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Can the Candidates Possibly Understand Small Town Voters?

I heard rumblings of the big Obama "bitter" comment all weekend and was about to dismiss it as a woefully insensitive characterization but relatively harmless tongue-trip — until I read the rest of the statement. At a closed door fundraiser in San Francisco last week, Obama said this of Pennsylvania voters reeling from job losses and broken political promises:

“[they] get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

To me it's not so much that he characterized the working class as gun-toting, bible-thumping, bigots — it's that he attributed those proclivities as a misguided response to very real challenges that rural voters are facing. The statement levels charges in my mind that Pennsylvania voters (in this instance) aren't politically sophisticated enough to understand the cause-and-effect of their circumstance. Are we to believe then that if a worker in Pennsylvania gets laid off his reaction is to hate people who "aren't like him?"

I'm not alone in my objection to Obama's notion. To see how,

. A poll out this morning shows that 56 percent of Americans disagree with his statement, and 45 percent label it as "elitist." It's a curious turn as candidates have historically tried to embrace the stereotypical trappings of the non-urban as a way to assure voters that they're as far from elite as possible. Remember John Kerry in that Carhartt coat so stiff and shiny it looked like he'd just tucked the tag up his sleeve? I wasn't close to voting for him then, but that ridiculous attempt at commonality cemented his image as unsure of himself and pandering. So perhaps Obama's comment isn't so objectionable — maybe he is just being true to himself?

With Hillary out this weekend shooting whiskey and telling tales of hunting, is that behavior from candidates really what a rural voter wants? In order for a small town voter to make an informed decision, is it a prerequisite to see candidates fumble with a foreign hobby, as if voters were just sitting and whittlin' around the fire thinking, "Goldurnit, if that Hillary would just come out fer a shoot I'd think about goin' ahead and votin' fer her." As if a small town voter certainly wouldn't be able to parse the specifics of an economic policy — it might just get in the way of their hootenanny.

I grew up in a small town, where real people wear Carhartt because their jobs require it, and to them this election isn't about misplacing blame for their political or economic situation, as Obama would have you believe, or wanting a candidate to shoot whiskey with like Hillary. It's about real solutions and candidates speaking to them and understanding their situation — not mocking it or playing dress up and pretending like they do.

What do you think? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?


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