NPR logo Open Thread: Obama's 'Bitter' Remarks

Election 2008

Open Thread: Obama's 'Bitter' Remarks

Let's catch up: Democrat Barack Obama went to a fundraiser last week in San Francisco and gave a speech in which he talked about working-class voters like the ones in Pennsylvania and Indiana. Obama said they've have fallen through the cracks in the American economy, and they're not happy about it.

"It's not surprising then they get bitter," he said. "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."

The other presidential hopefuls, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain, called Obama elitist and out of touch with ordinary Americans. Obama replied that he'd merely said what "everybody knows is true," but that he does wish he'd put it a little better. Personally, I'm most struck by his saying that people no longer believe leaders in Washington will fix economic problems, so they vote on social issues.


Full listen: Full audio on the Huffington Post



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His description of bitter people clinging to religion and antipathy to people who are not like them as a way to explain frustrations sounds a lot like Rev Wright. - ooops.

Sent by Lisa S. | 8:58 AM | 4-13-2008

What was forgotten by the candidate here is that remarks focused to please the group to whom he is speaking no longer remain in the room wherein they???re made. With sites like and YouTube combined with omnipresent cell phones and Flip Cameras, everything said is available to everyone, instantly.
This far into a race that has run too long, the runners are bound to stumble and occasionally fall. Let us allow for that and beat back the vultures.

Sent by Sgt Ret | 9:12 AM | 4-13-2008

Of course people are angry and bitter and disenchanted with what's going on in this country. The last poll that came out set a record, with 81% of the people responding believing this country is on the wrong track.

I think this is obvious.

And even for us latte-drinking New York City liberal elitists, all we have to do is spend time at a holiday dinner with family -- you know, "real people" -- to hear that things aren't going all that well. That, yes, people are bitter.

Of course, he should have put it a little better, because the way he phrased it *allowed the news media* to pick up on this and make it a big deal. Usually, Obama is smarter than that. The phrase "cling to" wasn't a great way to put it.

But, it's a campaign, and everyone is going to have these moments. Most of the news coverage of this (any) campaign isn't about anything other than finding these "Gotcha!" moments. That's what the news business is, finding scandal and sensationalism.

That's why Rev. Wright is important, and Tuzla is important, but the fact that more U.S. soldiers in Iraq died last week than any other week so far in 2008?

Not so much.

I disagree with Obama, in that I think things have gotten so bad the social issues don't really matter. In the prior two Presidential elections, social issues have played a big part. You can look at the way politics have been infused with religion, especially at the mega-churches that have come up in recent years. And Frank's "What's the Matter With Kansas?" was basically a study in this idea.

But, as I said, I think it's clear to everyone now that what's important is the war in Iraq, and the economy.

Sent by Carlo | 9:14 AM | 4-13-2008

I'm not surprised at all that perhaps some people vote against their economic best interests. For years now the GOP has used the tactic of introducing volatile social issues as the main talking point of their campaign - abortion always, then gay marriage, and more recently immigration. It rallies their more conservative base, the group they've been counting on for the last decade.

I read a comment on another blog that I think is really important to consider here. Had Obama said that economically disadvantaged minorities in cities have lost faith in politicians, and instead turned to drugs, gangs, and guns - I don't think Clinton or McCain would have said a word. Just as with the Rev. Wright controversy - white people do not want to hear themselves get criticized, especially by a black man.

The thing is, though - he's right. Except it's not just people in Pennsylvania who are bitter - it's people everywhere. The last seven years under Bush have been devastating to our country. What's the harm in saying what we all know is true?

Sent by Amy | 9:24 AM | 4-13-2008

Personally, I didn't even know what Obama was saying when I first heard his remarks. Only after his clarification was I able to understand what he was talking about, and even then I didn't see what Democratic voting bloc in my state would find the comments to be offensive or derogatory.

I grew up in a small town in Northeast PA, and if anything Obama's clarified remarks rang overwhelmingly true. Many of the adults from my hometown are "bitter," and for good reasons. I know people who are trying to take care of a loved one who has a disability and are struggling to make ends meet. I know parents who are trying to put their kids through college while at the same time taking care of an ailing parent; People who feel that they are stuck in crappy jobs with no advancement opportunities; Individuals who worry that a single medical crisis will put their family's financial and emotional well-being at risk.

To suggest that these people might turn these sentiments towards issue-based politics is neither derogatory nor condescending. In fact it is the best idea I have heard to date to explain some of the "anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment" in many areas of our state.

As for the claim that many Pennsylvanians cling to religion and guns, need I remind everyone that our Commonwealth is home to the former "Intelligent Design" hotspot of Dover, and that we have the second highest number of hunting licenses in the country.

It is not unreasonable to say that most people I know, many of them Democrats, have given up on government over the last eight years. Having politicians mention their strong discontent is not, and should not, be taboo.

Sent by Will G | 2:37 PM | 4-13-2008

when life gets difficult and dark, people who reach out more readily towards religion is probably more productive and less harmful than those who sublimate their frustrations in guns, depression or drink...seeking outlets is a human phenomenon...obama's only problem was that he didn't name all 99,000 ways in which we (sincerely) hide.

Sent by jan | 2:47 PM | 4-13-2008

When I heard those comments Friday night, my first thought was, "Okay, I don't see a single word in that statement that isn't 100% true." Many people ARE feeling left behind by both major parties, and many feel like the government doesn't care about them. Appealing to that crowd is called populism, which is, er, the EXACT OPPOSITE of elitism. I expect that kind of "black is white, up is down" load from the party that brought us a pro-logging, anti-environmentalist plan and called it the "Healthy Forests Initiative," or screwed up the public schools and called it "No Child Left Behind," but seeing Hillary Clinton jump that bandwagon just proves further to me that she needs to join Joe Lieberman on her way out of the Democratic Party.

Sent by Stewart | 3:39 PM | 4-13-2008

It's not just Midwesterners who depend on their religion or their guns or their strong anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-immigration views to maintain some semblance of security and balance, I'm surrounded by people like this in Mississippi. Yes, they are bitter, bitter because progressive Democrats want "liberty and justice for all." Many have lost jobs, retirement benefits, healthcare, etc. and believe it's been stolen by some nebulous "other." Political polarization has resulted in an "us versus them" mentality. We've forgotten what "we the people of the United States" is all about.

Maybe with Obama as President we will realize we're all in this boat together and start helping one another again. I saw hints of healing this great divide after Katrina, but it didn't go far enough. And yes, "bitter" accurately describes what I see everyday. I don't think Obama said anything that wasn't true, tough for some folks to swallow, perhaps, but true.

Sent by Cathy G. | 7:44 PM | 4-13-2008

i'm from very small town PA, and i was at Messiah College for the Compassion Forum tonight. I've heard Obama's remarks and i've heard his clarification of those remarks.
being from that small town area, i can tell you that what he says is true. times are very hard there, and people are struggling. there are fewer and fewer jobs, and people are having to commute farther and farther away to get work. people do feel forgotten. Iraq is far away, and real estate prices never made any of them rich. all they know is that no matter what they do nothing changes and the times get harder.

i dont live there anymore, and i can see how people would think that those remarks are inflammatory. but i can tell you that if you asked my friends and family most would simply shrug and agree. they would not be offended because even if they aren't, they know people who are.

Sent by eli | 11:32 PM | 4-13-2008

I disagree completely with the person who commented that, "had Obama said that economically disadvantaged minorities in cities have lost faith in politicians, and instead turned to drugs, gangs, and guns - I don't think Clinton or McCain would have said a word" because it isn't a good analogy.

A better analogy is if Obama had said something like "African Americans listen to gangster rap, watch BET and read Ebony magazine and cling to their ghetto mentality because they are economically disadvanteaged."

His comments are insulting and disenfranchising albeit and arguably true.

Yes, I went there.


Sent by Nathan in Holland | 8:32 AM | 4-14-2008

His comments smack of the same spleen venting of Rush Limbaugh calling anti-life, political correctness imposers "feminazis." And probably just as correct.

Yes, I went there, too.

Hug ya back, Nathan.

Sent by Matthew Scallon | 2:41 PM | 4-14-2008

Obama's descriptions of people being bitter because of the economic disaster prevalent in small towns and soon large cities is not the problem of his comments. What is disturbing is his negative referencing to these people's pain. In his speech on race, he asked America to be understanding of the anger and pain of Black Americans who have faced racism, how interesting that no such understanding is extended to people in small towns. What does this say about this man who wants us to believe in his politics of change. Susan

Sent by Susan | 9:20 PM | 4-14-2008