Stop Digging

I haven’t commented about the Barack Obama/small town kerfuffle because, frankly, it doesn’t interest me and I generally don’t go on and on here about the candidate’s latest misstep or the misstatement du jour. Campaigns, generally, do interest me and I think that practically everybody is erring in how they’re handling this particular statement on the part of Sen. Obama.

If, showing notable good judgment, you haven’t been paying attention, last week Sen. Barack Obama made the following statement at a San Francisco fundraiser:

“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,” Obama said. “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.”

no doubt making the West Coast urban progressives, the beneficiaries of inherited wealth, in attendance at the event feel good about themselves and confirming every bias they’d ever held, particularly because, as Southern Californians sometimes put it, that there is no life east of Sepulveda.

When the statement came to light in less enlightened circles it raised some hackles, as you might expect.

Since the story of the statement broke last week, practically everybody has reacted imprudently. The Obama campaign has tried to explain the statement away several times now. Never explain. The explanation is more likely to give your opponents additional ammunition than it is to assuage those who’ve been moved to question your candidacy due to the statement. Changing the subject is a far better strategy. How ’bout them Cubs?

Obama’s supporters err in their vigorous defense of their preferred candidate, first, because it suggests your candidate needs defending and, second, because defending the indefensible makes you look ridiculous or driven by blind ideology or prejudice, none of which help your candidate in the least. Tom Maguire does a masterful job of fisking one such clumsy defense.

The Clinton campaign may well err in pressing whatever small advantage Sen. Obama’s remark may give them too far. So, for example, this:

VALPARAISO, Indiana (CNN) — Hillary Clinton appealed to Second Amendment supporters on Saturday by hinting that she has some experience of her own pulling triggers.

“I disagree with Sen. Obama’s assertion that people in our country cling to guns and have certain attitudes about trade and immigration simply out of frustration,” she began, referring to the Obama comments on small-town Americans that set off a political tumult on Friday.

She then introduced a fond memory from her youth.

“You know, my dad took me out behind the cottage that my grandfather built on a little lake called Lake Winola outside of Scranton and taught me how to shoot when I was a little girl,” she said.

“You know, some people now continue to teach their children and their grandchildren. It’s part of culture. It’s part of a way of life. People enjoy hunting and shooting because it’s an important part of who they are. Not because they are bitter.”

That strikes me as similar to the Michael Dukakis in a tank or John Kerry in camouflage moments of prior campaigns. She’s succeeding in making herself look absurd.

I haven’t found any specific comment from John McCain on this (please leave a link in the comments if you know of one). As I’ve said before I think he’d be prudent to stay above this and look presidential. The Clinton campaign will make as much hay from this as can possibly be made. And you should never interfere with an enemy when he’s making a mistake.

Republican partisans would do well to stay out of this particular battle. Let the Clinton campaign do its job and don’t turn the story into one about the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy or the Republican Attack Machine.

Meanwhile, I think the real story is being missed by practically everybody. There’s absolutely no way this story can be construed as a net positive for the Obama campaign. I don’t believe it will gain him a single vote. While I doubt that it’s going to deal the death blow to Obama’s campaign that the most enthusiastic Republican partisans are trumpeting, it does raise the likelihood that Hillary Clinton will win in Pennsylvania, that Obama will enter the Democratic Convention weaker than he might have been, and will further shake the notoriously rubber-spined Democratic superdelegates.

I’ve been saying for more than a year that, in a year that favors a Democrat being elected president, the Democratic Party will obsessively follow its now-ritualized pattern of nominating a candidate that the proverbial man from Mars would marvel at, convince themselves that he or she is the best possible person for the shop despite obvious indications otherwise, and lose in the general.

They’re certainly trying their darnedest.

By the way make sure you check in on Jonathan Martin’s explanation of why the story has enough legs to last a few days more at the very least.

James Joyner has been posting up a storm on this matter. Here’s a typically savvy observation:

Obama’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” answer has some intellectual merit and would make for a great chat at the faculty lounge at Harvard or the University of Chicago. But it’s an incredibly dumb thing to say on a campaign trail if you’re trying to, oh, get people who live in Kansas (or rural Pennsylvania) to vote for you.

That’s why I think that Sen. Obama would be better off not repeating the statement in revised form over and over again.

I’m not terribly surprised at Ezra Klein’s reaction:

It’s not damaging because we think it foretells him doing something harmful to the country. It’s not damaging because it suggests his policy agenda is poorly conceived, or his priorities are awry. If you think of policy and politics as two circles in a Venn diagram, this is damage that only exists in the politics circle, and doesn’t even come close to the area of intersection. We reporters have to cover it, of course, because it’s Really Important, and matters more than the housing plans of all the candidates put together. But it matters in a completely self-referential way, it matters only because it matters, not because it means anything about Obama, or illuminates anything about his potential presidency. It’s a hollow scandal.

Lots of Democrats like technocrats. But for some reason or other technocrats keep losing in in the general election. The world’s a cruel place.

7 comments… add one
  • GeorgeSorwell Link

    no doubt making the West Coast urban progressives, the beneficiaries of inherited wealth, in attendance at the event feel good about themselves and confirming every bias they’d ever held

    “the beneficiaries of inherited wealth”–???

    Are they all the beneficiaries of inherited wealth?

    Aren’t you finding confirmation of your own biases?

    Aren’t you indulging a resentment parallel to what you’re complaining about?

    Or is your resentment somehow more authentic?

  • GoergeSorwell, the fundraiser in question was held in the home of a person whose wealth was inherited. Four of the five neighbors to the home where the fundraiser was held were also the beneficiaries of inherited wealth. That’s enough to justify the claim.

    The statement was gratuitous on my part—completely extraneous to my main points. And your comment is an ad hominem, irrelevant to the post.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I think this is a significant piece in the puzzle of Obama’s identity. I just realized that some of the pieces I put together to account for Wright did not fit. Obama is not as genuinely religious as he pretends. His mistakes are not those of personal conviction, but bad politics. They are simply bad politics, coupled with arrogance.

    I thought a lot of Obama for touring small-town Illinois after his surprise Senate win. Now, I’m wondering if the word “Hayseeds” peppered his thoughts as he drove back to the Big City.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I like Joyner’s post too. Unlike Joyner perhaps, I think there is a lot of value in figuring out a candidate’s personality, character, motivations, etc. I think these things are a lot more informative on what a Presidency will be like than the policy lists.

  • I haven’t found any specific comment from John McCain on this (please leave a link in the comments if you know of one).

    I think that McCain himself has not actually said anything (although I’ve googled up a few articles that obliquely seem to suggest he has), but spokespeople from his campaign have.

    Fox News

    Washington Post

    I can’t speak for the people of Pennsylvania, who doubtless are of several minds on this, but it seems to me that this incident will have little effect on Obama’s electibility. He was honest but not entirely careful in his wording, and his explanations are consistent with that. People are bitter when they feel like they’re losing their way of living, and I suspect that many of the people Obama was referring to know that. Hillary’s rejoinder that those people are just happy and positive was condescending and demeaning, if anything was. Perhaps making the best of a bad situation, but that would imply less than perfection from the Clinton years, so she couldn’t say it that way.

    I suspect/hope that people are getting tired of the pandering and doublespeak from the entrenched Washington crowd. There is even a bit of evidence for that out there. If they are, they may have the good will to realize that misspeaking is not grounds for trial by press.

  • I suspect/hope that people are getting tired of the pandering and doublespeak from the entrenched Washington crowd. There is even a bit of evidence for that out there. If they are, they may have the good will to realize that misspeaking is not grounds for trial by press.

    ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

  • Larry Link

    Could it possibly be that the simple meaning of Obama’s statement was a
    statement that too many American’s have either hit rock bottom or that
    they are pretty darn close to hitting rock bottom, and the failed and empty promises made by so many political leaders to help, have set the stage for extreme bitterness and dispair. That the talk of guns, religion and antipathy towards others is what happens when people get so darn despreate…why would the good folks of Penn. react any differenlty then other ghettoed groups of people in this country or the world for that matter?

    Take a look at the world food crises that has come into the news recently, the riots from Haiti to Bangladesh to Egypt over the soaring costs of basic foods …and see what despreate people will do… and I would dare say that there are some good ole Americans who are feeling mighty hungry right now…You know, there are good Americans who look around and see wealth and abundance and plenty all around them…yet they are sinking and no one seems to really care..until it happens to them…this is the bitterness and anger Obama was talking about…it’s a warning…the well off have been stuffing people who are not like themselves into ghettos for years…the ghettos are growing..the so is the anger and bitterness.

    Our political policies have been failing most Americans and others in other countries for a long time now…Is it too late to do anything about it…can it be stopped? I hope so…

Leave a Comment