Without a doubt, this was a poorly-worded statement on the part of Barack Obama:
You go into 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 toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
As a former resident of Pennsylvania (though not a small town), it’s true that there is bitterness there. And it’s true that much of that bitterness is due to economics– the massive closing of steel plants in Pittsburgh, for example. But it’s not true that that economic bitterness completely explains people’s faith or their feelings on the second amendment (though it does largely cover the anti-immigrant and anti-trade sentiments). It was a poorly-worded statement, as Obama has acknowledged, but to call it offensive is a reach.
The irony about all the “outrage” that’s being manufactured over this statement is that it’s coming exclusively from out-of-touch rich people who are making the assumption that this is something small-town Pennsylvanians should be offended by. I have yet to see a single quote from an actual small-town Pennsylvanian who has taken offense to Obama’s statement.
Yesterday, Hillary Clinton called the comments “elitist” and “out of touch,” and claimed that Pennsylvanians who face hard times aren’t bitter (which in itself is a wildly out of touch sentiment). John McCain’s campaign said Obama’s statement “shows an elitism and condescension towards hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking.”
But let’s take a step back here for a moment.
Hillary Clinton’s tax returns show that she and Bill have amassed $109 million in the last eight years– mostly from speaking fees, book royalties, and overseas investments. But long before that, at the age of 31, she moved into the Arkansas governor’s mansion with Bill, and has lived there or in the White House or in their million-dollar Chappaqua estate ever since.
John McCain is married to the heiress of a $100+ million fortune, a woman whose family trust fund has helped finance his congressional and senate campaigns for decades. He owns $4 million in real estate and $25 million in various trust funds.
Five years ago, before his speech at the 2004 national convention and his subsequent bestselling book, Barack Obama was a state senator and constitutional law lecturer earning $92,000 a year. He and his wife Michelle were raising two young daughters and still paying off their student loan debt.
A quick glance at the estimated net worth of each candidate pretty much tells you all you need to know about who is closest to the average American. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that neither Hillary Clinton nor John McCain have driven a vehicle for themselves, folded their own laundry, or gone into a grocery store and purchased a carton of milk in decades.
Yet over the next week or so, and certainly again in the fall, we can expect to hear many lectures from two super-rich, Washington lifers about what they think small-town America should take offense to.
UPDATE: Surprisingly, CNN gets it. People in small-town PA are bitter over job loss, and they have every right to be. To suggest that they’re not is ridiculous. It’s rose-colored, revisionist, political spin. It’s like saying Americans were optimistic but not angry after 9/11.