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.
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!"