Saturday, April 12, 2008

Clinton says Obama demeaned, condescended to small-town America with 'elitist' remarks

The latest focus of the race for president, playing out today in Indiana, is whether Sen. Barack Obama condescended to small-town America in remarks that he made at a private event for maxed-out contributors in San Francisco last Sunday and that were posted in audio form on Huffington Post by Obama contributor and self- described citizen journalist Mayhill Fowler yesterday. Obama said:
"Our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. 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 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. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns, or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren't like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Today in Indianapolis, echoing and expanding on remarks she made yesterday in Philadelphia, Clinton said the Democratic front-runner made "demeaning remarks . . . about people in small-town America. Senator Obama's remarks are elitist and they are out of touch." She went after him point by point:
“You know, Americans who believe in the Second Amendment believe it’s a matter of Constitutional right. Americans who believe in God believe it’s a matter of personal faith. Americans who believe in protecting good American jobs believe it is a matter of the American Dream.
“You know, when my dad grew up it was in a working class family in Scranton. I grew up in a church-going family, a family that believed in the importance of living out and expressing our faith. The people of faith I know don't cling to religion because they're bitter. People embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich. Our faith is the faith of our parents and our grandparents. It is a fundamental expression of who we are and what we believe.
“I also disagree with Senator Obama's assertion that people in this country cling to guns and have certain attitudes about immigration or trade simply out of frustration. People of all walks of life hunt – and they enjoy doing so because it's an important part of their life, not because they are bitter. And as I’ve traveled across Indiana, and I’ve talked to a lot of people, what I hear are real concerns about unfair trade practices that cost people jobs. [At this point, the crowd applauded.]
“I think hard-working Americans are right to want to see changes in our trade laws. That’s what I have said. That¹s what I have fought for. I would also point out that the vast majority of working Americans reject anti-immigration rhetoric. They want reform so that we remain a nation of immigrants, but also a nation of laws that we enforce and we enforce fairly."
Clinton wrapped up by saying, "People don't need a president who looks down on them; they need a president who stands up for them." That got applause, too, reflecting the storm in the blogosphere and increasingly in mainstream media about Obama's remarks. He countered in Terre Haute yesterday:

And so people end up, they don’t vote on economic issues, because they don’t think 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 end up voting on issues like gay marriage, you know, and they take refuge in their faith and their communities 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’s rich: Senator Clinton says, well, I don’t think people are bitter in Pennsylvania; you know, I think Barack’s being condescending. … 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. [At this point, the crowd began to stand and applaud.] 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.

Today in Muncie, Obama acknowledged he was on defense. "When you’re bitter you turn to what you can count on," he said at Ball State University. "That’s a natural response. I didn’t say it as well as I should have, because these traditions that are passed on from generation are important because that’s what sustains us. … What we need is a government that is paying attention." For the Indianapolis Star's speedy coverage of Clinton in Indianapolis, by Bill Ruthhart, click here; for likewise by Mary Beth Schneider in Muncie, click here.

UPDATE: In an interview today with James Romoser of the Winston-Salem Journal, Obama "was asked whether he would apologize to small-town Americans who were offended by his quote in San Francisco," Romoser writes. "Obama said:
"Well look, if there -- obviously, if I worded things in a way that made people offended, I deeply regret that. But the underlying truth of what I said remains, which is simply that people who have seen their way of life upended because of economic distress are frustrated and rightfully so. And I hear it all the time when I visit these communities. People say they feel as if nobody is paying attention or listening to them and that is something -- that is one of the reasons I am running for president. I saw this when I first started off as a community organizer and the steel plants had closed, and I was working with churches in communities that had fallen on hard times. And they felt angry and frustrated."

Bill Clinton, campaigning in eastern North Carolina today, didn't refer to Obama's comments, reports Mike Baker of The Associated Press, but the self-described "rural hit man" noted a sign in New Bern that read "Rural Country Clinton Country" and said, "The people in small towns in rural America that do the work for America and represent the backbone and values of this country, they are the people that are carrying her through to this nomination." (Read more) Sue Book of the New Bern Sun Journal reports that Clinton took a dig at Obama for the remark, but doesn't quote him directly: "Clinton reminded the nearly 1,000 attending that most of the land mass of New York, which Sen. Clinton represents, is rural as is Arkansas, where she lived and worked after law school and began their political career."

1 comment:

ptw said...

"All organisms will do what they're rewarded for doing. And we've established systems that reward the very behavior we say we're trying to discourage, and don't reward the behavior we say we prefer. Perfect example: politicians. We say we want them to speak substantively about the issues. We want people in office who will 'tell us the hard facts.' Yet every time someone speaking the truth runs against someone who just spouts the usual rhetoric - 'I stand for a proud America, and I'll punish bad people more harshly than the other guy' - we turn around and vote for the guy with the rhetoric. [...]

Until we're willing to change the reward systems, we'll get what we deserve. [...] If we were smart, we'd change them right now. It's within our power. But it's inconvenient." - Joel Dyer on The Desperation of Rural America