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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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April 14, 2008 1:42 PM

Clinton's new-found optimism

Posted by David Postman

I couldn’t sleep Friday night and got up to watch a little television. The set was tuned to CNN and even not yet fully awake I could tell the news network was in full froth; I just didn’t know what for. The talking heads were quite excited about something Barack Obama had said. It was a gaffe, a misstep, a statement that likely would need an apology and was already under attack by his opponents. But I couldn’t figure out what Obama had said.

That’s because as so often in the news business these days, the news is considered old from the moment it happens. To be “timely,” news organizations - including my own - feel they have to “move” a story forward. So instant analysis, reaction and “what happens next” often take the place of even a semi-sober re-telling of what actually happened.

CNN was in full Brady Bunch mode - correspondents and pundits filling little boxes on the screen - when the network finally got around to telling us latecomers what Obama had said. And in case you missed it, this is what he said, according to the Huffington Post.

"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," Obama said. "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."

What knocked me out of somnolence, though, was hearing the statement Hillary Clinton issued in response:

I saw in the media it’s being reported that my opponent said that the people of Pennsylvania who faced hard times are bitter. Well, that’s not my experience.

As I travel around Pennsylvania, I meet people who are resilient, who are optimistic, who are positive, who are rolling up their sleeves. They are working hard everyday for a better future, for themselves and their children.

This optimism must be something new. Because since Clinton began her campaign she has described a dark mood in the country. A television commercial that aired in Pennsylvania relied on that theme. In the ad the campaign calls “Falling Through,” Clinton says:

The Bush economy is like a trap door.

Too many families are one pink slip, one missed mortgage payment, one medial diagnosis away from falling through and losing everything.

You can watch that ad here:

I was struck by the dire picture painted by Clinton when I saw her for the first time this election cycle.

This was the subject of her first campaign commercial that began running in Iowa last year. In that spot she said:

As I travel around America I hear from so many people who feel like they are just invisible to their government. … You know, if you’re a family that is struggling and you don’t have health care, well you are invisible to this president. If you’re a single mom trying to find affordable child care so you can go to work, well, you’re invisible, too.

And Clinton went into more detail about the state of the union during a speech she gave at last year’s winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee. She talked then about what she said used to be thought of as a promise to America’s middle class.

If you served your country, your country would serve you.

Now when I travel around our country, that’s not how people are feeling. Corporate profits and CEO pay are hitting new highs while wages for hard-working Americans are stagnant. Last year more people went bankrupt than graduated from college. And if you look at the increasing numbers of the uninsured, if you realize the shame of 26,000 victims of Katrina still living in trailers, if you ask the worried mom who's trying to figure out ‘What does no child left behind mean when I feel like my children are being left behind?’ When I travel across upstate New York and hard-working people say, ‘Senator, they’re closing this factory down and shipping our jobs overseas. Why can’t we get tough on China?’ ...

But it’s not just manufacturing jobs, is it? When I was in Iowa last weekend … I met a young man, an engineer who was training his replacement, he said, ‘You know, I did what I was supposed to do. I went to college. I got an advance degree. I’ve worked hard and now I’m training someone who’s going to make one-tenth of what I make.’

We need a new economic strategy that will rebuild the American middle class and give hope to people who feel that they’ve done their part and they’re waiting for their government to be on their side again.

That’s hardly the optimistic, cheery America Clinton says she sees now. But of course those frowns didn't get turned upside down until Obama described those hard-working Americans as bitter.

Obama says he may not have chosen his words carefully enough. He’s talking about it on the campaign trail today.

You know, there's been a lot of talk in this campaign over the last few days about who's in touch with the workers in Pennsylvania. Senator Clinton and Senator McCain seem to be singing from the same hymnbook, saying I'm out of touch, I'm an elitist because I said a lot of folks are bitter about their economic circumstances.

Now, it may be that I chose my words badly. It's not the first time; it won't be the last.

A new poll says he's write about having chosen poorly and its costing him in Pennsylvania.

On CNN Friday night, Bill Schneider gave a micro-analysis of what Obama said. The trouble that all the panelists were predicting for Obama would come, he said, not because he said people were bitter, or that they were clinging to religion or guns. Instead it was the “causation” that would prove troubling - saying directly that the love of God and guns grew from the bitterness.

I would add to that by saying there is apt to be a lot of scrutiny any time Obama is accused of misspeaking in some fashion. This is the guy, after all, who has been saying that words matter. His response has recognized that, and he has not run from what he said.

But the incident has led to some odd moments on the campaign trail as Clinton grabs at whatever can give her an edge in upcoming primaries and Obama looks to lessen whatever damage he’s already inflicted on his frontrunner’s campaign.

Saturday night Clinton threw back a shot of whiskey and chased it with a few beers at Bronko’s Restaurant and Lounge in northwest Indiana.

That was said to show she was regular folk, not an elitist like Obama. For his part, Obama mocked Clinton’s drinking in a speech to steelworkers and steel industry execs.

“Around election time, the candidates can’t do enough. They'll promise you anything, give you a long list of proposals and even come around, with TV crews in tow, to throw back a shot and a beer.”

I’m not sure who got the upper hand in that round. But Clinton certainly gave me food for thought. Next time I wake up in the middle of the night, I’ll go with the shot and a beer rather than 24-hour news.

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