Saturday, April 12, 2008


Well, I guess I was wrong about Hillary in some way giving it up. She obviously feels that Obama has given her an opening through which she can salvage her chances for winning the nomination. Really, it's a sign of what desperate straits she's in.

Except for all the ways she's played these same rural, older white Democrat's latent racism (e.g., disseminating pictures of Obama in African/Muslim garb, darkening his skin tone in campaign commercials a la Willie Horton, drawing pararallels between the Obama campaign and Jesse Jackson's 1984 and 88 runs, etc., etc.), this is may be the most despicable of Hillary's efforts to destroy Obama. It's certainly the most hypocritical.

A quick recounting...

First, Obama's response to a question from an attendee at a San Francisco fundraiser about his difficulty closing deal with PA rural voters:

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. 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.
Hillary's first response on Friday (only slightly more nuanced as she repeated the attack numerous times yesterday):

"I saw in the media it's being reported that my opponent said that the people of Pennsylvania who faced hard times are bitter," Clinton said this afternoon. "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.

"Pennsylvanians don't need a president who looks down on them, they need a president who stands up for them, who fights for them, who works hard for your futures, your jobs, your families."

And Obama's best, least defensive response, delivered Friday afternoon in Indiana:

How the media is letting this one unfold is almost perverse, undermining Hillary's claim that the media gives Obama a free ride. As many have pointed out, Obama was essentially echoing arguments made by Thomas Frank in his 2004 book, What's the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. Obama has been talking about this phenomenon since at least 2004.

What's most amazing is Hillary's hypocrisy - a prime example of how Hillary is incapable of passing any sort of sincerity test. Comparing their backgrounds clarifies who is really most out of touch. Remember, Obama is the one who comes from a comparatively disadvantaged upbringing, while Hillary comes from an upper-class suburban background. Since she was about 27 or 28, she's never made less than $100,000 a year. And, as we all now know, she and her husband have made $110 million in just the last eight years ($110 million!!!).

Obama is certainly wealthy, thanks to two bestselling books and a nice fat Senate salary, along with his wife's hospital administrator salary. But, remember, he came from a very modest background, lived among poverty abroad as a child, and worked directly with laid-off steelworkers at a time when Hillary was pulling down big partner bonuses at the Rose Law Firm. At the same time, she was getting virtually free shares of a real estate partnership and pulling down miraculous windfalls off of cattle futures.

With two multi-million dollar homes - mansions really- in the wealthy enclaves of Chappaqua, NY and the Kalorama section of DC, it's not like Hillary is any sort of gun toting populist like, say, Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana. In fact, Hillary has a strong gun-control voting record. At a 1999 White House Mother's Day event, she urged Americans to push Congress to "buck the gun lobby." And, when it comes to religion, as we all know because of the Rev. Wright blow-up, Obama is the one with the more populist church affiliation (though, maybe in Hillary's world it doesn't count if it's a black church). Hillary's spiritual outlet is a cultish and secretive prayer group made up of members of Congress and other DC-based elites.

As Obama has now stated, his words were not artfully chosen; he made it too easy for Hillary and the Republicans to make it sound like he meant that religion and guns were merely a refuge from hard times. But as the Charlie Rose interview from 2004 proves, Obama has long talked about the Thomas Frank thesis of politicians exploiting people's value-based fears to distract them from voting with their economic interests. He was not discounting the social values themselves, or what they mean to voters.

I don't know how much damage this is going to do to Obama. The timing's not the best, but it could be worse. Fortunately, there's still 10 days (including a debate on Wednesday night) to recover and Hillary, handing out "We're Not Bitter" stickers to attendees at her campaign rallies yesterday, certainly seems well on her way to overplaying this and causing a backlash among both rank and file Democrats and superdelegates. And, again, to run to this extreme with one little less not so artful but nevertheless sincere and even sensitive statement shows that Hillary is in the last murmurs of a, however slowly, expiring effort.

As Harvard Sociologist and Political Scientist, Theda Skocpol wrote Josh Marshall yesterday:

I have been in meetings with the Clintons and their advisors where very clinical things were said in a very-detached tone about unwillingness of working class voters to trust government -- and Bill Clinton -- and about their unfortunate (from a Clinton perspective) proclivity to vote on life-style rather than economic issues. To see Hillary going absolutely over the top to smash Obama for making clearly more humanly sympathetic observations in this vein, is just amazing. Even more so to see her pretending to be a gun-toting non-elite. Give us a break!....

....This has to be one of the few times in U.S. political history when a multi-millionaire has accused a much less wealthy fellow public servant, a person of the same party and views who made much less lucrative career choices, of "elitism"! (I won't say the only time, because U.S. political history is full of absurdities of this sort.) In a way, it is funny -- and it may not be long before the jokes start.
It would be an ugly irony if this statement were to somehow undo Obama's pending victory and allow Hillary to emerge with the nomination. For one sloppily worded, but essentially accurate, political observation to defeat a once-in-a-generation presidential candidate would say so much about how fucked up the system really is. The ironic part is that Obama is the only candidate interested in transforming this kind of politics, while Hillary thrives on it.

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