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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

From the Nation: The Working Class Steps up.

There was a clip on CNN yesterday at one of Obama's rallies. This older white gentleman stood up and said something to the effect to Barack: "Mr. Obama they keep calling you, of all people, an elitist. I think you should take exception to that. Their charge is really a racist one. What they are saying is that you, a black man, are "uppity." That is racist and they ought to stop it." RGN


The endless coverage of Barack Obama's comments about small-town America is a great example of the type of manufactured scandal that gives political journalism a bad name.

It's obvious why the Clinton campaign and the McCain campaign want to keep this faux scandal alive. It's disturbing to see so many in the media swallow the spin.

Few have wrestled with the actual substance of what Obama said. But after three days of carefully calibrated outrage, voices in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are stepping forward to defend Obama's alleged gaffe.

Take John Baer's column in the Philadelphia Daily News this morning, entitled, "Decades of working-class neglect--now that's insulting."

As a native-born, small-town Pennsylvanian, a son of native-born, small-town Pennsylvania parents - one from the coal region, one from Lancaster County - let me assure you that the so-called offensive, condescending things Barack Obama said about the people I come from are basically right on target.

"Bitter" perhaps best describes my late mother, an angry Irish Catholic who absolutely clung to her religion.

Dad, also a journalist, wasn't really bitter as far as I know, but he sure liked to hunt.

So, despite carping from Hillary Clinton and annoying yapping from her surrogates (really, it's like turning on the lights at night in a puppy farm), I take no offense.

What's offensive to me is suggesting that small-town, working-class, gun-toting and/or religious Pennsylvanians are somehow injured by a politician's words.

Are you kidding me?

They're injured all right, but the injury is long-term and from lots more than "just words."

They've been injured from decades of neglect by political cultures in Washington and Harrisburg driven by special interests.

They're injured by a system of isolated, insulated political leadership that protects itself and the status quo above all else.

They've been harmed by a lack of political guts to fix a health-care system that works against the poor and forces middle-class families to pay more for less, while at the same time giving politicians the best coverage taxpayer money can buy.

They've been taken for granted by political parties and candidates who stay in power by - and this was the apparent gist of Obama's remarks - forcing attention and debate on issues tied to guns, religion and race (precisely because such issues resonate) rather than real problems such as health care and the economy.

"What's the Matter With Kansas?" author Thomas Frank made much the same point in an interview with the Huffington Post. "People are bitter in small towns," Frank said. "People are bitter everywhere. I don't know if you have seen the stock market--people are bitter about their situation. It doesn't strike me as a very controversial statement."

And back in 1991, in the midst of another economic recession, a Democratic nominee had this to say about the Republican Party's wedge strategy. "When their economic policies fail, when the country's coming apart rather than coming together, what do they do? They find the most economically insecure white men and scare the living daylights out of them."

That candidate, you might have realized, was Bill Clinton.

Posted by Ari Berman at 04/14/2008 @ 1:41pm | Email This Post

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