Sunday, April 13, 2008


I think Barack Obama is catching a break because talk about that statement he made at a San Francisco fund-raiser has boiled down to one word: "bitter." "Bitter-gate" already gets nearly three thousand Google hits; at ABC News, for instance, there are blog posts titled "Clinton Says Obama's 'Bitter' Remark Could Cost Party General Election" and "Bill Clinton on Obama's 'Bitter' Comment." The latter quotes Bill Clinton addressing a Pennsylvania campaign rally:

"Folks, I was shaking hands and taking a few pictures backstage. This fellow looked at me and he said, 'I just want you to know, the people you're about to see are not bitter. They're proud,'" Clinton told an applauding audience.

But bitterness at the word "bitter" doesn't seem to be universal, according to NBC's Carrie Dann: the first two events of the day, ... Tom Hendrickson, a Clinton supporter and former Democratic Party chairman, included a reading of Obama's comments in his introduction of Clinton.

"Senator Obama, don't pity us and think that we're bitter and frustrated," he said in Winterville this morning. "We are hard-working family folks who are smart, and we get it. We don't need pundits to tell us what to think."

Hendrickson repeated the sentiment at a later stop in Winston....

In both instances, Hendrickson's speech evidenced little reaction from the crowd....

Obama included religion and an interest in guns in a list of what he seemed to be saying were inappropriate responses to hard times. He put them on the same level as bigotry. It seems to me that all this really could hurt him -- but that's less likely if the word people take away, especially those who never heard or read the remarks, is "bitter."

I'm not sure I believe all that many working-class whites mind being called "bitter" -- not when they think the country is on the wrong track on so many levels. "Bitter" is only a condescending word sometimes; I don't think it instantly sounds like a slur -- and I think a lot of working-class whites would say, "I lost my job, I have no health insurance, gas is $3.50 a gallon and hell yes I'm bitter."

If this incident is recounted in the future as "Barack Obama called working-class whites 'bitter,'" it's possible he will have dodged a bullet.


OBVIOUSLY, this is is in addition to the fact that Hillary Clinton is not quite the living embodiment of the values and mores that have allegedly been besmirched by Obama (she won't say when she last fired a gun or went to church, and yet her campaign is hammering away at this, which gives Obama an opening to mock her).

But I still say that he might not have been able to bounce back quickly if the best-known quote weren't that one relatively innocuous word, "bitter." He needed. The best known Reverend Wright quote was "God damn America," and it took the best American political speech in forty years to (more or less) neutralize that. In this case, there's no one memorable, deeply damaging soundbite -- and the closest thing we have to a memorable soundbite isn't deeply damaging. So this seems to be requiring a lot less effort.

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