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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?


Fo-show317771 Fo-show317771 9 years
Towards recession? The ghettos in America has been suffering from recession for a long time now!
lilkimbo lilkimbo 9 years
Sorry, lulu. I came off as much more rude/offended than I intended to. It was a late night at work last night! I do understand that some people are bitter, but I think it's also important to look at the fact that a lot of people aren't. I'm originally from the Cleveland area (I just moved less than a year ago and my family still lives there.). I know some people who are very upset, but I also know a lot of people who are more frustrated than bitter. And no one I know personally is clinging to antipathy towards those who are not like them, although I have seen people who are like that. (Meaning not my friends and family members, but just people I've seen on the news, etc.) Anyway, it is a touchy subject for so many people. And, while I'm not an Obama fan, I understand what he was trying to say. However, I still can't agree with the way he worded things. I actually think he said it much better in the Charlie Rose piece you posted.
lula29 lula29 9 years
Well it's good to know that you think there is bitterness there. I wasn't so much addressing you as the sentiment that people in the area I come from aren't bitter or upset at their government for all that seems to be lost, jobs, economic stability, a hope for the future for their kids. I'm passionate about this because I see it all the time. Though some might not want to articulate it as bitterness or anger, I personally feel there is no truth in that denial. We should be angry IMO. No disrespect lilkimbo.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 9 years
No where did I state or imply that my experience proves bitterness does not exist, and I would ask you to refrain from saying what I have or have not "proven to myself" in the future. I was simply stating my experience, just like you stated yours, lula.
lula29 lula29 9 years
But there are people who do feel antipathy towards those unlike them, specifically immigrants who are blamed for taking jobs. This bitterness is exemplified via protest, vigilante justice (e.g. the minutemen) and sometimes outright violence. Individualizing it might prove to oneself that such bitterness doesn't exist because it doesn't exist within you, however, it doesn't disprove the sentiment exist amongst others.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 9 years
I'm from the midwest originally and I'm definitely not bitter. I understand that times are tough for a lot of people and may have turned to religion for hope, but definitely don't feel antipathy toward those who are not like me.
lula29 lula29 9 years
I'm actually really glad Obama said what he said, because I am from the Midwest and I'm very angry. So angry, I can't even speak eloquently about this topic without sounding bitter, lol! Here's what Obama said about this same subject in 2004 in an interview with Charlie Rose.
hartsfull hartsfull 9 years
Thanks harmony! I have a lovely picture of him asleep on my daughters shoulder-two precious angels. I have a ton a stuff to do today, but I can't stop thinking about saying, the more money from feds for your schools, the more they will be involved with your schools. I want to make the decisions for my kids schools not Washington. I know you mentioned a lot of good points Jillness. If I can come back I will! :)
lilkimbo lilkimbo 9 years
Also, I don't think this has been touched on, but does it bother any one that Obama seems to put religion in the same box as antipathy towards others? I think turning to religion in difficult times can be an uplifting, hopeful thing. But, turning to antipathy toward others is not a good thing. I know he later clarified, but I'm referring to the initial comment, even when taken in context with the rest of the speech. On a side note, would it change anyone's feelings if this speech was given to an audience of working-class people in Pennsylvania rather than at a fund raiser in San Francisco? On another side note, school funding is a complex issue and I agree with others that it's a state issue, as it is not one of the enumerated powers given to the federal government in the Constitution. It's also interesting to note that having more money does not necessarily make a school better; some of the schools that are failing our students the most spend the most money per student. (I haven't been posting links because they tend to get flagged, but if you would like sources, let me know.)
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
"I knew one school that spent $50 million on a new football stadium, while a school that was outside city limits had to share textbooks, and couldn't allow kids to bring them home to do their homework." This is a state issue. I went to school where we did not have chairs for all the students, I had to sit on the heater, we did not have text books to take home with us, yet they had a HUGE football stadium. They cared more about sports then they did about our education. But the students parents allowed this. They vote in who runs the government, so if people want a change then they should be voting different politicians into office. There is money in these states to fund their school programs, and there are different charities and fundraisers that will contribute. There is a lot of corruption and people need to demand a change in their communities. Just think of how much more money we would have to give to schools and charities if we were not taxed as high. If we did not have to work as many hours to just make ends meet, we could give more of our time to charity. The federal government has been active in funding schools for quite some time now, and look how they are failing. You can get much more done as a whole by working together in the communities.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 9 years
I don't have time to read everything posted since my last quote, but in response to McCain's support of Bush's tax cuts, McCain was actually against the tax cuts when they happened, he just doesn't support repealing them now because he feels it would be tantamount to a tax increase. He does, however support cutting funding and has named several specific "under performing" programs he would cut. So, he is most definitely not like Bush in his spending/economic policies.
piper23 piper23 9 years
One more comment on this subject then I definitely have to earn my paycheck today since the government paid me to play on CitizenSugar all day yesterday. "I think he highlighted the fact that the Republican Party has been able to win so many elections, despite their opposition to taxes on the rich and opposition to benefits for the poor and middle class."-LibertySugar I think the reason the Republican Party has won so many elections is that the Democratic Party has wandered so off the course on what grassroots Americans really want. I don't want a President that thinks its ok to perform LATE TERM abortions. Honestly, I support the right to choose but that choice should be made before you can feel the baby kick for God's sake. And maybe I should just be pro-life across the board but I think that someone who is the victim of a sexual assault and gets pregnant as a result of it should be able to chose what she wants to do about it. I don't want a President that wants to take away my right to lawfully own a registered gun in order to protect my family. I don't want a President who is more concerned with the rights of the students that the rights of teachers and administrators to do their jobs. Kids need to respect teachers and administrators and parents need to see that they do. But if the teachers and administrators are so afraid of being sued by the ACLU then why even bother? I believe we should support the military, not close bases - which really scares me if Hillary is elected because many bases closed under Bill's administration. This is just the tip of the iceburg regarding why I feel the Republicans have taken the White House lately. And this is just the tip of the iceburg as to why I have jumped parties. The Democrats no longer represent me.
harmonyfrance harmonyfrance 9 years
It can certainly get addictive hartsfull. ;) You just touched my heart with the thought of you typing with one hand while your child sleeps on your shoulder. Lovely. :)
hartsfull hartsfull 9 years
I want to chat longer! I was dying to get back here just to know what was said. I'm so addicted! I hope I can get back soon. Very good points, and yes the local tax thing isn't great for some cities. I do wonder sometimes if there isn't more coruption involved. I'm thinking by either party. 1 handed typing here 2yo starting to fall asleep on shoulder.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
I am glad you made it back! :) When it comes to education, I think that it should be partially federally funded. I think that there is such a vast difference in the level of income in different states, cities, and neighborhoods, and I think that it is not fair to children who grow up in areas that do not get as much tax revenue. I knew one school that spent $50 million on a new football stadium, while a school that was outside city limits had to share textbooks, and couldn't allow kids to bring them home to do their homework. The people weren't poor, the city just didn't bring in as much money for taxes because it was filled with homes and not businesses. Just my opinion, though.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
I love the feel of the hose on my feet!! That sounds like a great plan, hartsful! One more thing I wanted to add, was that even though Bush has technically "cut" taxes...he is still spending tax payer money in vast amounts. We ARE being taxed far more than it shows right now, because it is all being charged on that mythical credit card named China. One thing I like about Obama, is that he believes in a "Pay-Go" system. Yes, he has a lot of ideas of how to spend money to reinvest in America, but if he can't re-proportion the budget to cover these plans or get approval for other ways to raise the money....he won't implement the plans. He doesn't believe in running up huge debts that all Americans will have to eventually pay. Thanks Meg! It is great to see you on the boards again. I have missed ya!
hartsfull hartsfull 9 years
Ok, my husband is not ready, so I'm going to say what I wanted. I don't agree with everything of the republican party. Republicans are not opposed to funding schools, they just don't think they should be federaly funded. Funding comes from local taxes and that's where it should. I don't agree with the bumper sticker, "It would be nice if the military had to have a bake sale to build a bomber and our schools have all the funding they need." I see no problem with students learning the value of hard work. Again, funding schools is good, just not from federal. A lot of republicans like the private school voucher thing. This is where I'm not likeing it. And maybe I'm just not understanding it. But, I don't like the idea of money going to private and not public schools. I think it is usually more wealthy people who generally send their children to private, they don't need a voucher. I don't think the voucher is enough (I could be wrong) to compensate a family who can't afford private, so it does them no good. HOwever, in some rural areas where maybe the bus doesn't come that far to someones property, maybe it is more feasible for a rural person to do homeschooling (which covers the voucher thing). Again, I already argued that rural doesn't mean poor. The family could be, but the two words, rural and poverty are not interchangable. I'm not against private or homeschooling either. I just don't like the private school/home school voucher thing.
megnmac megnmac 9 years
Wow - that is a TON of comments! I am from and now again living in a small town, and I don't think anyone who hasn't been in a small town really understands that choice... I think these are generalizations are information shortcuts politicians use in an attempt to show they 'get' the people that they see in their polls - but it is as condescending as to think that since someone told them how to eat tamales they 'get' the Hispanic vote. To assume we small towners are simple people who don't get cause and effect is so wrong... but I have thought it about some people I live around or grew up with, specific people who don't vote for their interests and don't take time to be informed. So I guess it is an easy slip I think a lot of people may make... Also, I think there is an elitist quality to all the people that will make it that far in national politics... there has to be some ego to get there, for the different things they take pride in. Oh - and thanks to Jillness for your (as usual) level headed and informative posts!
hartsfull hartsfull 9 years
Syako you kill me! Liberty I'm glad you love this stuff :). And in a quick Obama defense (this may never happen again) I am the queen of saying something that came out totally wrong, so in that respect know I don't seem like it, but I do consider it. Jillness, we can someday stand at the hose and spray our feet off. I want to say more to about what you said, I do understand it, I just want to give my point of view, I hope I can come back to it. I just have too much to say. My husband needs me to get off the computer. So he can look somethings up. Steph, corporations pay taxes on their profits, and the owners of those corporations who collect dividends pay taxes on it AGAIN. So corporate earnings are taxed twice compared to individuals. The exception is, certain small corporations, many family businesses, are only taxed once at regular income taxed rates.
harmonyfrance harmonyfrance 9 years
So should we call it? Liberty is an Obama supporter. Citizen is a McCain supporter. What do ya'll think? ;)
Jillness Jillness 9 years
Obama: "This philosophy isn’t just out-of-touch – it’s put our economy out-of-whack. Years of pain on Main Street have finally trickled up to Wall Street and sent us hurtling toward recession, reminding us that we’re all connected – that we can’t prosper as a nation where a few people are doing well and everyone else is struggling." John McCain is an American hero and a worthy opponent, but he’s proven time and time again that he just doesn’t understand this. It took him three tries in seven days just to figure out that the home foreclosure crisis was an actual problem. He’s had a front row seat to the last eight years of disastrous policies that have widened the income gap and saddled our children with debt, and now he’s promising four more years of the very same thing. He’s promising to make permanent the Bush tax breaks for the wealthiest few who didn’t need them and didn’t ask for them – tax breaks that are so irresponsible that John McCain himself once said they offended his conscience. **He’s promising four more years of trade deals that don’t have a single safeguard for American workers – that don’t help American workers compete and win in a global economy.** He’s promising four more years of an Administration that will push for the privatization of Social Security – a plan that would gamble away people’s retirement on the stock market; a plan that was already rejected by Democrats and Republicans under George Bush."
syako syako 9 years
or this one :rant:
syako syako 9 years
:oy: that's how harts...
Jillness Jillness 9 years
You make many good points, hartsfull. I think however, that not fully funding our schools is also a republican ideal that hurts many rual voters. I am from a very rual area. I stepped in plenty of animal poo in my life, and have also lived in cities. Obama wasn't saying anything mean about small towns. He was just saying that many small towns have their economy based on manufacturing jobs that have left the country in vast numbers as a direct result of Clinton and Bush policies. I think that people know the government can make policies that send jobs overseas. Sometimes people don't always know that the government can do things that can keep jobs here. The republican strategy has hurt the United States we have seen very clearly recently.
stephley stephley 9 years
It'd be nice if hard-working people could keep what they earned, but they've got to pay taxes since so many corporations don't.
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