Snob-Obama is Not Just Out of Touch. He’s From Another Planet

This is how the Republicans are trying to define Barack Obama: Too Liberal, Too Out of Touch.

“I know what makes people there ‘bitter.’ It’s slick-talking politicians who look down on their beliefs and values.”  Michael Goodwin wrote in Sunday’s Daily News about his small town in Pennsylvania.

The well-circulated quotes from Huffington Post — of Obama telling a closed, well-heeled fundraiser that people in small towns in Pennsylvania are bitter and cling to religion and guns out of frustration — have created a dangerous firestorm.

This brouhaha exposes an existing political vulnerability — the perception of an elitist Obama. He will be tagged as the Harvard-trained candidate of the young and educated.  The Republicans managed to stick a similarly crippling perception on the candidacies of Michael Dukakis and John Kerry. 

And the Democrats didn’t stand a chance.

The Democrats have not lost elections because they are out of step with the white working class Catholic vote — the key swing vote — on economic or foreign policy issues… they have lost because of cultural issues — “God, guns, gays, abortion and the flag.”

And this is going to be a real problem for Barack Obama. Not so much in the nomination struggle, but in the general election.

“It’s arrogance on steroids, fueled by a secular elitist view of Middle America as filled with ignorant red-necks,” wrote Goodwin. Come November, the Republicans are going to cram this perception of Obama down the throats of voters.

Remember, the only Democrats who have been elected president since John Kennedy have been southern moderates.

There is nothing wrong with what Obama said.  It’s all true and very perceptive.  It follows a Marxist economic view that religious faith is rooted in economic anxiety. There is a lot of anger and bitterness in small town America today.  But when you are running for President you can’t say this kind of stuff. 

A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth, as Michael Kinsley wrote in the <em>Guardian</em> 16 years ago.  You can’t be a coolly academic political sociologist. In the heat of battle, the last thing you can tell voters is the truth.

Voters, ravaged by economic upheaval, don’t want to hear the truth.

Michigan primary voters didn’t want John McCain telling them that their old manufacturing jobs are not coming back. So, instead, in January, they cast their votes for rival Mitt Romney, who offered them bromides.

America is coming into some rough economic times: you have to keep it simple…. Stupid!

The Republicans are going to seize these issues and whoever is the Democratic nominee is going to have to play along.

You can’t tell the voters in Rust Belt America that you are not going to make everything all right ….like it was before.

If you are a politician, you have to promise them that you are going to bring back the factories and the high paying jobs. You have to tell them that you will build a wall on the Mexican border to keep out all those illegal immigrants who are taking their jobs….. even if it’s not true.

And you have to promise to gut the free trade agreements like NAFTA.  You don’t dare mention that you really can’t do this because the treaties are signed, and if you did Canada would stop sending us their oil and natural gas.

You don’t tell them that if we closed our borders to all the foreign goods coming in from China, prices would skyrocket at Wal-Mart and the Chinese wouldn’t buy our wheat and farm products and our farmers would go crazy.

You gotta keep it simple. Blame the immigrants, the Canadians, the Mexicans, the Chinese, Al Qaeda, Iran….. Blame anyone, blame everyone, but make sure that finger is pointing away from American soil.

Jimmy Carter made this mistake in his 1976 “Malaise” speech, in which he admonished American “self-indulgence and consumption.”  It proved to be a fatal blow to his presidency — and he lost his reelection bid.

I have admired Obama’s ability to talk in inspiring generalities about Hope and Change, without getting into specifics, but he seems to have stumbled this time.

It would be sheer folly to expect complete honesty from politicians during an election, much less during a nominating process.

You can’t really be a good politician, or a good president, without being somewhat of a morally flawed human being. The too-good-for-this-world politicians — George McGovern, Barry Goldwater, Adlai Stevenson, Michael Dukakis, Jimmy Carter — have had an annoying habit of losing elections.

Americans know they need a president with a different skill-set: someone who will take care of them and their needs but is not too fastidious to do what it takes to win.

A Presidential candidate shouldn’t have the same opinions and concerns during the primaries as he has in the general election … or during governing — that would be stupid.

Campaigning politicians are expected to charm and cajole relevant constituencies, to pander, to bob and weave, and to continually cobble together disparate interest groups. These are the skills – making political moves and having the capacity and courage for bold, persistent experimentation – an effective president will need.

Good presidents should have an agenda – a strategic vision, a fundamental core of beliefs, ideas, and a burning passion; but they should also be pragmatic, flexible, cunning and be able to demonstrate the capacity to grow and change.

This should be our modus operandi when picking a president. We should judge a candidate on what, we believe, he (or she) is really going to do when he (or she) becomes president, and not by whatever gibberish they have to spout to win the nomination.

We need to pick a president who is going to be able to deal artfully with a complicated, dangerous geopolitical situation.  Someone who can forge a coalition of Arab states that will make it possible for the U.S. to get out of Iraq …who can create an international climate that dries up anti-American terrorism…who can win over the Europeans and the Asians…who can preserve and restore American hegemony, without being a bully…and who can nimbly confront the coming economic maelstrom.

It doesn’t really matter who opposed the Iraq war first. This has nothing to do with what we need for our future safety and prosperity. What matters is which candidate has the depth and dexterity to get us out of one of the stickiest and scariest situations America has ever faced. The maneuvering is going to take a deft and delicate hand.

These skills are, coincidentally, similar to the skills that it takes to get the nomination.

You have to win the nomination first, and do whatever it takes, then you can think about what kind of campaign you want to run in the general election, how you want to govern, and what you want to, and can, accomplish.

The history of the great presidents of yesteryear has shown that campaign themes/promises and subsequent governing often have little to do with one another.

Nor would we want them to.

All of our great presidents have shown — for lack of a better phrase — a great deal of “ideological malleability” and pragmatism.

Thomas Jefferson reviled public debt so much that in 1798 he proposed a constitutional amendment that would have prevented the federal government from borrowing. But in 1803, when presented with the opportunity to drastically increase the size of the United States by purchasing vast swaths of land known as the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson quickly abandoned his fears about borrowing.

During the campaign of 1860, Abraham Lincoln persistently promised not to interfere with slavery in the Southern states. But when the Southern states declared their independence, Lincoln soon issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in states that had seceded from the Union.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1932 campaign was based on his pledge to cut taxes as a way to deal with the Great Depression. He did nothing of the sort of course. His opponent, Herbert Hoover, tagged him as a “chameleon in plaid,” but FDR went on to become one of our greatest presidents by increasing taxes and spending.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy ran on a platform that shamelessly exploited fears that the U.S. had fallen grievously behind in the arms race against the Soviet Union– the Phantom Missile Gap. We hadn’t, of course, as later became obvious.

Lyndon B. Johnson pandered to his conservative southern roots during the 1960 election and yet, as president, he pushed through the most extensive civil rights reforms ever enacted.

The first rule in politics is: if you don’t succeed in the short run, there will be no long run.

Somehow the voters knew, when these wannabe presidents were running, that they were tough enough, nimble enough, and artfully pragmatic enough to successfully negotiate some of the thorniest problems this country has ever faced: Slavery and Rebellion, the Great Depression, World War II, the threat from Communism, and the Civil Rights struggle.

Candidates with uncompromising ideals, who promise a new kind of politics, are very appealing. But ultimately, politicians who practice compromise and calculated obfuscation tend to be our most successful presidents. Had these great presidents clung steadfastly and bull-headedly to their campaign positions, our country would be far worse off.

[Cross posted at The Huffington Post]

Editor’s Note: The Democratic Daily is pleased to add Blake Fleetwood to our growing list of writers and contributors.  He can be reached at:

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About Blake Fleetwood

Blake Fleetwood Blake Fleetwood was formerly on the staff of The New York Times and has written for The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, The New York Daily News, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Village Voice, Atlantic and the Washington Monthly on a number of issues. He was born in Santiago, Chile and moved to New York City at the age of three. He graduated from Bard College and did graduate work in political science and comparative politics at Columbia University. He has also taught politics at New York University. He can be reached at
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18 Responses to Snob-Obama is Not Just Out of Touch. He’s From Another Planet

  1. Janis says:

    There is nothing wrong with what Obama said. It’s all true and very perceptive.

    And goes just as much for his own church as any other.

    And it goes just as much for his xenophobic backers in Pacific Heights, who laugh at and put down people who “aren’t like them.” I wonder if anyone there (aside from the person who broke the story, all props to her) noted the rank hypocrisy of disliking silly little folks who aren’t like them … for disliking silly little folks who aren’t like them?

    Probably not.

    THAT’S what rankles me. The damned hypocrisy. Like the anthropologist off examining and notating the strange customs of the hill tribes and going back to explain them to his amused defense committee, a cut-throat, cannibalistic tribal community if ever there was one.

  2. Janis says:

    Note also that his billionaire backers were perfectly happy to be xenophobic and condescending .. and they were rich. Without the golden excuse of economic hard times to explain their (and his) clear suspicion of people with other cultures, why did they fall prey to it?

  3. John P says:

    actually it does matter who opposed the Iraq war first. see here’s how wars happen–they are STARTED. if there had been more opposition at the START of the war, then perhaps it could have been avoided, since you’ll recall that we started it (in Iraq). So yes, that does matter. It really really matters, because we need someone in the white house with a clear head who won’t send us into another war without clear, undeniable truths to back up the reasons.

    and regarding this continued elitist attack on Obama: he has done a good job of staying on top of this and hitting back, so i doubt it’s going to be worth much. of course, Clinton would have you believe that he is now unelectable, but lest we all forget…”Hillary Clinton was a corporate lawyer who sat on the Wal-Mart board before becoming First Lady and is now worth over $100 million. Barack Obama is the child of a single mother raised in part by his grandparents who went to school on a scholarship and was a community organizer making $12,000 a year before becoming a law professor, lawyer and state senator. Five years ago he was still paying off student loans.”

  4. con dog says:

    Obama slipped and let his real feelings shine through what he thinks about working people to a bunch of elite Democrats. He thinks they are a bunch of gun toting jesus freaks. Obama really thinks like his preacher WRIGHT

  5. cats says:

    White people are bitter and frustrated. Better-qualified white students, employees, etc. face intense racial discrimination. Obama and his liberal comrades call it “Affirmative Action”.
    Millions of white Americans see “people who aren’t like them” illegals and inner-city parasites sucking up on free benefits.
    Millions of tax paying white Americans can no longer use the public school system because “people who aren’t like them” have made the schools awash with violence, drugs, and gangster rap.

  6. Adrian says:

    Hey thanks for the great blog, I love this stuff. I’ve been paying a lot of attention to politics lately and I just realized that Earth Day is coming up. I don’t usually do much for Earth Day but with everyone going green these days, I thought I’d try to do my part.

    I am trying to find easy, simple things I can do to help stop global warming (I don’t plan on buying a hybrid). Has anyone seen that is promoting their Earth Day (month) challenge, with the goal to get 1 million people to take their carbon footprint test in April?… I took the test, it was easy and only took me about 2 minutes and I am planning on lowering my score with some of their tips.

    I am looking for more easy fun stuff to do. If you know of any other sites worth my time let me know.

  7. CognitiveDissonance says:

    I disagree that Obama was telling the truth. The most offensive part of his statement was how he basically called small town Pennsylvanians bigots who cling to guns and Bibles, not the bitter part that he wants to spin. He has a habit of calling people racists who don’t vote for him. Let’s don’t forget that he called Ohioans Archie Bunkers, and the “typical white people” remarks. It’s always easier to blame others than to blame yourself. He really just doesn’t seem to get that those people aren’t voting for him simply because he has nothing to offer them. Hope and change might be cool if you’re well off. For the poor and the ravaged middle class, a nice shiny unity pony is just more bullshit from politicians.

    I’m really sick of the media selectively pulling out a couple of lines of what he said and oh-so-conveniently omitting the offensive part. But that’s the Obama Media and their CDS. I really didn’t expect to find it here as well.

  8. As much as this marathon race should be about ideas and policy, it invariably alalways slips back to a “He said”, “She said “scenario. We are more concerned about semantics than substance. There was a memorable line in one of Jack Nicholson’s award winning movies. In a response to a request for the truth he yelled, “The truth, the truth–you wouldn’t be able to handle the truth.”

    As Blake aptly stated, “Voter’s ravaged by economic upheaval, don’t want to hear the truth.” What are suppose to be private, personal, or family issues (God, guns, gays, abortion and the American flag) unfortunately take center stage over such issues as Iraq, the economy, crime, health care, the environment etc. Just think of the sheer dumbness of this: Bush is president because many American’s thought it was more important to vote their displeasure of whom I may choose to go to bed with over grave national and international issues. There is a concensus that “The Decider” will go down in histrory as one of the worst, OR THE WORST, president ever. So none of you out there in those angry red states, who voted for Bush, should be complaing because you got what you deserve. My only lament is that I didn’t leave my “Kerry Edwards” bumper sticker on my car to distinguish me from the 2004 Bushites. President Carter in his book, “Our Endangered Values” states, “I have been asked whether my Christian beliefs ever conflicted with my secular duties as president. I always honored my oath to preserve protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. I was careful to seperate my official duties as president from the private worship habits of my family. The government and the church are two different realms of service”

    Obama’s observations seemed largely credible to me. Some small back-water communities both use AND misuse their faith when they fall on hard times. If a plant in a small town closes, the now un-employed locals could use guns as a means to feed their families. (crime) As their frustration mounts, we sometimes read of a father who has killed his entire family and himself out of his shame of not being able to support them. As they lose their jobs they might scapegoat iillegal and/or legal aliens as being responsible. (even if none reside there) Some, like Jerry Falwell might be blinded by their faith and say that “the sins of homosexuals and pro-choice advocates, provoked God’s wrath. Still others may say that not having a Constitutional admendment banning the burning of our flag provoked the Lord to punish them. Although Obama’s comments make sense to most thinking American’s, he is required to publicly apologize.


  9. The Truffle says:

    Puh-lease. La Hill and McCain are simply projecting in their attacks on Obama. She’s a former First Lady and he’s a scion of a military family who married a beer heiress.

    The Republicans are going to seize these issues and whoever is the Democratic nominee is going to have to play along.

    That’s a very DLC way of thinking.

  10. debunker says:

    Obama used a very broad brush to paint all of the midwest as rednecks. What do guns and church have to do with the souring economy? How about some ideas on turning things around for rural America. This region with strong family values, a hard-work ethic, devout patriotism, and the desire for life in rural America, for SOME also includes church membership and for SOME perhaps owning a gun, be it for protection or hunting…long before the economy went south and jobs went overseas. We don’t now “cling” to them in desperation because our government has failed us. What a dramatic and exagerated picture he paints. We don’t cling to church or guns when it’s convenient unlike Mr. Obama who admittedly chose a Chicago church that would be convenient for his political base.

    He has chosen to depict the rust-belt in a demeaning manner. What does Obama know about it? Is he a sociologist now? He doesn’t have his history or facts correct about this region, it’s people or culture. More devisiveness from “the uniter”. If he wants to let us know he “feels our pain” say it to us. Don’t talk about us to those who don’t relate…can’t relate…don’t want to relate at your elite San Francisco dog & pony show. Surprised he didn’t have one of us freaks on display for purposes of impact.

    For those who think his comments were correct, and want to give him another “pass” on yet another stupid and uninformed comment, read the complete text of his commentary. I find it insulting that he thinks he knows me and my neighbor and has it all figured out here in Indiana. He is the one spewing the rhetoric trying to distance himself from his own error.

    The longer this primary goes on Obama must be finding it difficult to keep-up the act, or the mask. His true arrogance and hypocrisy are showing.

  11. cats: I’m not sure what planet you come from, but why don’t you go back there and leave us alone while we figure out who’s going to be President in 2009. And it sure as hell ain’t going to be McCain, because he thinks like you do that us poor white males can’t compete since the playing field got leveled.

    You don’t have a God given right to a position at the top of the pyramid, and it’s pretty clear to me that you couldn’t get there on your own.

  12. Peace Out For Unity says:

    Out of touch ? That’s scary and taking the best high road on the discussion I can find ! “Senator Clinton,do you think God wants you to be president?” Her answer on the CNN Forum concerning compassion,faith and values was humble. I was yelling yes and prayed about it too! Amen!! Now the nation can sleep at night your in charge ! God speed to the White House!

  13. OK, debunker, let’s attempt to review your less than flattering rant over “elitetist” Barack Obama.
    1. You say he depicts the “rust belt” in a demeaning manner. What does Obama know about it? “He doesn’t relate, can’t relate.” Well for your information his early years were influenced by his mother and maternal grandparents, who were from rural Kansas. Both his mother and her parents grew up in the very center of the country. In his book, “Dreams From My Father” he describes it as, “a place were decency and faith endured and the pioneer spirit” abounded. It was a place of, “Fourth of July parades, vine-ripe tomatoes, duststorms, and classrooms filled with farm boys.”Having been raised largely by his grandparents, he was keenly aware of the poverty they had endured. They had seen farm foreclosures and bank failures close up. Their life experiences had a strong influence on Barack’s up-bringing.
    2. Barack was born in the 1960’s, a decade of racial unrest. To make matters worse, he had been born to a mixed race couple. Although born in Hawaii, he relates stories of the hate he had to endure. This sure does not sound like the life that an elitist would have lived.
    Contray to what you say, Barack does “feel our pain.” He has seen the ruined lives that poverty creates in our young people, while doing community work on the south side of Chiago. Perhaps he should have choosen his words better. However, if you choose to scan his biography, it will become clear that he not only “talks the talk” but has “walked the walk.” His life itself has been a testimony to his avdvocacy for the poor. If “actions speak louder that words”, a botched couple of sentences areof little consequence. Both Hillary and Senator McCain have have led far more oppulent lives than Barack. Can we Democrats, so eagar for change, stop the constant blood letting. If we don’t, we face the distinct posibility of stealing defeat from the jaws of victory!! Buzz

  14. Andy Witmyer says:

    While I do think that Sen. Obama’s comments were a bit too sweeping, I’d like to say that as a person living in central Pennsylvania – in the middle of a truly vast rust belt – it is of my own personal judgment that his statements were perhaps more spot-on than most people might be comfortable with accepting. There ARE a lot – and I mean, A LOT – of bitter people in these parts. The city I was born and raised in was once the railroad industrial center of the world, but is a farcry from that now – since those glory days, it has become a culture-less sea of restaurants and retail strip-malls. The industry is gone and the people are not happy.

    While industrial decline may not be the cause of this phenomenon, I think that it’s worth noting that this area of Pennsylvania is home to an impressively large base of gun-toting, fag-bashing, Bible-thumping conservatives. Sen. Obama’s reflection upon this was not politically savvy in the least and it may cost him a number of votes (that is to be seen) – but, at least from my own experience of living around here, whether stupidly put or not, I can unfortunately – at least to a small degree – see where he was coming from when he made his observation.

  15. Gilbert Martinez says:

    Sorry, Andy, there have been “gun-toting, fag-bashing, Bible-thumping conservatives” for years and years.

  16. Gilbert

    I think Andy gets that and was in effect saying that.

  17. In both the Rev. Wright and the latest “small town” candidacy crisis, Barack, instead of responding in a way which might have been politically expedient, responded honestly. We haven’t heard a politican speak honestly in so long, that we can’t recognize it. He could have done what was politically expedient and simply, “thrown the baby (Wright) out with the bath water.” Instead he gave, what some consider, as the best speech ever made on race relations. Instead, he took the political risk and responded with calmness, eloquence, and intelligence.
    In this most recent media driven crisis he again has not run from what he said. Instead he admitted that he “had mangled” what he was attempting to convey and then made a second pronouncement . Again his clarification did not totally refute his original statement, representing yet another political risk. Obama said that bad times in small town America sometimes promotes feelings of bitterness. Some transfer their frustration on the nearest scapegoates, which are frequently either gays and/or Mexican immigrants. (legal of illegal) Then their “bible thumping” type of evangelism can SOMETIMES be used as the facilitator for violence. It is a pychcological proven tendency for persons or families when experiencing financial stress to SOMETIMES act out in socially unexceptable ways. Who hasn’t read of at least one account of an unemployed father killing his family and them himself.
    I, like Obama, am keenly aware that every presidential year the far right branch of the GOP trot out their favorite dividing issues of gay rights, abortion, gun legislation, flag burning etc. In both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, most voters in the “red states” identified these issues as trumping the Iraq war, the economy, the environment, crime, etc. in determening their selecton. Ir continues to amaze me, as a gay American, that whom I might choose to sleep with trumps nuclearer proliferation as a red state issue factor. In essence Obama was pointing out the continued pattern of “the dumbing down “of America” Some have liked it to a type of Jerry Springer Show mentality.
    Notice in both of these Obama camp crisis, he chose to take the honesty route over what may have been politically expediate for his campaign. After eight years of lies, hopefully we are ready for a candidate who will take a political risk by telling the truth. Oh,, but then I forgot the immortal words of Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” when someone in court requested the truth. His response was, “The truth, you wouldn’t be able to handle the truth!” I am clinging to the naive hope that this time around the electorate chooses truth, over politicaly motivated lies!!! Buzz

  18. Buzz

    We can all justify what Obama said to ourselves and other fellow progressives who get it – but to the moderates leaning towards McCain for WHATEVER reason, this is reason to lean closer. That is the issue – that is the problem with what Obama said. That is the truth. He fed them some candy and they will make stick if they can.