Whatever comes of Barack Obama's ill-timed and ill-thought-out remarks on small-town Pennsylvania, the last 60 hours will surely be remembered as the lowest period of the Democratic primary season, and maybe the whole election. While Obama's comments are dominating the discussion, as they should, I think this picture of Hillary Clinton's pandering and cringe-inducing shot-drinking in Indiana is this best representation of this political train wreck.
Not unlike the booze-fueled classic 1945 movie of the same name, this really was a "Lost Weekend" for the Democratic Party.
In here's the irony: Their problems stem pretty much from being polar opposite. For a non-gun guy, Obama sure has an amazing Dick Cheney-like talent for shooting himself in the foot every now and then -- ususally for saying exactly what is on his mind. Clinton's problem, as we've seen time and time again, is completely different. Whether it's her talking of dodging gunfire or her talk of dishing it out, or her gyrations from opponent of violent video games to proponent of occasional binge drinking, there is clearly nothing that Clinton will not say or do -- no matter how patently ridiculous -- if she thinks it will somehow help her get elected.
The thing is, the utter phoniness of the Clinton campaign is kind of old news right now, which is why Obama's politically boneheaded remark is getting 90 percent of the news coverage right now. The thing is, as John Baer does an excellent job of pointing out in his column today, working class people in towns and rural communities and even cities across Pennsylvania (and of course elsewhere in the Rust Belt) who've seen their jobs moved overseas by grossly overpaid CEOs have every right to feel what probably would be better described as "resentment."
1) If Obama learns anything over the next seven months, it must be this: NEVER EVER generalize about any large bloc of voters. You'd think a guy who says he has relatives that look like Margaret Thatcher and also like Bernie Mac would know that instinctively. yet instead we've heard the "typical white person" remark and now this about small-town America. Sweeping rhetoric can be incredibly powerful, but be careful with how widely you sweep.
2) Obama's comments in San Francisco (and the only worse place I could imagine making them, frankly, would be Havana) were just so off-the-mark in some ways that you have to wonder if, to use the popular phrase these days, he wasn't "sleep-deprived" or something. Case in point is the phrasing that seems to bash all religion; does Obama think that he himself was bitter when he turned to his Chicago church (perhaps you've heard of it?) back in the 1980s? Or was he just a confused schlub searching for answers like all of the rest of us? (And the word "bitter" -- I've never met anyone who liked being called that -- even and especially if they are bitter.)
Look, presidential candidates shouldn't require interpreters, but I do believe there are some kernals of deep truth in what he said. I think most would agree that many folks in small Rust Belt towns -- and not all of them, surely, and not all the time -- have felt anger and resentment over job losses. I don't think that caused people to "turn" to guns or religion (I'm pretty sure they were already there) but can anyone disagree that these have been used by so-called "leaders" on numerous occasions as wedge issues, often to divert attention from the economic plundering of the last generation.
3) Having said all that, what exactly are going to do about it, Barack?
And that, I think, is the real significance -- quite inadvertant -- of what Obama said in San Francisco. The sad truth is that no one is really voicing the concerns of the working class in the 2008 election, and it's becoming more apparent that no one is particularly equipped to. Not Obama, clearly, but who else?
The suburbanite former GOP-convention intern who made a left turn by way of Wellesley and Yale, discovered the concerns of the working class only by marrying the Man from Hope (the last American leader who -- despite his many other flaws -- could actually connect with middle-class folks and the poor) and took home an $109 million windfall along the way? Or the son of an elite military family who's now happy to send the grunts who "volunteer" for the military when there's no other job opportunities in those small towns off to fight in the elite's misguided war for another 100 years, and who became a multi-millionaire the old-fashioned way, by marrying into it?
I don't think so.
If I were Barack Obama, I'd start reading a fat bio of FDR, and learn how a different kind of elitist who once travelled the same corridors of Cambridge, Mass.. that you did learned to become the best friend that working America ever had, and let's hope that the other two will follow suit. Because maybe, just then, some good will come of this "Lost Weekend" for the Democratic candidates.