Monday, April 14, 2008

It's Not What You Meant ... It's What They Heard.

In an article for today's Washington Post. writers Shailagh Murray and Perry Bacon Jr. report:
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) asserted Sunday night that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), through his recent description of sentiments in small-town America, reinforced a stereotype of "out-of-touch" Democrats that doomed the party's past two presidential nominees.

"We had two very good men, and men of faith, run for president in 2000 and 2004. But large segments of the electorate concluded that they did not really understand or relate to or frankly respect their ways of life," Clinton said at Messiah College, referring to former vice president Al Gore and Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.). She repeated her view that Obama had been "elitist . . . and, frankly, patronizing."

The article later mentions:

Obama was questioned at the start of his session about his reference to religion in his small-town remarks -- perhaps the most controversial word he uttered. Describing the Pennsylvania political landscape at a private fundraiser last Sunday in San Francisco, Obama told of how people "cling" to such issues as religion and guns when they become disillusioned by hard economic times and by politicians who promise much but deliver little.

Speaking in a measured tone, Obama stressed that the reference was meant as positive and noted his experience as a community organizer with Chicago churches, assisting workers of a steel plant that had just closed.

"Religion is a bulwark, a foundation when other things aren't going well," Obama said. "That's true in my own life, through trials and tribulations. And so what I was referring to was in no way demeaning a faith that I, myself, embrace."

While I agree with Senator Clinton's point, I suggest that she is not doing her campaign any good by bringing it up over and over. After all her campaign has not been free of "misspeaks" either.

On the other hand, if Senator Obama meant his statement as positive then his campaign needs to quickly hire or at least consult with George Lakoff,
Co-Founder and Senior Fellow, Rockridge Institute and the Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics, UC Berkeley or Drew Westen, professor of psychology/psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Emory University; author of "The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation."

Whatever Senator Obama meant when he made the comment
"They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment" this is what most people heard.

  • "Anti-Trade Sentiment" = protectionism -- negative
  • "Anti-Immigrant Sentiment" = xenophobia -- negative
  • "Antipathy to people who aren't like them" = racism, prejudiced -- negative
  • "Guns" = violent, redneck -- negative
  • "Religion" = " ? " -- negative
  • "cling" = desperately grasping -- negative

You see the pattern so I'll let you replace the question mark next to religion with your own connotation.

One day Democratic candidates will figure this out. We thought that Bill Clinton had mastered this. However, his comments since the South Carolina primary race make us wonder. Hillary Clinton seems to get it when she speaks with her own voice. We kno
w that Geraldine Ferraro doesn't get it. But Senator Obama, no one expected this slip from you and that's what made your comment even worse.

So I appeal to all Democrats and Progressives everywhere, before you give another speech please sit down and watch the video "There You Go Again: Orwell Comes to America"

Because after November it won't matter what you meant to say.

Related posts:

A Quick Thought from A Disgusted ( but not bitter ) Pennsylvanian


  1. Yup. That's what my parents, who are farmers outside a small Pennsylvania town heard, and they are PISSED! They felt that Obama was being condescending in his message and tone, and whether that's true or not, that just doesn't play well with Pa. farmers.

  2. Unfortunately I think the reason Clinton keeps bringing it up is that our newspapers selectively edit the news. (There have been other items that I personally felt were newsworthy, that the media decided weren't important.)

    So it's a no-win situation. If you bring up something unpleasant, you're running a negative campaign. But if you don't bring it up, you're leaving it up to the media to decide what is worth people knowing about (remembering Kerry and Gore here).

    I really feel the media is not doing a good job. I'm not sure what Clinton should have done differently, given that when Obama gets to the general election - there are going to be some surprised Democrats, when they see just how much potential material Clinton could have used but didn't.

  3. Hi Punditmom,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    The comments didn't play well with some of my friends in NC either.

    I accept the fact that Senator Obama probably wasn't intentionally being condescending. But I hope that he and others in the Democratic learn from this.

  4. Hi Jacilyn,

    At this point, I would like to see all of the candidates address their own positions on the issues. If they differ on the issues the electorate is smart enough to figure that out.

    Isaiah Poole wrote a really good

    on this issue. He noted:

    "Honest discussion about the roots of working-class angst and how to address it has gotten seriously burned in the firestorm of controversy fanned around comments by Sen. Barack Obama that working-class people are "bitter" about the economy and government.

    However poorly phrased his original comments were, they were based on a fundamental truth: that conservatism, having failed for more than three decades in its promise to bring broad prosperity to all Americans, has exploited the issues of God, guns and gays—and the lie that government is their enemy—to keep their con going.

    The percentage of Americans polled by Gallup who say that they are worse off than they were five years ago—31 percent—is the highest recorded by the polling firm since it started asking the question in the mid-1960s. And that belief is based in reality: Median household income in 2006, $48,201, was lower in inflation-adjusted dollars than it was in 1999, the Census Bureau reports. The latest Democracy Corps memo includes a poll finding that 74 percent of Americans believe the economy is seriously off track.

    That same memo also suggests that voters have caught on that conservatives who claimed they were taking government "off the backs" of the working class have put in into the pocket of corporations. "The focus of people’s anger are the corporate special interests that dominate government, producing a demand that politicians make it a priority to take back government for middle class Americans," the memo says."

    This is what I would like to hear both Senator Clinton and Barack Obama addressing, not whether Obama is elitist or Clinton is "Annie Oakley".


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