Monday, July 6, 2015

The Levittown barfly who almost kept Obama from becoming president

The Levittown barfly who almost kept Obama from becoming president

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Remember Mayhill Fowler, the citizen journalist whose tape recorder sparked the infamous Pennsylvania "Bittergate" scandal that came close to derailing Barack Obama's drive to the White House, highlighting the disconnect between a Harvard Law grad and the rank-and-file Democratic voters he said "were clinging to guns and religion" as a response to economic and political upheaval?

Today, Fowler is back with the long -- and I mean looooong (seriously, it could lose about 2,000 words...citizen journalism is great, but some people need editors) -- story behind the story. She provides some interesting evidence that Obama's remark was inspired by a published interview with a notorious barfly from the blue-collar Bucks Coutny suburb, a man that Obama himself was supposed to meet but never did.

As is clear from Obama's remarks at the San Francisco fundraiser, he had that same Sunday, on the flight to San Francisco, been reading in the New York Times Sunday magazine Michael Sokolove's engrossing essay on returning to Levittown, where Sokolove had grown up, and finding the old working class community not particularly disposed to Obama. According to Mullane, after the town hall meeting in Levittown Obama had planned to stop by Gleason's Bar, where Sokolove had conversed with the locals. "Eight men sat around the bar, and not one of them supported Obama," Sokolove had written. Mullane said that in setting up the Gleason's stop the campaign staff had told the bar staff that Obama really wanted to talk to Steve Woods, the Gleason's habitué whose negativity had been particularly colorful. "Rapid fire, he told me the issues he cared about," Sokolove wrote. "'No. 1, gas prices. It's killing everybody. No. 2, immigrants. They should go back to Mexico. Three, guns. Everybody should have the right to bear arms. In fact, everyone should have a gun in this day and age,'" Woods had said. But, as is often the case with campaign schedules, Obama was running very late that Wednesday and never got the chance to swing by Gleason's Bar and meet Steve Woods.
 

Read -- or better yet, skim -- the whole thing. The backstory of Steve Woods has a twist that you may not see coming. As for Obama, I think much of his agenda -- especially a robust universal healthcare program -- could do more to help working-class folks in a place like Levittown than any president since FDR, but even Roosevelt, patrician that he was, knew how to speak the language of the people he was helping. Obama still has more work to do on that front.

(Photo by Mark Peterson/New York Times)

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Will Bunch
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