Barack Obama came to speak to editorial writers and reporters from the Daily News and Inquirer this evening, and he essentially tried a do-over on his controversial remarks about "bitter" small-town Pennsylvanians, admitting that he'd "mangled" what he was trying to say at a San Francisco fundraiser 10 days ago, but that he agreed with a backer who told him that "you misspoke that you didn't lie."
His remarks were perhaps his most detailed effort, to date, to recast what he said on the West Coast, when he said that the ailing eonomy in the Rust Belt caused people to "get bitter" and that "they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment ot anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." Tonight, he sought to explain that he never meant to imply that either religion or the use of guns for hunting -- a huge pasttime here in Pennsylvania -- was a bad thing.
Here's a full transcript of what he said:
The problem actually with this most recent episode is not that I was saying one thing behind closed door and saying something else in public. The truth is actually that I’ve made these same comments in a similar way on “The Charlie Rose Show" back in 2004 or 2005, and I had said it in town hall meetings in small towns.
The problem is that I just mangled it, which, you know happens sometimes. The point that I was making was actually two separate points that got conflated. Number One, that people who had felt abandoned by Washington and political leaders when it comes to an economy that’s falling apart, they find stability in those things that they count on – their faith, the traditions that have been passed down generation to generation and in many rural communities that includes hunting, their family, their community – those are positive things.
They also are vulnerable to, you know, explanations for why the world has changed and politicians seek to divide them,. And sometimes politicians over the last decade have used anti-gay sentiment, they’ve used anti-immigrant stuff, and there’s a long history of quote unquote “wedge issues” that I think distract from the very difficult issues that we have to deal with.
And so my syntax was poor but as a wise older woman who was talking to me the other day said, ‘You misspoke but you didn’t lie,’ and I think that’s how I feel about it, and as I’ve said these are things that I said as I was campaigning in Iowa -- and when people would talk to me about immigration and some of these other hot button issues, I’d say I think these are distractions from our failure to deal with some very critical issues.
That last comment about how he "misspoke but didn't lie" was a telling one, because it was in this same room two weeks ago that his rival Sen. Hillary Clinton also acknowledged that she "misspoke" about landing in the line of Bosnian sniper fire, which had been shown by tapes of the event to be untrue. Obama is more or less, pardon the pun, sticking to his guns here, with the caveat that he never meant to suggest that firearms or the church were bad things to "cling" to. Somehow I doubt this new nuance will satisfy his critics, either on the political right or within the Clinton campaign.