Bittergate: What’s the matter with Pennsylvania?

by AzBlueMeanie

The media generated controversy over Barack Obama’s small town "bitter" comment began with a posting by Mahill Fowler, a blogger on the Huffington Post, and was quickly picked up by the corporate approved candidates for president, Clinton and McCain, and the echo chamber of the corporate right-wing noise machine in the mainstream media.

Transcript of Barack Obama Comments:

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 feel most cynical about government. The people are mis-appre…I think 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, and they feel so betrayed by government, and 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 (laughter), then that adds another layer of skepticism (laughter).

But — so the questions you’re most likely to get about me, ‘Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What’s the concrete thing?’ What they wanna hear is — so, we’ll give you talking points about what we’re proposing — close tax loopholes, roll back, you know, 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. So we’ll go down a series of talking points.

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. 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.

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.

Barack Obama was absolutely correct when you read the full context of his remarks.

Social scientists and political scientists have been documenting this in research and articles for decades.  Obama was simply making the same observations that Thomas Frank made in "What’s the Matter with Kansas?"

Republicans have for decades practiced the politics of class division by using "wedge issues" like "guns, God and gays," race and anti-immigrant hysteria to divide middle class Americans and set them against one another to convince enough of them to vote against their own economic self-interests by voting for Republicans on so-called "values" issues.

If only Obama has prefaced his comments first by a reference to "What’s the matter with Kansas?"  Perhaps Obama was just tired.

What’s the matter with Pennsylvania?

Certainly not the people who live and work there.

Both Clinton and McCain feverishly tried to spin Obama’s comments into an insult against working class Americans.  Pennsylvanians were clearly not the object of his scorn.

Obama’s scorn was for the privileged elite Washington politicians – Bush 41 and 43, the Clintons and McCain – who have made promises to the people of Pennsylvania for decades that they have failed to keep.  This has led to a pervasive sense of betrayal, anger and bitterness towards politicians where there is no evidence in people’s daily lives that their circumstances have improved.

Republican "wedge issue" politics on so-called "values" issues has left them cynical and skeptical that any politician has their interests at heart.  Hope is not enough when you have been down for so long.  Pennsylvanians want specifics on what you are going to do to help them.  That is the central point Obama was making.

As a result of Republican economic policies, small town America has been systematically erased from the American landscape by the outsourcing of America’s industrial base to cheap labor foreign countries and family farmers being forced off their family’s land in favor of large corporate agribusinesses.

Small town America today is only a faint echo of its once idealistic past, if not crumbling in ruins as one of the many ghost towns that blight the American landscape. The manufacturing jobs that began disappearing during the Nixon administration only accelerated under the trickle down supply side economic policies of Reagan and continued on through Bill Clinton’s New Democrats who fore swore the traditional values of the Democratic Party in favor of corporate globalism and outsourcing our manufacturing base in favor of the promise of a new information based economy.

Only Clinton’s promise of a new economy benefited only a relatively small elite class of highly-educated individuals.  Job creation for average Americans was largely concentrated in the service sector, with low wages and few or no employee benefits.  Average Americans were left behind in the new economy.  Average Americans have seen their earning power stagnate if not decline, as measured in terms of 1973 real dollars (except for a few brief years during the late 1990S; those modest gains have since been erased).

During the past 40 years, and at a greatly accelerated pace during the past 14 years, Americans have witnessed the greatest transfer of wealth in American history from the working classes and entrepreneurial classes of the middle class to the global corporate giants and the hyper-wealthy elite investor class.

A new "Gilded Age" of wealth concentration among the top five percentile bracket, and an even greater concentration among the top 2 percentile bracket, has reached its zenith under the hyper-trickle down supply side economic polices of George W. Bush.

The devastating price Americans have paid for these Republican economic policies has been an America reduced to the greatest debtor nation in history, the American dollar now nearly worthless, and the infrastructure of the once greatest economic powerhouse the world has ever known is crumbling in ruin in the rust and the dust.

The global corporate giants and the hyper-wealthy elite investor class have squeezed everything they can squeeze out of the economy and left many Americans with nothing, not even hope and their abiding faith that the future will be better for their children, for the first time in memory.

Barack Obama is absolutely correct when he says that Americans are angry and "bitter."  If you are not angry you have not been paying attention.  A recent New York Times/CBS News poll  found that 81% of Americans believe the county is seriously on the wrong track.

Damn right Americans are bitter!  Voters have been turning out in record numbers during the Democratic primaries this year to express their outrage, like Howard Beale in the movie classic Network (1976):

Beale: [shouting] You’ve got to say, "I am a human being, goddammit!  My life has value!"  So I want you to get up now.  I want all of you to get up out of your chairs.  I want you to get up right now and go to the window.  Open it, and stick your head out and yell, I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"

But like Arthur Jensen, the network executive in Network, the global corporations and the elite investor class do not want this populist message taking hold among the American public.  "You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Obama, and we won’t have it."

So the global corporations and the elite investor class have unleashed their political attack dogs, Clinton and McCain, and the echo chamber of the corporate right-wing noise machine in the mainstream media to attack Obama.

Like Howard Beale, Barack Obama is now to be destroyed for daring to speak truth to power. Obama’s comments will be spun into a fantastical tale of an elitist insult to good hard working "common folk" – the very Americans whom Republicans and their corporate masters don’t give a damn about other than their votes at election time.

This is the Republican politics of class division in full view for all to see.  The truth that Obama spoke may yet be lost in the fiction spun by the echo chamber of the corporate right-wing noise machine in the mainstream media.

It is up to you readers to understand that you are being played by a powerful elite and to not be fooled by their spin.  It is up to you to lend your own voices to speak truth to power by yelling, "I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"

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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.


  1. For the life of me, I can not understand what this “bitterness” contoversy is about. Why is it considered elitist to say that people are bitter? They SHOULD be bitter! If they aren’t bitter, they are the Republican base of millionares and flat earther know nothings who have taken the country over a clif. Another manufactured “contoversy” by a lazy, stupid media.

  2. James,
    Everything that you have mentioned against Obama has been part of the shameful tabloid level coverage that mainstream media has given this campaign. It has all been talked to death and I will not go into it any further.

    Obama has been dissected along with everything he has ever said and this is all the right wing comes up with? What his wife said? What his pastor said? He stands at attention during the pledge of allegiance without putting his right hand over his heart? And a statement about middle class people being angry and bitter because government has failed them?

    Actually, I think it’s kind of amazing that Hillary and the right wingnuts have managed to launch so many attacks with so little to work with.

    Sorry, James. The hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq who have died because of the Bush/Cheney invasion and occupation are more important than all of this tabloid silliness that has dominated this campaign in mainstream media. So is the recession, the health care crisis, the education crisis, the energy crisis, and so on.

    It’s not clear to me what you think America needs, James. Maybe you think Bush is a great president and we should just keep giving tax breaks to the super wealthy and let Big Oil rule the world. So vote for McCain.

  3. Liza,

    He comes off as arrogant. Two months ago, I liked him. I found it hard not to like him. His speeches scared me because they were uberliberal, but whatever it’s what he believes and people should say what they believe.

    Then you have the lapel and pledge of allegiance flap. You give him the benefit of the doubt as it was just some internet hoax. Then for the first twenty years he was Barry then he became Barack. Okay whatever. His connections to Saul Alinsky and Bill Ayers. Ok, he hangs out with people with controversial opinions. Who doesn’t? Then the Michelle Obama remark lands. Wow that’s offensive. Then the Jermiah Wright stuff happens. That stuff is really inexcusable and then he gives his Mitt Romney speech. Okay, now I don’t like him, but he seems to have weathered the storm. But then this blue collar comedy tour from a BUPy like him, hey he is doing this to himself. Hillary is a terrible candidate to get shlackled by a nobody like Barack Obama, but now BHO is just giving her ammunition. Not a good week for Democrats. But at least you guys can talk about the issues right? Like your Iraq exit strategy, submarining free trade with allied nations, your housing bailout schemes, beating up on oil and car companies while we hit $ 4 a barrell all with the same mantra its all George W. Bush’s fault. You guys are like a one trick pony . . . . watching this race go on and on is like watching Chicoms on the torch run


    If you stick your fingers in your ears, you can’t blame people for not communicating with you.

    Obama’s exit strategy is to withdraw 1-2 brigades a month, pressuring the Iraqi govt. to step up its reconciliation progress. He’ll engage in regional diplomacy and make tactical strikes to limit the spread of Al Qaeda. The key change is reducing the scope of our role in Iraq- from mediating a civil war between Iraq’s sectarian militias to using intelligence and special forces to fight AQ, like we do everywhere else in the world.

    McCain’s exit strategy? Don’t. Continue to pay $12 billion/month in American tax dollars, and continue to sacrifice American lives to give Iraqis help that they don’t even want! (

  5. Going back to the original post, I think it is very clear what Obama said when a few words are not taken out of context.

    First, Hillary has been desperate for an Obama mistake of some kind that will dominate the news for several days until next Tuesday. She is expected to win in Pennsylvania where the demographics are highly favorable to her. However, she really needs at least a ten point spread to stay viable. Otherwise, Indiana might break even and Obama will win big in North Carolina, and that might be the end of Hillary (please, God.) “Bittergate” is a long shot, but mainstream media have played along because this typifies the tabloid style election coverage they have provided so far.

    It does seem though that many people are just weary of this campaign and the kind of news coverage it has received while there are serious issues that are not getting coverage at all. Hillary has not been getting positive responses on her stumps today when she tries to work this “bitter” remark.

    The “talking point” that seems to be gaining momentum is that the Democratic campaign needs to end and, hopefully, that will draw more people to Obama in the next primaries.

    As for GOP Spartan, yes, we know that Obama will be attacked in every way imaginable and some we have not yet imagined. That’s all the GOP has to work with. Quite frankly, I do not think that without election fraud, McCain could beat either Obama or Clinton.

    Here’s an example from Politico:

    “”U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis, a Hebron Republican, compared Obama and his message for change similar to a “snake oil salesman” [at a Northern Kentucky Lincoln Day dinner].

    He said in his remarks at the GOP dinner that he also recently participated in a “highly classified, national security simulation” with Obama.

    “I’m going to tell you something: That boy’s finger does not need to be on the button,” Davis said. “He could not make a decision in that simulation that related to a nuclear threat to this country.””

    For those of you who might be too young to know this, African American men of any age were referred to as “boys” and this didn’t start to change until the 1960’s. It was intended to be demeaning and humiliating for them, and it was.

    I’m wondering how long it will take for one of these “prominent” Republicans to slip and call Obama a nigger. I hope Limbaugh does it. Or that idiot on Faux news, Bill O’Reilley.

  6. I’m all for talking issues!

    Except your candidate to be B.H. Obama isn’t.

    He’s good with platitudes to keep the sheeple deceived and enamored with his audacity of hope, but “where’s the beef?”

    He has as of yet thrown numbers around with such disregard, even he doesn’t know what his spending is up to.

    He’s still hasn’t defined his exit strategy for Iraq and the regional strategy he’ll implement to keep Iran and AQ from taking over.

    His economic plan is……??? What is his economic plan????

    The GOP decided it’s primary on issues.

    The DNC is deciding it’s primary on the oratory skills of their American Idol wannabees.

    If you want Hillary to win, call 1-888-COOL-AID and Press 1
    If you want Barack to win, call 1-888-COOL-AID and Press 2

    The devil is in the details. Soon, the veil of socialist secrecy will fall and the American people will have a choice.

    The choices are simple. You either make the decision for what’s best for you and your family or let Barack and the idiots in Washington do it.

    For crying out loud they already tell us what kind of light bulb WE MUST put in our house. I hear they’re already building those “re-education” camps for those caught installing incandescent bulbs.

  7. I think James and “GOP Spartan” need to try a little less speculating about what other people think about Obama and a little more thinking for themselves. We can spend the next seven months talking about microtrends, polls, gaffes, and subsequent feigned outrage, or we can spend it talking about the issues that will actually affect us. Which do you think will leave us better-off?

  8. Thank you for this blog, I couldn’t have said it better. Isn’t it too bad that people can’t relate to someone who is intelligent, caring and truly understands us all. Obama has lived and worked with the poor, middle class, blue collar, and educated people in our country. He also has experience with all races, just within his family. No wonder he is the one to bring us Hope and the ability to Unite us. There isn’t any need to “play the race card” and I totally agree with what he said. People are fed up and want to feel proud and hopeful again. More of the same won’t work – such as Clinton and the Bush “think alike” McCain.

  9. James, that poll was done in 2007. It is now 2008. Check it out again, amigo.

    “About this Survey – Survey Sponsor: American Research Group, Inc.

    The American Research Group has been conducting surveys of voters since 1985.

    Sample Size: 600 completed telephone interviews among a random sample of likely Democratic primary voters living in Pennsylvania (600 Democrats).

    Sample Dates: April 11-13, 2007

    Margin of Error: ± 4 percentage points, 95% of the time, on questions where opinion is evenly split.”

  10. As a die-hard John Edwards supporter, I have to say the more I hear Obama, the more I like him. Any Democratic candidate will get skewered by the Republicans. For me, I’d rather it be Barack Obama. Hilary represents all that I dislike about politics – a dynasty, more of the same old thing. I think we have seen that dynasties are disasters and I don’t want to see any more of Terry McAuliffe than I have already seen. I supported Howard Dean to be head of the DNC and I’m glad he won. With his insistence that all Democratic voters deserve a place at the table, he has opened up the process. Between Dean and Obama, incredible numbers of people have decided to vote! That means they believe that their voices can and will be heard. Without participation, you can’t have democracy. So, if I can’t have John and Elizabeth (sigh), I’ll be glad to have Barack Obama.

    The hatefulness and spleen spewed in some of the earlier comments here are not acceptable on what has always been a very civil and civilized blog.

  11. Try to justify it or spin it all you guys want. He stepped on his crank and now he will pay.

    The media never did a good vetting of Obama, but don’t worry, the GOP will.

    Oh yeah you guys are going to try to drag out the race card as you always do, as you’ve done with your primary, but average Americans are sick and tired of the racial excuse.

    I once thought that Obama would be the hardest to beat and that we needed to get Hillary to win in November, but that is rapidly changing.

    Every week it’s something new with Obama. I can’t wait to see what self-inflicted torpedo hits his campaign next week.

    This is going to be fun. In can see the campaign commercials now!

  12. I’m going to ignore corn dog’s comment to say about the original post, this is part of the continuing reason I’m proud to be part of the Blog for Arizona community. This is a careful, thoughtful, knowledgeable analysis. Those who don’t agree with it can still learn from it. Congrats.

    This morning, I wrote a post, “Emerson, Obama and Clinton” (, about Emerson’s idea that we have been separated from one another, amputated from our community with others and from our underlying Human-ness. According to Emerson, “The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters,–a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.”

    The term “wedge issues” resonates with Emerson’s imagery. The Republican Party especially has been guilty of tearing people apart from one another — using an issue as a metal wedge at a weak point, like the joint between the finger and the hand, and pounding the wedge until that one part of our society is ripped away from the rest. The result is a loss of unity of purpose.

    I am very disturbed to see Clinton using the same tactics, finding a word or a phrase or an association that she can use to tear people apart from one another in the interest of winning an election.

  13. White people are bitter and frustrated. Better-qualified white students, employees, etc. face intense racial discrimination. Obama and his liberal comrades call it “Affirmative Action”.
    Millions of white Americans see “people who aren’t like them” illegals and inner-city parasites sucking up on free benefits.
    Millions of tax paying white Americans can no longer use the public school system because “people who aren’t like them” have made the schools awash with violence, drugs, and gangsters rap.