THE BLOG
04/12/2008 06:31 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Who's Really Out of Touch Here?

John McCain and Hillary Clinton are stunned and flabbergasted that Barack Obama would imply that Pennsylvanians are bitter over, say, thirty years of economic decline in their local communities. McCain and Clinton are deeply baffled and hurt by the following words Senator Obama spoke at a recent fundraiser:

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.... 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 (laugher), then that adds another layer of skepticism (laughter)....

But the truth is ... 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.

....[Y]ou 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.

According to the Senator's critics, these statements are a sign that he is "elitist" and "out of touch." Senator Obama notes that he might have said things better. Maybe so. I leave it to others to determine the political consequences of this current dispute. However unpalatable some may find the Senator's comments, I do know one thing: What he said has considerable validity. My only quibble with his original remarks was that he made them in California. These should be presented straight-up to engage and challenge Pennsylvania voters.

I would love to see Obama get up and challenge people, to say:

Yes, many of you are getting screwed by economic changes over the past generation. We all know that. Many of you are bitter, and have good reason to be. Many of you have understandably lost faith in Washington.

I can't promise that I can reverse everything about the economy that has hammered this region. It goes a lot deeper than the fine print in some trade deal or who said what to some lobbyist--though these things do matter and I'll change some of that if I am elected President. We all know that, too. I have some ideas I believe will help you: to reduce your taxes, to prevent mortgage foreclosures, to make sure that you have the health care you need, to help your kid pay for college.

I promise to campaign hard across this state, to bowl badly, hunt with lower casualties than Dick Chaney, mispronounce the name of every Polish sausage. I owe you that sweat investment, to show that I will work for your vote and learn about your problems. But you have a choice to make. You can support a realistic progressive Democratic platform, or you can listen to a bunch of people who want you to write me off as an elitist based on a bunch of BS cultural issues that don't have much to do with what I will do as President, and which won't improve your lives or your families' lives.

Robert Kennedy said rather similar things four decades ago when he challenged many rural Indiana voters. As I recall, RFK did pretty well when the votes were counted.

The faux outrage expressed by Senators McCain and Clinton calls to mind the emotional torment suffered 16 years ago by then-Senator, now McCain backer, Al D'Amato. Ordinarily known for his salty demeaner, D'Amato pretended to cry when his hapless opponent Robert Abrams made a clumsy remark that could be construed as anti-Italian.

Here is what Barack Obama's actually said in response to recent criticisms. :

I was in San Francisco talking to a group at a fundraiser and somebody asked how're you going to get votes in Pennsylvania? What's going on there? We hear that's its hard for some working class people to get behind you're campaign. I said, "Well look, they're frustrated and for good reason. Because for the last 25 years they've seen jobs shipped overseas. They've seen their economies collapse. They have lost their jobs. They have lost their pensions. They have lost their healthcare.

And for 25, 30 years Democrats and Republicans have come before them and said we're going to make your community better. We're going to make it right and nothing ever happens. And of course they're bitter. Of course they're frustrated. You would be too. In fact many of you are. Because the same thing has happened here in Indiana. The same thing happened across the border in Decatur. The same thing has happened all across the country. Nobody is looking out for you. Nobody is thinking about you. And so people end up- they don't vote on economic issues because they don't expect anybody's going to help them. So people end up, you know, voting on issues like guns, and are they going to have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. And they take refuge in their faith and their community and their families and things they can count on. But they don't believe they can count on Washington. So I made this statement-- so, here's what rich. Senator Clinton says 'No, I don't think that people are bitter in Pennsylvania. You know, I think Barack's being condescending.' John McCain says, 'Oh, how could he say that? How could he say people are bitter? You know, he's obviously out of touch with people.'

Out of touch? Out of touch? I mean, John McCain--it took him three tries to finally figure out that the home foreclosure crisis was a problem and to come up with a plan for it, and he's saying I'm out of touch? Senator Clinton voted for a credit card-sponsored bankruptcy bill that made it harder for people to get out of debt after taking money from the financial services companies, and she says I'm out of touch? No, I'm in touch. I know exactly what's going on. I know what's going on in Pennsylvania. I know what's going on in Indiana. I know what's going on in Illinois. People are fed-up. They're angry and they're frustrated and they're bitter. And they want to see a change in Washington and that's why I'm running for President of the United States of America.

Unlike (Hillary) Clinton and John McCain, Barack Obama is a man who came out of nowhere, from very modest means, to challenge for our nation's highest office. He is not a centimillionaire like his two principal opponents. He's experienced many of the problems rural Pennsylvanians are up against. Hard-pressed voters may not agree with everything Obama says. I think many will respect the long road he has taken and his candor in addressing a few elephants in the room operating in the current primary.

Readers can decide who the real "out of touch" politicians are here.