Barack Obama broke the first rule of Democratic presidential politics: never let on that you believe rural American voters are hicks straight out of Deliverance. Unfortunately for The Chosen One’s adoring fans, he could not have picked a worse time to reveal his contempt for average Americans.
THE MOTHER OF ALL GAFFES
On Friday the usually Obamaphile Huffington Report turned the tables on him, breaking a story (complete with audio tape) that Obama had regaled a hoity-toity California fundraising audience with his thoughts on the rural folk of Pennsylvania. In remarks that his Left- wing Harvard professors would heartily endorse, he explained that the Californians should take pity on Pennsylvanians:
"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." (Emphasis added.)
This was manna from political heaven for Hillary Clinton (who had spent most of Friday explaining a new set of fabrications from Bill about her brush with death in Bosnia) just as she was heading off into the political wilderness.
The Pennsylvania primary next week is do or die for Hillary. A loss or narrow win will send her packing; a comfortable victory will hush the hounds baying for her to leave the race. And for the campaign which could not shoot straight (or rather could not keep their shooting stories straight), the Clinton team finally had a clear shot at their target.
Even the worst-run presidential campaign in recent memory could see this opening. Hillary charged out with comments at a campaign appearance chiding Mr. Hope for finding only bitterness in Pennsylvania. (“I meet people who are resilient, who are optimistic, who are positive, who are rolling up their sleeves”) and then moved in for the kill:
“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.”
The Clinton camp spent the remainder of the weekend pounding at Obama, Hillary personally whacking at him and surrogates descending en masse to make certain the entire state knew they had been insulted.
THE GOP SEES AN OPENING
Hillary got some help from the Republicans who decided that it was time to rough up the rookie candidate. (Whether the McCain team believes that Obama can be dislodged from the lead in favor of Hillary – who now trails John McCain in polls across the board – or whether they hope he can be bloodied before stumbling to the nomination, they were not about to miss this opportunity.) McCain’s communications director cut to the chase:
“It shows an elitism and condescension towards hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking. It is hard to imagine someone running for president who is more out of touch with average Americans.”
Karl Rove predicted the mega-gaffe would doom Obama’s chances in Pennsylvania and Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist went further, declaring it would cost him the election.
Robert Gleason, head of the Pennsylvania GOP remarked that this would raise “even more questions’ about Obama’s values and observed:
"The vast majority of Pennsylvanians believe wholeheartedly in their Constitutional right to bear arms, have a strong devotion to their faith, and believe that our government should be actively looking for a solution to the illegal immigration crisis, and Barack Obama managed to offend every single one of us with this one statement. With a diverse population, many with immigrant backgrounds, it is sad Obama wants to paint the Keystone State with this broad brush of ignorance."
Obama must be wondering, “Who would have thought that a bunch of bare footed, Bible thumping, know-nothings would take such offense?” Obama had slipped on the ice of his own condescension. Now the question is: can he recover?
He tried out a longwinded explanation Friday night in Indiana for why he believed the poor downtrodden of Middle America had no choice but to resort to firearms and faith to easy their economic pain, but somehow that did not seem to fly. He quickly detoured into insulting McCain. He tried again on Saturday to explain he had meant no disrespect, but there was no way to take the sting out of his own words. Reporters were left scratching their heads: did he really believe voters would not be insulted by his treatise on their political backwardness?
THE MEDIA DESCENDS
Even the usually solicitous MSM spotted this as a gigantic problem for their beloved candidate. One MSNC analyst put it: “Regardless of what he really meant by it, the idea that you’re calling unemployed people bitter does not come off so good. I think that he’s going to spend a lot of time on this between now and however long the election goes on.” Other pundits intoned: “It’s bad” and “it drips condescension.”
You know things are not going well when Chris Matthews concedes “Nobody want to be called bitter.” In short, this was a gaffe so bad that no even his media cheerleader could rescue him.
Hick-gate may well halt Obama’s Keystone state progress in its tracks. Beginning with a double digit deficit in the Pennsylvania primary polls Obama had cut Clinton’s sixteen-point lead to mid-single digits. His enormous TV ad buy and the Clinton’s Three Stooges’ routine (Mark Penn, Bill and Hillary) had managed to fumble Hillary’s lead, tripping over free trade and repressed memories of Bosnia.
By Friday (before the effect of Hick-gate could register), Clinton’s lead in the Realclearpolitics.com average hovered just above seven points (but that included an outlying Survey USA poll which still showed her ahead by 18 points).
Now Clinton has her chance to short circuit Obama’s already anemic outreach to white, working class voters. If not impressed with his “37” bowling score they likely won’t be thrilled to learn that he equates them with Lil Abner characters.
Before Friday some Pennsylvania voters might already have been worried about Obama’s outlook on America because of his long time association with the hate-mongering Reverend Wright. They might have even been irked after reading in Obama’s memoirs that he considers the country beset by racists around every corner and even in his own family.
Well now Hillary can fully exploit those suspicions that Obama is an elitist who looks down on his fellow citizens, regarding them as narrow-minded and foolish. She need not touch the remarks of Reverend Wright (and risk being labeled a race baiter herself): she now has Obama’s own words to work with.
What’s more, Obama’s somewhat ludicrous attempt to appeal to gun owners in Pennsylvania (and elsewhere) is now likely kaput. They likely wouldn’t have fallen for it anyway. Contrary to his perception that they are dullards, these voters are smart enough to doubt the sincerity of a man who favored strict gun control as a state senator and failed to sign on to the Congressional friend of the court brief asking the Supreme Court to hold the D.C. handgun ban unconstitutional.
Next week’s voting will reveal how deep Obama’s self-inflicted wound is. Should Hillary nab a comfortable win in Pennsylvania, any hopes of putting her out of the Democrats’ misery will vanish. All eyes will turn to the exit polls. If Obama has dug his own grave with working class white voters (the very segment that was fleeing his coalition in Texas and Ohio) the superdelegates will perk up. Then her dire warnings of impending doom for the Democratic Party with an Obama nominee might seem downright credible.
And John McCain? He is living up to his self-described billing as the luckiest man alive.