Monday, April 21, 2008

Gaffe Me With A Spoon

It takes quite the brouhaha to rile up a Little Earl, but I couldn't help but cringe in disbelief at some of the comments I saw floating around, particularly on Slate, regarding Obama's supposed "flap" toward working-class Pennsylvanians. Now call me crazy, but when I first read these words:

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate, and they have not. So it's not surprising then that 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.

I actually had to twist my neck and squint my eyes and hop up and down on one foot to find the "gaffe." To me, a serious gaffe would be a comment more along the lines of "You know, in a way, the United States deserved 9/11." That is the kind of comment that could actually kill a candidate's campaign. But this "bitter" comment is so ambigious and so nuanced that its gaffe potential seems murky at best. Which is why Hillary Clinton's attempt to milk the "flap" for all it's worth comes off as awkward, transparent, desperate, and unintentionally humorous. It's like she had to mold and shape the comment in order to turn it into a soundbite; as it is it's not very punchy.

But Hillary's feigned outrage is no surprise. Slate's apoplectic fatalism is. According to the pundits in The XX Factor, McCain might as well prepare his inauguration speech, because with his "bitter" comment, Obama has just rendered himself unelectable. Melinda Henneberger calls it "The worst thing I've heard Obama say." She writes: "Poor wording was not the problem; on the contrary, it was his precision that was so unfortunate, and his ability to pack half a dozen unintended insults into a single sentence uncanny. And in San Francisco, no less? Roger Ailes couldn't have planned it better, unless he'd maybe followed up the event with some impromptu windsurfing in the bay." Emily Bazelon seconds that emotion, calling the comments "bonbons for the GOP" and adding "Part of what's prompting the wincing and deep doubts, I think, is that Obama sounded like an anthropologist talking about objects of study to an audience that he assumed has the same disassociated point of view." Hannah Rosin piles on, noting that "This 'cling' flap just keeps getting worse," fretting, "He either recognizes that he insulted wide swaths of people and feels badly about it, or he doesn't even see it yet, in which case we're in real trouble," and finally concluding that it's a "bad moment to be a Democrat."

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Had I read the same quote? I mean, if this is the kind of comment that is going to convince a person who would otherwise vote for Obama to suddenly not vote for Obama, then I am more out of touch with the American public than I already thought I was. Melinda Henneberger writes:

Here's how a high-school teacher in Fairfield, Ill., put it: "I used to be a Democrat, and I'm still very much independent. I voted for Clinton [in '92 and '96]. I'm religious but not a fanatic; I see a lot of gray. My mother has Alzheimer's, so I'm for stem-cell research, and I'm not against people's right to an abortion.'' But Kerry "just struck me as arrogant,'' while Bush inspired "the feeling that this was a more open person who would not be "I'm important and you're not.' ''

I don't think this high school teacher and I are even on the same planet. If, for working-class whites, Bush v. Kerry boiled down to that, then I really don't know what to say. If Americans want to treat the presidential race as some kind of intuitive "relatability contest," then don't expect me to have much sympathy when the country goes down the shitter. I mean, I've got news for you, Working-class Joe: There are so many more issues at stake in the world than your own personal pride. Get over yourself. Please.

But now we have liberals on Slate scared stiff because Obama actually said something honest, which means he'll lose the election, right? Well I've got news for you too, Slate columnists: one presidential candidate will not a liberal America make. It's not like, "Oh, well if we can just fool working-class people into voting for a Democrat, by making the candidate come off as folksy or down-home or whatever the hell we need to do, then we'll be set." The American people need to commit, one by one, to serious change. Otherwise we'll simply have an empty figurehead who'll be replaced by a conservative every four to eight years, and no one will be much the wiser.

Not that I care too much about the fate of America anyway, of course. But it hurts to be witness to such confusion.

8 comments:

ninquelote said...

LE, my friend. It is a widely known fact that you have never been on the same planet as most American voters. But that's beside the point.

If you turn on the nightly news (mostly the cable magazine shows) you would see that everything has to do with "relatability"; how do you think Bush got elected for two terms? Other than that, I think most voters just vote down whatever party line they associate themselves with for whatever reason.

Little Earl said...

Yeah, I was just ranting. It hurts to see otherwise intelligent people act like idiots is all. I think the bottom line is people just need to vote for who they like (or dislike the least, if you will) and since the rest is out of their control, they just have to focus on the aspects of their lives where they do have control and can make a genuine impact, and stop griping about the failures of the world in a way that helps no one. These Slate columnists just get so wrapped up in the "political game" that they sort of lose sight of the real issues and problems at stake. If Obama said something honest but offensive, then the problem isn't what he said so much as it is how people reacted (if they reacted at all, since it actually seems like liberal pundits cared more than working-class Pennsylvanians did).

Just based on my place of residence alone, my views on the problems of working-class Americans probably carry little credibility (although I did grow up in a trailer park). So all I can say is that I'm glad I'm not running for president.

yoggoth said...

It does seem like a lot of liberal pundits think we can just sneak a president in without anyone noticing that he's some snooty constitutional law professor. And then...bam! Superliberal time!

Herr Zrbo said...

Wait, who's the snooty constitutional law professor?? Obama? Hillary? McCain?

ninquelote said...

It's not just with the presidency, my friends. There is actually a "big brother" type rule on the books of the Cal State University system (and other government agencies as well, I'm sure) that states you must turn in your fellow worker if you overhear them say something that may or may not be construed as "insensitive" or else you can be held liable for allowing insensitivity to occur.

yoggoth said...

I'll trade ratting out some racist and sexist coworkers for the security of knowing that my job won't be outsourced to India.

ninquelote said...

I think I would rather quit my job than be forced to work in such a paranoid environment. And honestly, I don't think that many people are truly racist or sexist.

ninquelote said...

You think if we all moved to India, we would have a better chance getting the jobs we were fired from in the US? I don't think they care if you're racist or sexist over there.