Elitism
Pat Buchanan, on Obama and elitism: "He is just manifesting his own prejudice and the bigotry of that little liberal group he's talking about, about the middle people in America. And it's been a problem for the Democratic Party since the '72 convention. They are elitists who don't care about and don't understand Middle America. ... Let me tell you why it will hurt Barack Obama. Not because it offends Pat Buchanan, but because it offends the Reagan Democrats, the working class people, that's a Democratic state."
MSNBC analyst/ex-"West Wing" EP Lawrence O'Donnell: "The great thing about hearing Pat Buchanan talk about elitism is Pat Buchanan is the presidential candidate who had to get rid of his Mercedes ... and switch to a Lincoln Navigator so he could for the first time in his life buy American after all this anti-trade talk he'd been doing as a candidate. No elitism in the Buchanan family ever" ("Verdict," MSNBC, 4/14).
Washington Post's Robinson: "This is bizarre, really, because this is not a fight of who is or is not elitist. This is a fight who best seems not to be elitist. You have a candidate whose family earned 109 million dollars since it left a White House, lives in two big mansions on the East Coast, you know, portraying herself as just a regular gal who downs shots and beers at the corner bar every weekend, when she's not out duck hunting. I mean, there's a surreal nature to this argument that I don't think, frankly, will be lost on voters in Pennsylvania" ("Hardball," MSNBC, 4/14).
Washington Post's Milbank: "Elitism is a very dangerous charge to bring in this case. It's rather wired in, but, you know, as we've seen, George Bush, Andover, Yale, and the Texas Rangers, was able to do that quite effectively to an equally elite person of John Kerry" ("Countdown," MSNBC, 4/14).
Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC 06), on whether he thinks Obama is an elitist: "Well, you know, South Carolina voters won't use their votes for an elitist. Nor will Georgia, especially African-Americans in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. I think the comments were inartfully made. ... I think most people understood what he meant, but I don't think that those comments ... make him an elitist by any means" ("Situation Room," CNN, 4/14).
Who Would You Rather Have A Beer With?
Washington Post's Zimmerman, on figuring out what Obama stands for: "For [Obama] to try to bring the issue of immigration into this discussion reflecting the anger in small towns, or to talk about free trade when he's campaigning across the country against the free trade agreement and advocating the central and the Mexican-American border, it makes you wonder what he stands for. And Democrats ... have got to step up and start debating about who is most electable in November. Because ... John McCain, with his economic record of voting against the minimum wage and voting against tax cuts for the middle [class] -- and switching now and supporting the tax cuts for the very rich, ... should not be winning against [Dems] on these issues" ("Lou Dobbs Tonight," CNN, 4/14).
This article appears in the April 15, 2008, edition of Latest Edition.