As the "Hey Rubes, Back Barack" tour swung through Indiana, Obama was in another town meeting defending himself again from his small town disaster [More at the Times and WaPo, and the AP is excellent]. The candidate was insightful - "I didn’t say it as well as I should have" - and displayed his keen sense of Presidential campaigns, calling the current firestorm "a typical sort of political flare-up”.
Hmm, how typical is it for a candidate to characterize a huge swath of his target voters as bigoted, gun waving religious fanatics? I'll bet that in Dem strategy sessions run by law school alums, it's pretty typical!
I'm getting a mental image of Obama during other "typical" flare-ups - sort of a "But sweetie, those jeans do make you look fat" thing, or maybe "Honestly, officer, you need to understand that some people have a very high tolerance for alcohol".
I can't believe that in all those Harvard classes they never emphasize that you can't tell the rubes what you really think of them. Surely they aren't relying on the common sense of the elitist snobs passing through to figure that out themselves? Didn't work!
MORE: James Joyner covers the waterfront, or the backwoods.
SANITIZING BARACK: NY Times readers will practically need a decoder ring to figure out what the controversy is, although if they read down far enough they should be able to piece it together [now the Times has re-written it - "cling to their guns" has moved from the umpteenth paragraph to the second]; the WaPo blog coverage is actually pretty good.
As Hugh Hewitt notes, the WaPo showed their nose for news by putting this story on page 4; this passage describing Obama's attempt to avoid the "elitist" tag is funny, especially when accurately annotated:
Obama advisers quickly sent out the full comments from the fundraiser in an effort to show that Obama, far from looking down at people, was entirely sympathetic to their
situationpathetic, misdirected lives and to their distrust of (much wiser) politicians.
COVERING THE STORY: The AP has a concise lead and extended comments from Hilary Clinton and her supporter Evan Bayh. Here we go:
MUNCIE, Ind. - Democraton Saturday conceded that comments he made about bitter working class voters who "cling to guns or religion" were ill chosen, as he tried to stem a burst of complaints that he is condescending.
By way of contrast, here was the original Times lead:
MUNCIE, Ind. — Senator Obama on Saturday rebutted criticism that has enveloped his campaign over a comment he made last Sunday that many working-class voters are angry and bitter over economic conditions in America, and he told an audience here that his words were not meant to be insulting.
Many dispirited voters believe politicians will not solve their problems, Mr. Obama argued, so they base their votes on issues like religion, gun rights or same-sex marriage rather than voting for their economic interests.
Where's the controversy? Well, the "cling to guns and religion" phrase was buried deep. Here is the new Times version, which elevates it to the second paragraph:
The Democratic nominating fight took a sudden turn with Senator Barack Obama’s comments about small-town Pennsylvania voters providing an opening for the Clinton campaign to raise anew questions about Mr. Obama’s ability to lure working-class voters.
With the Pennsylvania primary just 10 days away, Mr. Obama was forced to deal with a torrent of criticism on Saturday over his remarks to donors in San Francisco that such voters “cling” to their guns and religion because they are bitter about their economic circumstances.
Better. Let's cut back to the AP for Clinton and Bayh:
Clinton attacked Obama's remarks much more harshly Saturday than she had the night before, calling them "demeaning." Her aides feel Obama has given them a big opening, pulling the spotlight away from more troubling stories such as's recent revisiting of his wife's misstatements about an airport landing in 10 years ago.
Obama is trying to focus attention narrowly on his remarks, arguing there's no question that some working class families are anxious and bitter. The Clinton campaign is parsing every word, focusing on what Obama said about religion, guns, immigration and trade.
Clinton hit all those themes in lengthy comments to manufacturing workers in.
"I was raised with Midwestern values and anand its policies," she said. "Now, Americans who believe in the believe it's a matter of constitutional right. Americans who believe in God believe it's a matter of personal faith."
"I grew up in a churchgoing family ...," she continued. "The people of faith I know don't 'cling' to religion because they're bitter. People embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich ...
"I also disagree with's assertion that people in this country 'cling to guns' and have certain attitudes about immigration or trade simply out of frustration," she said.
"People don't need a president who looks down on them," she said. "They need a president who stands up for them."
One of Clinton's staunchest supporters,, D-Ind., acknowledged there was some truth in Obama's remarks. But Republicans would use them against him anyway, Bayh said.
"We do have economic hard times, and that does lead to a frustration and some justifiable anger, it's true," Bayh told reporters after introducing Clinton in Indianapolis. "But I think you're on dangerous ground when you morph that into suggesting that people's cultural values, whether it's religion or hunting and fishing or concern about trade, are premised solely upon those kinds of anxieties and don't have a legitimate foundation independent of that."
Bayh skips past the odd tension between Obama's own opposition to free trade and his apparent belief that free trade opponents are embittered economic losers; maybe Barack opposes free trade on behalf of Michelle, who is struggling to get by on only $400,000 per year.