Maybe there aren't many Bubbas driving around in pickup trucks with the classic bumper sticker "God, Guns and Guts Made America Free" where Obama's detractors live, but here in rural Pennsylvania that line may as well replace "e pluribus unum" as the motto on the national currency.
I live in western Pennsylvania, and I can tell you, people here are bitter and angry. Poverty is prevalent. People hunt squirrels and eat them, along with racoon stew. People also hunt deer here, not for sport, but so they can put meat in their freezer so they can feed their families. They cut wood in the forests and heat their homes with wood stoves because they can't afford to pay the gas bill. I know a guy who goes to old landfills to dig up old milk and beer bottles to sell on eBay. He uses the proceeds to buy clothes for his family at the Salvation Army (and to pay for his dial-up connection).
Racism and prejudice are ever-present here. A friend of mine is part-owner of bar in a small rural town south of where I live. I meet up with him there occasionally and watch as down-and-out people come in with their disability and welfare check money and drink it away. It's a pretty depressing place, but it does serve as the social center for a town that has seen its few industries shut down and the local people's jobs eliminated or shipped off elsewhere.
I hear the usual rants there, that it's all the fault of gays and minorities and immigrants (although those aren't the terms used, but rather the usual, virulent slurs). A black man walked in the last time I was there, and a guy near me at the bar muttered in a not-so-quiet way, "What's he think he's doing in here?" When I brought up the presidential race and Obama with another man at the bar, his response was, "there ain't no way America is ever going to vote for a black guy." Later on my bar-owner friend told me about his experience talking about Obama with another woman at the bar, and her angry response was that "it's because of half-breed n*****s like him that America is in such bad shape today."
Prejudice, racism and fear do run rampant in areas like this. People are poor. They are in bad health, overweight from a deep-fried diet, and toothless from the lack of dental care. They are unemployed. They are uneducated. They do cling to their hunting rifles and to their religious beliefs. For many, it is about all that they have. The towns around here are full of decaying, boarded up buildings. People live in rundown old trailers with abandoned cars in the front yard. I have seen people using an old car as a stable, with their goat tied to and living in it. I could drive you by a least three old houses that have Conderate flags in the windows.
So go ahead and discount Obama's talk of how bitter and angry that some of the people of rural Pennsylvania are. Call him elitist for taking the time to pass through areas such as this to listen to what the people have to say, and to then relate what he has heard to people in more prosperous parts of the country when he is asked about it. I have lived in San Francisco, and let me tell you, there is a marked difference between the general attitude there and the attitude here in the "rust belt". Go ahead and dismiss everything that Obama said as political posturing. Let Hillary and McCain "pick him apart" and parse his words. But please keep in mind that when Obama said:
"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."
that he is 100% accurate in his assessment.
I know, because I live here, my family and my friends' families have lived here for generations, and we see it every day, all around this region. There is a very fine line between poverty and prosperity here, where making above $20,000 a year puts you in the realm of the "haves", but also knowing that you're one contract termination away from joining the ranks of the "have-nots".
I come from a family of dairy farmers. I know what it's like to spend up to 12-16 hours a day sitting on a tractor for three dollars an hour, which I did through high school and every summer until I was fortunate enough to head off to college. Many of my friends were also fortunate and went to school, and then relocated to other parts of the country. Some of us were able to come back under better circumstances, but the large majority of people here are not as fortunate.
Thirty years worth of the right wing dismantling our public education system has taken its toll. Thirty years worth of mismanagement of the economy, of shutting down factories and shipping jobs out of the country, of subsidizing corporate farms and taxing family farms out of business, has taken its toll.
Yes, people are angry, and bitter, but Obama never said that they aren't resilient, opitmistic or hard-working. Those are Hillary and McCain's twisted words, and for them to stand up and suggest that rural Pennsylvanians aren't fed up with the way things are, only reveals how out of touch they really are with at least this part of the country.
Of course, all McCain has to do is suggest to poor rural folk that the party of gun-control, gay marriage, and NAFTA is going to take away what little they have left, and rural conservatives will vote for him, just as they did for Reagan, Bush I and Bush II. As for Hillary, the more she "takes apart" Obama's message, the more she does the GOP's work for free. If Hillary can't see that the people of rural Pennsylvania are bitter, and angry, and mad as hell about the way things are, then she needs to step down from that one hundred million dollar platform of hers and take a real look around.
In western Pennsylvania I hear two things: the "God, Guns and Guts" crowd see John McCain as the heir-apparent to the mantle of rural conservative values; and the people who hope for some kind of change see Barack Obama as the person who understands the situation that we are in, and maybe is the one who can lead us in a new direction. What I don't hear is anyone talking about whatever and whomever it is that Hillary claims to stand for.
In the end, I think this is all a "lost in translation" much ado about nothing episode.
Going back to Obama's statement, and keeping in mind that he was speaking to a specific group of supporters in San Francsico, and keeping in mind that he was discussing a variety of "talking points" in the previous paragraph, I think that it is the absence of the word "issue" in this particular portion of his response to one of the attendee's questions that is lost in translation from the actual event to the transcript spun in the media.
So let's break it down:
"'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.
Obama is offering: - closing tax loopholes - roll back taxes for the top 1 percent - tax breaks to the middle class - health care for every American
"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."
"So it's not surprising then that they get bitter" and "As a way to explain their frustrations...they cling to" issues that focus on: - guns - religion - antipathy to people who aren't like them - anti-immigrant sentiment - anti-trade sentiment
It's the usual laundry list of GOP hot-button talking points.
What Obama was doing was contrasting his talking points, with the tradtional GOP talking points that he has to contend with if he is going to break through and reach these tradtional blue-collar voters.
I can't imagine that anyone who was in the room with Obama misunderstood this. It's only when the transcript is removed from the context in which the information was delivered that the MSM begins to spin it into something that it's not.