On the “Bitter” Controversy, Obama Has Surprising Critics

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You may have heard about the latest flare-up in the presidential campaign, which basically involves Hillary Clinton and John McCain slamming Barack Obama for comments he made at a fundraiser in San Francisco:

“You go into 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. 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.”

First, Obama was slammed for the word “bitter” — the suggestion being that the word is condescending and pessimistic. After Obama argued back that, actually, people are pretty freakin’ bitter because jobs are disappearing, housing is a mess, and the government doesn’t seem to be helping everyday folks, Obama’s critics changed their focus to the phrase “they cling to guns or religion.”

Hillary Clinton trotted out former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, himself a former mayor of small town in the Midwest, who told the press:

“He suggests that in some way the faith of those who live in small towns is superficial. It’s used as a crutch in a time of need. That’s not what I know. What I know is that our faith is real and it is rooted. It is the foundation of our values system. It is what defines how we live our lives, and most importantly of all, how we raise our families. It is true. It is genuine. His comment about guns suggests that they are an instrument that we use somehow to protect ourselves from the outside world, to isolate ourselves from the outside world. When in fact, guns are a reflection of what we do with our family and our friends. It’s how we pass on, through hunting, family traditions that are strong and how we form friendships that are lifelong.”

And so with the week remaining before the Pennsylvania primary, Obama has to convince voters that he’s not an out-of-touch elitist who looks down his nose at their concerns and values.

The criticisms against Obama are a bit rich. McCain campaign staffers said of Obama, “It is hard to imagine someone running for president who is more out of touch with average Americans.” I can suggest such a person: the guy who supports the Bush tax cuts, offers everyday Americans no solutions on the housing crisis, and thinks a return to trickle-down economics would be good for the country. Somebody like that would be pretty out of touch. Oh wait.

I won’t really touch Hillary Clinton’s criticisms, since I’m done with the intra-party pie fight that is the Democratic primary, but since I aired her campaign’s charges against Obama, I’ll link to Obama’s response.

Another source of hilarious criticism: the Wall Street Journal. Charging Obama with “unreflective condescension,” the Journal blasted Obama for having a “Harvard-eye view of American angst.” Because there’s no more consistent advocate for economic populism than… the Wall Street Journal.

Ditto for Bill Kristol in the New York Times. Ask small-town voters how frequently they see the son of Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb at the corner bar.

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