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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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Posted by John's Son

2:05 PM, Apr 14, 2008

I would like to express my opinion about the democratic party's presidential candidates and the wide spread corruption thats going on within the Democratic Party.

Both candidates: Hillary Clinton & Barach Oboma have been and are continuing to provide payoffs to the super delagates.The payoffs total over several hundreds of thousands of dollars.The imediate question is where did they get all that money from and is it legal?

Now both of them are actvely campaining
and spending money as if they had a never ending supply. The stupidest part of this is that they do.

Including with the campaign funds supplied by the Federal Govt.both have received unreported/undisclosed sums from George Soras who may be the master mind of this wierd scheme.

So what is George getting for his money and free advice? Who knows, will Hillary, Obomma or even Bill admit to this alliance with George or will we have to stay tuned to find out the result of in the next episode of "the dirtiest and slime filled politicial corruption that could possibly be imagined".

George Wasington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and other great presidents are probaly rolling over in their graves right now, all wondering what happened to their country and how we allowed it to.

Posted by Jim Hohman

3:11 PM, Apr 14, 2008

Get a life. His real feelings are beginning to surface and show he is one of the Snob bunch and we are beneath him.. Ha little does he know..

Posted by MS

4:36 PM, Apr 14, 2008

I can't quite figure out why so many in the media AREN'T offended by Barack Obama's comments. I come from the midwest and had a blue collar middle class upbringing, although I now consider myself to be upper middle class, and I'm terribly offended by his remarks.

Before I was born, my dad used the 1 remaining shotgun shell he had to kill a rabbit that became dinner for my parents and older siblings when there was no other food. They weren't bitter. They were getting by and it was a way of life. It was also a sport and in some cases a necessity. The men in my family hunted (and fished) for sustenance. That was not their only sustenance, but nothing that was killed was wasted. We ate wild game and fresh fish. It supplemented our food budget, which was at times meager.

People in the heartland (and even some people in other parts of the country!) believe that you should come to the US legally and obey the laws of our country. That has nothing to do with bigotry, it comes from a deeply-held respect for the law.

As to antipathy towards people who look different -- please give me a break. I've never seen so much acceptance and color blindness. I'll be those people Obama thinks are so bitter put more store in how hard someone works and how they care for their families than they so what color their skin is or their sexual preference.

My family was also of the Catholic faith, and that was part of who we were. It wasn't because we were desperate. In fact, I'd say it was because we weren't. Maybe it was why we weren't.

I think that the DC beltway pundits and some others in the media that find Obama's remarks not be offensive need to look outside themselves a little.

Those remarks were insensitive at best. I'll bet he does regret them. I'm almost more offended by his defense of his remarks than I am by his having made them in the first place. Misspeaking is one thing. Being unapologetic is another. When you offend someone, you apologize. I believe his regret is for the damage this has caused, not that he's sorry he's hurt anyone. He doesn't seem to be sorry and can't seem to wrap his arms around the idea that his remarks were hurtful.

He doesn't get "regular" people.

Posted by Methow Ken

5:29 PM, Apr 14, 2008

David: Good reporting, of the core facts, recent history, and background on Obama's ''bitter-gate'' saga.

Especially the examples of Hillary's instant 180-degree turn from the politics of despair to ''sunny optomism''. The only surprise is that you appear to be a bit surprised that Hillary would make such a blatantly opportunistic ''U-turn'' (I'm shocked.... SHOCKED.... to find out that Hillary would switch perspectives at the drop of a hat; to whatever position her campaign thinks is the best line for the current news cycle (and never mind what we said yesterday).

But getting back to the substance and the real core of Obama's comments in talking about the people of PA, that has clearly disturbed a lot of Americans:

''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."

Another way Obama could have said the above would be to say that working-class and rural Americans:

[1] ... Are gun nuts.

[2] ... Use religion as an escape from harsh reality (hmmm.... what was it somebody said about 100 years ago; something along the lines of ''religion is the opiate of the people''.... gee: Karl Marx and friends, me thinks).

[3] ... Are racists.

[4] ... Are isolationists.

[5] ... Are protectionists.

The far-left (D) spin-meisters can parse Obama's statement 16 ways from Sunday, but even though I realize Obama would never have used my above words, I think a substantial portion of the electorate perceived his statements at least to some extent along the lines of [1] - [5] above. And they don't like that characterization one bit (and yes: I grew up on a small dry-land wheat farm in the Midwest).

So; yeah: I think this story has some legs; and it will have at least some level of lasting negative impact on Obama's campaign. If it was ONLY the above statement in isolation perhaps less so, but when you collectively lump it together with:

[1] ... Obama's long association with liberation-theology paster Jeremiah Wright.

[2] ... His at least casual association in Chicago not just with terrorist sympathizers but with actual terrorist bombers (William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn (a quick Google finds a bunch of stuff) ).

[3] ... His record as one of the most liberal members in both the IL State and US Senate (keep in mind it takes a lot to receive that distinction).

[4] ... His wife's statement that it was only very recently that she was proud of America for the 1st time.

I would suggest that you do not have to be a conservative (R) to have the collective weight of all of the above give you serious pause. Of course conservative (R)s were never going to vote for either Hillary or Obama. Where it hurts him is with the (I)s; and with moderate (D)s.

My summary take: Obama's ''bitter-gate'' event, together with other things like I mentioned above, make it considerably more likely that the Clinton - Obama struggle will go on longer than some people thought; and become even more heated and confrontational; MAYBE even to the bitter end at the convention (although that's probably still a long shot).
As an active (R), all I can say is:
Laissez les bons temps roule. ;-]

Posted by Postman

6:38 PM, Apr 14, 2008

All, I would not presume to tell people whether they ought to be offended by Obama's remarks. Clearly many people were and he has to deal with that. What I was pointing out was that Clinton had only a sliver of high ground to stand on when she talked about all the optimism she sees. I just didn't hear her saying much about that prior to Obama's comments.

Posted by Charlie Bermant

8:11 PM, Apr 14, 2008

I am a Hillary supporter and have a sense of glee whenever her opponent stumbles. But this is ridiculous. He didn't say anything wrong, or untrue or even offensive. He was on the mark, saying that people cling to ephemeral things for security in tough times. Guns and religion are part of some people's lives, and he wasn't putting that down. Rather, he was commenting about clinging to something that eventually will let you down. He could have said Springsteen fans, or people who watch American Idol. His point was sound, and taken out of context.
This is just more proof of how there is little difference between the Ds, and they are grasping at ridiculousness to gain advantage.

Posted by Bill

8:57 PM, Apr 14, 2008

As if bubba's doormat doesn't have the same disdain and derision for the American voter that Obama does.

Posted by tim in seattle

9:31 PM, Apr 14, 2008

Obama’s comments were hurtful and worded poorly but there was truth in what he said. I don’t know how different the small towns in the Midwest and the East are but in the tour you took of Eastern Washington you must have seen the devastated small towns that offer no hope to the young who have to leave for Portland, Spokane or Seattle. Go through northern Washington counties of Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens or Pond Oreille and you see small desperate towns that are not going to be rescued by timber or mining.
Most of the young have already left. Thanks to Clinton’s work for Wal-Mart the small town’s main street business have closed too. The only hope for these small towns and counties is that the retiring baby boomers will move to these places for “quality of life” but wait they’ll want services and that takes taxes.
I’ve listened to the chattering class on TV today (msnbc) and just couldn’t believe the idiocy of most of the commentators if they had experienced small town life it was not obvious (2 years in Pomeroy, Garfield county at 4&5 years old, a very few memories) if flying over rural America makes for expertise I heard it all today.

Posted by Diane

10:57 PM, Apr 14, 2008

I think this flap over Obama's comments is ridiculous. I work in the travel industry, and I would venture to say that you'd find many airline employees across this country who are "bitter" about their experiences. How about the Home Depot employees who had to recently watch their CEO walk away with BANK! They're probably "bitter" too.

Anyone who's paid attention over the last year or so, knows that Barack Obama is in tune, and focused on the experience of average Americans. Why don't we ask Senator's Clinton and McCain how they funded their college education costs? Did either of them even have to take out their own college loans, much less finance their education they way Obama did?

You have only to ask yourself - what would prompt John McCain and Hillary Clinton to team up in this attack? I can guarantee you, their focus has more to do with their own campaigns and political future, than any sincere concern on behalf of "small town America".

Posted by Bothsides

8:00 AM, Apr 15, 2008

Methow Ken hits the mark, great interpretation.

Diane, that's called politics.......the HD employees may indeed be bitter, but is Obama going to say they will cling to their "religion or guns" as if to say they are red necked back woods hillbilly's, I think he shot himself right in the foot, not too hard to figure out "what he really meant", and anytime you have to "clarify" your remarks, you've got a problem.

Posted by Hinton

8:26 AM, Apr 15, 2008

Well, now that the Obama supporters have checked in... The problem is that everything Barry O said is "wrong," if "wrong" is described as having the sensitivity of a board fence or more.

While Barry O is half black, clearly he's led a life of relative ease compared to tens of millions of Americans who cannot hope to, for example, go to Harvard or Princeton.

We've seen what happens when a bogus man of the people runs from the left: John Kerry is the result. This Chinese waterboarding of idiotic comments and remarks that seep out from behind B.O.'s facade are building up like lead poisoning.

Are we to ignore his associations, his statements, his sentiments? Based on what I'm reading here, for people like David, what the man says about his perspectives is to be ignored if those perspectives cast him in a negative light. Well, with so little else to go on, what else are we to judge him by?

Barry O used to tell us that the decision had to be based on "judgment." You all remember that, don't you? It COULDN'T be based on experience... since he has none that qualifies him to run a White House elevator, let alone the United States.

Well, how long has it been since his "judgment" card has been shelved? I haven't heard much about that one lately... have you? And why is that?

Well, the reason is his "judgment" since Le affair Wright took center stage has been folly after debacle after gaffe.

As he writes the GOP campaign against himself, let us remember: What Clinton says or does in reaction to Obama's increasingly-on-display-political-idiocy is of little to no meaning. The story here isn't so much what Clinton did with this latest in a series of moronic moves by Barry O (moves that are keeping her in the race, BTW... if he wasn't such an idiot, Hill would have been long gone.)

The story here is the impact on how Barry O insists on turning this into a Mondale Revisited election.

Every time he opens his mouth, his campaign cringes. He's been knocked off message so many times, it's starting to look like an Eyman-Lowry debate on I-695.

A true leader wouldn't make these mistakes. A true leader wouldn't have a series of stupid statements that he lacks the sense of a rock ape to properly explain. A true leader would admit that he was wrong.

And Barry O doesn't do anything like that. His belief in an anti-American racist bigot is clear. His disdain for those of us in the rural areas will be cemented into our consciousness by next November.

In an election that theoretically should have been a democrats to win, the forecast is bleak... and becoming increasingly bleaker. As the circular firing squad of the left continues to pump rhetorical rounds into their candidates, all I can do is stand by and allow them to commit political suicide, inch after agonizing, after hilarious inch.

Posted by jeeves

12:33 PM, Apr 15, 2008

Obama botched the language but his intent came through for anyone not trying to spin a political advantage. If Obama just added the phrase "like Karl Rove intended" he would have nailed the point without the blow-back.


His message was the "What's the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America" theme, distract and turnoff middle class American's from the political process. Let them believe government is the problem and certainly not the solution. Have them focus on hot-button issues like gun control, abortion, gay marriage, immigration and not on the economic injustices reinforced by the political system. Thus Kansas (like Pennsylvania) will vote Republican against their own self-interest.


By the way, this technique was pioneered in CA by pairing initiatives with elections that would bring out single issue voters to the polls.

Posted by R. Travaille

7:21 PM, Apr 15, 2008

Gee Hillary Changed her Postion on something!! I'm Appalled!! I wonder if its happened before?? well just a few times!! I/m still waiting for her Apology to Our Troops for her "Sniper Attack" Claim. Just recently on the news was a Marine Gunny Sgt that had Lost his leg to a Real Sniper and is now Back in Afganastan serving with Honor. Hillary's "Claim" about being under Sniper Fire Dishoners this Marine and All serving especially all those who have sacfriced their Lives, eyesight legs, and arms to name a few. But No she Was Sleep Deprived then she Misspoke!! Sheesh and she wants to be Commander in Chief!

Posted by upchuck

10:51 PM, Apr 15, 2008

oh this is a bunch of crap!

can we please talk about something significant?

obama is elitist and mccain is down to earth and clinton is optimistic???

how many people will die from mccains iraq war policies?

how many people have lost jobs because of bubba's nafta and wto "successes"

and this receives equal media play with the suffering of those accused of being "bitter"???

EVERY candidate says things that can be taken as insensitive or worded poorly by one group or another sonner or later during such extended campaigns - have any of you ever mixed your words? the question is whose spinnable comments (or shouts - i wont even call it a scream!) make it into the 24hr news cylce on full echo and repeat mode. remember we see the world as we are not as it is and the mainstream news media is a big ass rich corporation... this is a world where blethen is a little guy and you can't tell me that he has one little bit in common with obama's 'bitter' or mccain and hillary's 'optimistic' crowd.

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