His rivals wasted no time in attacking Barack Obama for comments made at a San Francisco fundraiser last weekend, and newly reported on the Huffington Post, in which he seemed to disparage working class people in Pennsylvania and across the Midwest — as Hillary Clinton and John McCain’s campaign both called Obama “out of touch” just minutes after the remarks came to light.
Talking about small rust belt towns that are still run down despite promises of renewal from Bush and Clinton administrations, Obama told the crowd “it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to the people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
But in a statement, the Obama campaign ignored the controversial portion of his remarks about God, Guns, and Xenophobia — defending instead his widely accepted claim that people in the rust belt have had it pretty rough for the last few decades. Spokesman Tommy Vietor released a statement saying “Senator Obama has said many times in this campaign that Americans are understandably upset with their leaders in Washington for saying anything to win elections while failing to stand up to the special interests and fight for an economic agenda that will bring jobs and opportunity back to struggling communities.”
Vietor ignored Clinton’s attacks altogether, but lashed out at John McCain’s campaign for calling Obama out of touch — saying “if John McCain wants a debate about who’s out of touch with the American people, we can start by talking about the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans that he once said offended his conscience but now wants to make permanent.”
Of course, when McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt said Obama’s remarks showed “an elitism and condescension towards hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking,” he was talking about the ones that the campaign’s statement ignored.
UPDATE: The Obama campaign urges reporters to look at the remarks in context. You can read the transcript provided by the Huffington Post after the jump.
OBAMA: So, it depends on where you are, but I think it’s fair to say that the
places where we are going to have to do the most work are the places where
people are most cynical about government. The people are mis-appre…they’re
misunderstanding why the demographics in our, in this contest have broken out as
they are. Because everybody just ascribes it to ‘white working-class don’t wanna
work — don’t wanna vote for the black guy.’ That’s…there were intimations of
that in an article in the Sunday New York Times today - kind of implies that
it’s sort of a race thing.
Here’s how it is: in a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long. They feel so betrayed by government that when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn’t buy it. And when it’s delivered by — it’s true that when it’s delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama, then that adds another layer of skepticism.
But — so the questions you’re most likely to get about me, ‘Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What is the concrete thing?’ What they wanna hear is — so, we’ll give you talking points about what we’re proposing — to close tax loopholes, you know, roll back the tax cuts for the top 1 percent. Obama’s gonna give tax breaks to middle-class folks and we’re gonna provide health care for every American.
But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s not evidence of that in their daily lives. 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. And it’s not surprising then 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.
Um, now these are in some communities, you know. I think what you’ll find is, is that people of every background — there are gonna be a mix of people, you can go in the toughest neighborhoods, you know working-class lunch-pail folks, you’ll find Obama enthusiasts. And you can go into places where you think I’d be very strong and people will just be skeptical. The important thing is that you show up and you’re doing what you’re doing.