You Won't Cut Me Like You Did Before; It's Always Bittersweet


Over at TNR, John B. Judis un-spins Barack Obama's "they're bitter" gaffe in a fairly convincing manner. He posits that conservative whites whom the Democrats have had trouble with since the 1970s vote for Democrats in three circumstances: if the Republican is unacceptable (and hard to identify with), if the Democrat is acceptable, or if the Democrat is empathetic. Democrats lost their first shot when Republicans nominated the acceptable, beloved McCain. They weren't going to nominate an acceptable candidate once the race narrowed to two liberal senators. So their hope was to nominate an empathetic candidate: And Obama's squandered that.

Obama does have an astounding eloquence, and an ability to put a position across, but that eloquence has been reserved largely for anti-war and good-government positions. His stance against the war may resonate (though that will depend on whether McCain's qualification as commander-in-chief trumps his unpopular stance on the war). But where McCain is most vulnerable and where voters are most likely to smile on a Democrat–on everyday economic issues–Obama's heart doesn't appear to be in it.

These difficulties were clear before Obama spoke in San Francisco, but they're much more glaring now. In the speech, Obama appeared to say that Pennsylvania voters' opposition to gun control or abortion or immigration or free trade was pathological–a product of what Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse once called "false consciousness." On the other hand, he implied that when he voiced opposition to an issue like free trade–Obama has consistently hammered Clinton on her support for the North American Free Trade Agreement–he was simply pandering to these voters' displaced anxieties. He was saying to these upscale San Francisco Democrats, "I am really one of you, and I am not one of them."

Mickey Kaus put together a tougher analysis, arguing (perceptively) that Obama would have been fine if he hadn't lumped guns and religion in with things that are clearly bad, like racial animus.

At the CNN "Compassion Forum" Obama said he wasn't disparaging religion because he meant people "cling" to it in a good way! Would that be the same way they "cling" to "antipathy to people who aren't like them"–the very next phrase Obama uttered? Is racism one of those "traditions that are passed on from generation to generation" that "sustains us"? Obama's unfortunate parallelism makes it hard for him to extricate him from the charge that he was dissing rural Pennsylvanians' excess religiosity.

Ah, but here's the punchline.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has stalled Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's drive in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary and holds a 50—44 percent lead among likely primary voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today, unchanged from April 8 results.

There was no noticeable change in the matchup in polling April 12—13, following widespread media reports on Sen. Obama's 'bitter' comments.

Obama lost a grand total of one point over the week, and the internals are worth checking out. Obama's stabilization is actually a surge in black and Philadelphia support matched by a little dip among suburban voters. Those Appalachian and north Pennsylvania small-towners dislike Obama as much as ever, while people in Pittsburgh and the center of the state (where the biggest city is liberal State College) are split between the two candidates. (When I stopped by Mifflintown, an up-and-coming small burg that's close enough to State College that its hotels get booked when a football game comes up, the only Democratic sign I saw was for Obama.) The controversy is simply hardening the biases that these voters held before it started.

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