Sounding Bitter

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 14, 2008; 9:16 AM

Barack Obama seems to have stepped in it.

This time the offending words are not his former pastor's, but his own.

He sounds condescending toward small-town Pennsylvanians.

Huffington Post blogger Mayhill Fowler-- describing herself as "over-educated sixty year-old woman with politics in my blood"--broke the story with an audiotape of his remarks at a California fundraiser.

What are the ethics, by the way, of being an Obama donor--which is how Fowler got into the closed event--and surreptitiously taping the speaker? Fowler did not respond to a request for comment. That doesn't let Obama off the hook, of course, since speaking to an audience, even a paying audience, is not exactly a secret event.

Fowler writes: "For all his soaring rhetoric, there is a dispassion about him. And yet he blends [ratiocinative] intelligence with empathetic understanding. This is a rare combination, and for many people, this aspect of Obama takes some getting used to. His Puritanical streak, moreover, while amusing to the press can be off-putting to everybody else."

What Obama said about the small-towners, as you've probably heard by now, was: "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."

Not good. A pretty significant blunder. Plays into the worst stereotype of him as an elitist who can't connect with the working classes. The guy who bowled 37.

And yet, most people (and most journalists) know what he was trying to say. Not that small-towners are gun nuts. Or religious nuts, not from a regular churchgoer. Obama was trying to say that these folks voted on social issues, distracting wedge issues, when their real problem was economic. As he said a moment earlier, their areas have been losing jobs for 25 years, and "they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration."

Well, when you're imprecise in politics, you pay a price. Obama has played that game with John McCain's "100 years" comment. So it's little surprise that Hillary Clinton and McCain went after him, hard. But I do think journalists should try to paint a full picture here.

National Review's Jim Geraghty: "Yeah, I hate it when someone who's frustrated, and worried about their employment, say, starting January 20, 2009, decides to cling to anti-trade sentiment. You know, when they say that the U.S. should threaten to opt out of NAFTA. You know, like the guy who goes in front of union members and denounces trade deals with South Korea, and NAFTA, and CAFTA, and the Colombia Free Trade Agreement."

Big Tent Democrat: "I predict Obama gets away with it. ESPECIALLY now that Hillary is involved. Hillary Hate in the Media trumps McCain Love. See Wright, Jeremiah, so far."

CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company