Obama takes another bite of the bitterly clinging apple in a long interview with Matt Bai of the NYT Magazine. However, even with six months to reflect Obama hasn't figured out why his remarks were problematic:
For a guy who just four years ago was running his first statewide campaign, Barack Obama has made startlingly few missteps as a presidential candidate. But the moment Obama would most like to take back now, if he could, was the one last April when, speaking to a small gathering of Bay Area contributors, he said that small-town voters in Pennsylvania and other states had grown “bitter” over lost jobs, which caused them to “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.” That comment, subsequently posted by a blogger for the Huffington Post, undercut one of the central premises of Obama’s campaign, an argument he first floated in his famous 2004 convention address — that he could somehow erode the tired distinctions between red states and blue ones and appeal to disaffected white men who had written off national Democrats as hopelessly elitist. Instead, in the weeks that followed, white working-class primary voters, not only in industrial states like Pennsylvania but also in rural states like Kentucky and West Virginia, rejected his candidacy by wide margins, and he staggered, wounded, toward the nomination.
The initial criticism of Obama's comment centered on the point that rural voters may actually believe in guns and God independently of their economic circumstances. Here is Jake Tapper:
It seems to me that this comment could be interpreted fairly easily as dismissing people who hold views on guns, or religion, or immigration, or trade because they believe in those views -- and not because they're "bitter" or lashing back at a system that has discarded them.
And Hillary, as reported in the Times:
Mrs. Clinton suggested that Mr. Obama saw religious commitment, hunting and concern about immigration as emotional responses to economic strain rather than as deeply embedded values.
Seems simple. So now Obama tackles this head on, six months later with a sympathetic Matt Bai:
“That was my biggest boneheaded move,” Obama told me recently. We were sitting across from each other on his plane, the one with the big red, white and blue “O” on the tail, flying some 35,000 feet above Nebraska. “How it was interpreted in the press was Obama talking to a bunch of wine-sipping San Francisco liberals with an anthropological view toward white working-class voters. And I was actually making the reverse point, clumsily, which is that these voters have a right to be frustrated because they’ve been ignored. And because Democrats haven’t met them halfway on cultural issues, we’ve not been able to communicate to them effectively an economic agenda that would help broaden our coalition.”
So far so good - the hicks have been ignored on cultural issues, independent of economic strains. But then Obama heads straight back into the ditch (my redundant emphasis):
“I mean, part of what I was trying to say to that group in San Francisco was, ‘You guys need to stop thinking that issues like religion or guns are somehow wrong,’ ” he continued. “Because, in fact, if you’ve grown up and your dad went out and took you hunting, and that is part of your self-identity and provides you a sense of continuity and stability that is unavailable in your economic life, then that’s going to be pretty important, and rightfully so. And if you’re watching your community lose population and collapse but your church is still strong and the life of the community is centered around that, well then, you know, we’d better be paying attention to that.”
Why can't guns and church simply be important to these people because they are? Why does Obama insist on linking their importance to economic distress? Is there any learning process happening here at all?
This explanation about how embarrassed Obama was when the mask slipped is classic:
“No. 2 [in appealing to working class voters] is how we talk about issues,” Obama went on. “To act like hunting, like somebody who wants firearms just doesn’t get it — that kind of condescension has to be purged from our vocabulary. And that’s why that whole ‘bittergate’ episode was so bitter for me. It was like: Oh, this is exactly what I wanted to avoid. This is what for the last five or six years I’ve been trying to push away from.”
In Obama's vision it is not what the candidate believes that is important, it is what the candidate says. What Obama believes seemed clear six months ago and, with this new opportunity, he has made it clear again.
Two weeks and two days to his victory.
BLAZING AWAY: Obama in a small town on guns:
“I just want to be absolutely clear, O.K.? I just don’t want any misunderstanding when you all go home and you talk with your buddies, and they say, ‘Oh, he wants to take my gun away.’ You heard it here, and I’m on television, so everybody knows. I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe in people’s lawful right to bear arms. I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won’t take your handgun away.
“So if you want to find an excuse not to vote for me, don’t use that one!” Obama said, eliciting laughter and cheers from the crowd. “It just ain’t true!”
BITTERLY CLINGING: The normally laser-like Ann Althouse runs Obama's first explanatory paragraph but skips past his renewed linkage of guns, church and economic distress. She does promote the connection from her comments section, however.