Sara Whitman

Poor Words for the Poor

Filed By Sara Whitman | April 14, 2008 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, campaign mistakes, Obama is a snob, snob, working poor

I think someone stuck their foot in their mouth the other day. And it was covered in the New York Times, Boston Globe, LA Times, Washington Post, and many many more. Campaigning in Pennsylvania, he said voters, bitter over their economic circumstances, "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them" as a way to explain their frustrations.

Ouch. Not such a good thing to say, Senator. Sure, it's true for some people, but not as a blanket statement. I know people who are "bitter over their economic situation," about to lose their homes in the sub-prime crisis, who don't own guns, love their neighbors, and are bored by religion.

Or if they own a gun, it's to hunt for deer during season to put some meat in the freezer because it is too expensive to buy beef in the store. The poor, the rural poor you referred to, are not caricatures of Jethro in overalls, Senator. They have many different looks and faces. The broad strokes, however poetic, were ill-advised.

And in no way unifying.

While I think Obama blew it, and came across as an elitist snob, I am more concerned with how he has shown, again, that he is untested in the face of intense media pressure.

Is this going to win the national election?


Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.


Way to blindly keep up the good work for Hillary and again only report with your spin. How about you read the full context of what he said, not the soundbites you heard or strip from other postings...

"OBAMA: So, it depends on where you are, but I think it's fair to say that the places where we are going to have to do the most work are the places where people feel most cynical about government. The people are mis-appre...I think they're misunderstanding why the demographics in our, in this contest have broken out as they are. Because everybody just ascribes it to 'white working-class don't wanna work -- don't wanna vote for the black guy.' That's...there were intimations of that in an article in the Sunday New York Times today - kind of implies that it's sort of a race thing.

Here's how it is: in a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long, and they feel so betrayed by government, and when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn't buy it. And when it's delivered by -- it's true that when it's delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama (laugher), then that adds another layer of skepticism (laughter).

But -- so the questions you're most likely to get about me, 'Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What's the concrete thing?' What they wanna hear is -- so, we'll give you talking points about what we're proposing -- close tax loopholes, roll back, you know, the tax cuts for the top 1 percent. Obama's gonna give tax breaks to middle-class folks and we're gonna provide health care for every American. So we'll go down a series of talking points.

But the truth is, is that, 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 to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Um, now these are in some communities, you know. I think what you'll find is, is that people of every background -- there are gonna be a mix of people, you can go in the toughest neighborhoods, you know working-class lunch-pail folks, you'll find Obama enthusiasts. And you can go into places where you think I'd be very strong and people will just be skeptical. The important thing is that you show up and you're doing what you're doing."

Hey look-

There goes John McCain skipping in to the White House while we fight amongst ourselves!!

Seriously. Can't we just stop the overblown rhetoric and at least talk about policy differences?

There is SO MUCH that could be said about this belated, ill informed and misleading post but I think it is best to let Barack Obama's words speak for themselves.

Letter from PA smalltown leaders regarding Clinton's misrepresentation/exploitation of Obama's remarks on small town voters, with video of Obama's response:

Obama on Hillary Clinton as Annie Oakley :

Link including Obama's remarks on Sunday's Faith Forum :

Statement from someone who was actually present for Obama's San Francisco remarks:

"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.”
(Senator Barack Obama)

I will say that reading the quotation in context gives a very different impression from reading the quote in isolation.

Although I will probably vote for Hillary in the Indiana primary, one compliment I will give Obama is that he is willing to talk about race and other social tensions at a level of specificity that is an order of magnitude beyond the other two candidates. When you engage discourse at this level, there are bound to be passages where snippets can be extracted and used to mis-represent what was actually being communicated in the original discussion.

And that is why the vast majority of politicians when discussing race --- white politicians especially --- simply pronounce in generalities and avoid the nitty-gritty. Obama, at least, cuts through some of this verbal fog and does his best to get to the meat of the situation. Even as articulate as this gifted man is, this degree of engagement is risky and takes unusual courage; and deserves to be met halfway with active and fair receptivity on the part of the audience and the media. This lack of fairness and receptivity among certain elements in the media is part of why Americans avoid such meaningful discussions in the first place. Someone who wants to sell a few more papers or get a few more viewers will apply the most incendiary interpretation possible in order to get some attention and stir things up.

And I hope it is unnecessary for me to add, if a time comes when Hillary is no longer in the race for the top position, I will have no problem whatsoever supporting Obama.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | April 14, 2008 7:25 PM

I'm not even an Obama supporter and I'm going to defend his statement!

I saw it as an antidote to the "Guns, God and Gays" poison the Religious Right has been spewing non-stop since they took over the GOP. Have you read "What's the Matter with Kansas," by Thomas Frank?

Obama's statement cheered me: it's time the Democrats went on the offensive against the Religious Right.

A.J. and Brian as an Obama supporter I really appreciate your honest appraisal of his statement. Thank you for taking the time to express such statements.

One of my greatest fears I have as a Democrat this year is feeling that both Obama and Clinton might end up so damaged neither can win against McCain in the Fall. Case in point, Sara's "Snob" poster.

Sara, should Obama actually win the delegate race and be selected to be the Democratic nominee, how will you feel if Rush Limbaugh and the Republican Smear Machine use YOUR WORDS and YOUR POSTURE to enable a REPUBLICAN win this fall? Do you ever even think of that possibility? Just because it was written by a Dike blogging on a Gay website doesn't make this type of trash unusable in a Republican Smear Campaign. Go ahead support Clinton because you think she is the best. But Damn it stop making bullets for the Republicans to use in the Fall. Even if Clinton wins the Democratic Nomination Republicans could very well use this as evidence she "Manipulated" the "Democratic Base" to "Steal" the nomination. Bet you didn't even think of THAT possibility either!

um... Harrison? it was in the NYTimes, Washington Post, Boston Globe... and you're gonna pin this on a dyke writing for

(and that's dyke, not dike, thank you)

Wake up and smell the coffee because the "republican smear machine" doesn't need my words or my posture. I mean, I am incredibly narcissistic, but even I think that's ridiculous.

Obama's mouth is making the bullets. Not me. I didn't report it first, either. Just commenting on what I see as a sinking ship.

I didn't make the snob poster either. found it online. I can't even draw stick people.

and to be honest? if Clinton wins, what the hell else can someone like Limbaugh possibly say he hasn't said before about her?

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | April 14, 2008 9:40 PM

I also think Obama defended his statement well, although don't expect the Media to report this.

Click here.

actually, Obama's side stepping and apologies have been all over the papers today, too.

if it were so sincere and so wonderful, why is he apologizing for it?

Bitter? Hell yes, I'm bitter.

I'm bitter that a couple of multi-multi millionaires that have spent decades involved in government - in DC and elsewhere - have the nerve to call Obama an elitist for making the connections between the constant failure of leadership in the US and guns, gays and god mantra that is trotted out every 2/4 years instead of any real policy positions.

Obama is just as guilty as the two multi-millionaires, but at least he pointed at the elephant in the room. That is more than the old, old, man or that woman dare to do. Clinton is smart enough to make brilliant points about the bullshit that is spun from American politics and about the inequities of being a minority in our society - but she never does. Obama does.

I voted for Clinton in the CA primary and I've been very ambivalent about both of them as this irritating primary drags on and on and on.

Obama is changing my mind. His words about bitterness hit the nail on the head. He was right. He is right and I hope he continues to speak like he has been. Someone has to. Blowing sunshine up my ass about the uplift one gets from religion makes me want to puke. If I want to hear that, I'll vote Republican.

excuse me while I choke...

Obama is a millionaire, too, Patrick.

He is nearly a millionaire, but not quite.

Still, he is not poor by any stretch of the imagination - and he is also not any more of an elitist than the multi-multi millionaire Clinton/McCain families that are elite not only because of their wealth but also because of their extensive careers in govt.

I don't think Obama is the savior, but I do think he is right about bitterness and Clinton/McCain's responses to him only make him more right.

Do you really think he is wrong and elitist and unsympathetic to the working class or is this an opportunity to show your allegiance to your candidate?

Clinton has been the target of sexist crap for this entire campaign, and I'm losing sympathy for her uphill battle on this one.

Again, Barack Obama's own words are the best response to the continuing distortions of McCain/Clinton :

Obama has not "sidestepped" anything. He is the one candidate who has been direct, candid and willing to tell some difficult truths and ask some genuinely challenging questions. He has only apologized in so far as some of the wording he chose was not immune to the sort of misrepresentation which is the stock in trade of the McCain/Clinton team. The point he was making, however, was and is correct and very much needs to be recognized and understood.

And this response from Obama made me listen to him more and pay closer attention to the claims made by his opponents.

Clinton sounds like she needs leverage, not like she believes a word she says.

I wish I heard as much conviction from her as I hear in this Obama clip. It just drives me crazy that she can't / won't / doesn't make points like this when I know she can. She has the authority and the background and she isn't using it to her advantage. Attacking Obama doesn't make Clinton sound authentic or like she has potential.

It makes her sound weak and it disappoints the hell out of me.

I worked in one of those little towns in the T of PA, and I've often wanted to go back and smack some of the people there. I never heard the n-word 1/10th as many times in Alabama as I did in that nasty little town in PA.

Tactically Obama's statement should never have left the campaign bus, like "why does *everybody* in Ohio look like the cast of "Gummo?"

And it wasn't circumstances that turned some of those folks into assholes. Some of them worked a long time to achieve it.

But there's some cool people there too. If I ever go back, I may forget to smack them.

Being a little patronizing is way better than some of those hateful assholes deserve. The others might get it.

My put is, let's take long enough to process it, weed out the lies and deliberate distortions and more innocent misinterpretations, and deal with it.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 15, 2008 4:24 AM

Is it not great that there are so many wonderful and considered opinions about our two democratic candiates? Is it not great that all of you are committed to supporting the final candidate of the democratic party in that both of the remaining candidates have no particular differences in what they would propose to do?

Mind you I do not think either of them will live up to everything they have committed to, but I am sure that I would treasure their failures more than McCain's successes should he become president instead. After George the Stupid's record and approval rating I would doubt that a democratic president can ever be elected again if we cannot defeat McCain.

So have a shot and a beer and think of Hillary or a white wine and think of Obama, but remember we have to have a massive turnout and a lot of ground work in all legislative districts to provide the necessary mandate to get something done. If the dems cannot do this I made the right decision to move my retirement to Thailand as American Civil liberties will only be seen in the rear view mirror.

I think that we, in Washington, on the progressive blogs, and the east and west coast large cities, tend to forget that there's a whole country out there.

And as frustrated as we are over our issues, we are at least able to write about them, talk with others who share our frustrations, lobby Congress, or work for social justice organizations that we believe are going to change the world in some way.

The vast majority of the country is frightened and, until Obama's candidacy, felt that they were completely helpless to change any of the things the government was imposing and/or destroying.

There's been enough analysis of what he said that I don't need to cover the specifics here. But really - is there anyone reading this who truly didn't know what he meant? is there anyone reading this who doesn't know that when a population feels threatened and helpless to "defend" themselves, they hunker down and try to increase control of the few things in which they feel they have a say? Is there anyone reading this who doesn't know that when your world starts to go to hell in a hand basket and you lose your job, your pension, your home, your children in war you did or didn't want to fight, you look for someone to blame?

We have three candidates for the office of President of the United States. "Our" side is excelling at what Mike Rogers calls "our ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."

These are three human beings. They are not robots. They tire. They screw up. THEY ARE HUMAN BEINGS. If we continue to seek perfection in every candidate for office in this country, we will continue to elect people who lie and claim that very perfection we seem to seek.

And then we're shocked when they do something like *gasp* have sex in the oval office. Or *double gasp* hire a sex worker to *triple gasp* engage in some type of private sexual expression.

I read someplace (but don't remember where, so I can't give credit) that when the Democrats are in a firing squad, they always form a circle.

Wow - I don't have a snappy conclusion to this. Just frustration at our constant ability to destroy ourselves with our phenomenal brains and our desire to debate, intellectualize, criticize and paralyze.

I think that we, in Washington, on the progressive blogs, and the east and west coast large cities, tend to forget that there's a whole country out there.

Amen, Ricci. As one of those from fly-over country, I keep reading some of these blog posts condemning Obama for being elitist and notice that most of them claiming that are either a) wealthy or b) from coastal states.

I'm working on a post about this myself, but I'm still so pissed off by some of these posts that I can't keep it from sounding, well, bitter.

And Sara - I don't care if you made the graphic, found it on the internet or pulled it off the trash heap it should have been found on. I'm ashamed of it - the only other place I saw it all day yesterday was on Republican blogs. If another contributor included a graphic of Hillary with BITCH or STUCK UP or LOSER or anything negative, you would be the first to raise your voice in (deserved) anger.

I check in from my week away to see what's up with American politics, and this is what I find everywhere.

The fact that a former president's wife, with a fortune of untold millions, a Yale lawyer from the suburbs of Chicago with a financially successful career, is going around deeming others elitist or out-of-touch-with-the-commoners must just be a caricature of American politics. She's Stephen Colbert the Politician! It's schtick! Homina, homina, homina!

And to think I got into a big argument with a French guy this weekend defending the way Americans think about politics. He didn't understand, I said; Americans focus on imagery in place of reality not because of a particular failing of our educational system or because we have "no history" (I really, really hate that one), but because we're culturally taught not to want to get too close to others, to want to know more about people before getting to know them, so we become acclimated to using signs like these as indicators of a more profound connection.

Perhaps it is. But there's something truly wrong with us when we consider the have-a-beer-with-him-ness competition more newsworthy than McCain's flip-flops on torture.

Alex's point about the overblown reaction to Obama's "bitter" remarks vs. the almost indifference to recent revelations about torture is an important one. There was a good post on KOS yesterday on this contradiction :

Also,Arianna Huffington reflects on how Clinton is doing McCain's job for him:

At some point one has to ask just how these slash and burn tactics are strengthening the Democratic Party or helping increase the chances for a Democratic victory in November.

Sara so what if you didn't make the poster.... The point is you and other like you are part of the Clinton attack machine who are destroying BOTH candidates abilities to win the White House. What more could Limbaugh and the likes say.... I gave that to you. They will pull up the entire attack campaign against Obama. It will make her look bad. It will make her look like a corrupt, power hungry, politician. They will emphasize the race card to discourage African American turnout. They will convince independents that America would be better off without her by emphasizing how much money she raised and still ended up all but bankrupt.

They wouldn't even have to go back to the Bill Clinton years to destroy her. She and her supporters are digging her grave for them NOW!

Sorry for misspelling "dyke." But I also noticed you didn't seam to want to face the prospect that your and other Clinton supporters, plus Clinton's own behavior now could hurt the Democratic Nominee in November. Though I will agree with you on this point; yes you are definitely small and insignificant.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | April 15, 2008 7:53 PM

I never thought I'd say this, but at this point it's getting hard to wonder if Clinton is so invested in winning that she'd rather see McCain in office than any other Democrat.

This campaign is starting to remind me of Lieberman's fight against Lamont.

Clinton has lost me, and I was definitely no fan of Obama before this.

harrison, I could say the same thing about you and all the others like you supporting obama... and we could go on and on and on bickering back and forth.

the question I asked, after seeing the poster being passed around online, as bil said, by republicans, was is this going to win a national election?

well... is it?

that's the questioned posed. The republicans are using this strategy- can dems overcome it?

if you can only answer by taking personal pot shot, feel free.

but answer the question.

And Brynn, Clinton didn't put this out. That she's pursing an opening, fine argue that... but Clinton didn't make the poster.

That big foe of the future- republicans- did.

I'm glad it made you sick, Bil. it should. It scared me. I don't think Obama can win. The republicans are not going to play by some set of rules we all think should be followed.

so shoot me for pointing it out, but answer the question.

and can you answer it in terms of republicans and not clinton?

If you want to talk about Obama not being able to win, Sara, consider this story from today's Washington Post - one of many indicating that Obama, not Clinton, is the candidate more likely to prevail in a general election :

"Poll Shows Erosion Of Trust in Clinton"

Clinton is viewed as "honest and trustworthy" by just 39 percent of Americans, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, compared with 52 percent in May 2006. Nearly six in 10 said in the new poll that she is not honest and trustworthy. And now, compared with Obama, Clinton has a deep trust deficit among Democrats, trailing him by 23 points as the more honest, an area on which she once led both Obama and John Edwards.