Obama’s controversial comments

Regarding Obama’s recent comments in San Francisco that have been seized on with such relish by his opponents… reading the whole transcript, of course I can see what he meant. But I can also hear what some people heard (and I don’t think the problem is that they only heard an excerpt). No matter how thoughtful you are about an issue, how you say something is just as important as what you say. It’s something I’ve had to learn and occasionally re-learn in life. Sometimes I think I’m being very clear and warm about something, but what other people hear is just something verbose and clinical. It can be very frustrating to perceive that you just aren’t speaking the other person’s language. In such cases you need to sometimes try again.

And today’s all-pervasive media coverage means that a politician cannot really get away with tailoring one message to one audience, and having it remain unheard by a different audience. A candidate is really now speaking to all Americans at all times. I am not too sure that it is the responsibility of voters to work overly hard at trying to “understand” a candidate who’s asking them for a job. I still think the onus falls upon the candidate to learn to speak clearly to his would-be constituents — all of them. A tough task.

6 thoughts on “Obama’s controversial comments

  1. Simon St.Laurent

    Reading the transcript and watching the response, this feels a lot like Spitzer’s “Appalachia” moment.

    It’s scary to say these things, largely because they’re true. Opponents jump on them for the scare factor, but can’t do a whole lot about the underlying truth of the matter.

    I mean, really, has our Senator from New York who spent all that time on those listening tours and was in the White House during some depressing moments forgotten that infamous native of Lockport, NY, Timothy McVeigh?

    Even looking beyond that extreme example, Clinton’s assault on this front makes me doubt whether she is actually qualified to be Senator of New York, at least so far as it extends west of the Hudson Valley.

    I know people who talk about defense against the government as an important reason to have lots of firepower. I’ve heard people blasting immigrants and trade for damaging the industrial economy of Cortland, NY. I know people who’ve found religion (of various kinds) to be their anchor in an otherwise incredibly bitter storm here.

    You don’t have to look hard around Pennsylvania or New York to find these people, and it’s hardly an assault on their dignity to call them bitter.

    It might well be an assault on their dignity to say that they’re not bitter, or shouldn’t be.

  2. Ellen

    I don’t know if it’s the “bitter” remark that’s causing him the problem, though. It seems to be the “clinging to religion and guns” remark that is being seized upon as well.

  3. Simon St.Laurent

    She may be seizing on (clinging to?) that less-than-perfect phrasing, but this bit (from NC) suggests the emphasis is on the “bitter”:

    Former state Democratic Party chairman and current Hillary Rodham Clinton adviser Tom Hendrickson, when introducing the former president at a rally in Wilson, said rural voters don’t need “liberal elites” telling them what to believe. Before the rally began, Clinton campaign staff gave volunteers stickers reading “We’re not bitter.”

    There’s plenty more here:

    I’m sure she could round up a similar crowd of Upstate NY elites to deny that there’s bitterness around here too. It wouldn’t make it any more true…

  4. Ellen

    (moving this bit down since I think I added it at the same time you replied…)

    If a candidate had said these words to a group of voters he was referring to, substituting the word “you” for “they”… would it have been well received by those voters? Because I have a feeling this is what some people heard:

    You fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow your communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then you get bitter, you cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like you or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain your frustrations.

    Part of that probably wouldn’t disturb people – certainly not “it’s not surprising you get bitter” – but it’s the second part that seems to be a problem. I don’t know if a candidate can get away with talking about voters as if they’re not in the room. And we could probably do this exercise with Clinton and McCain too, when they talk about voters in the third person.

    As for “we’re not bitter!” protestations, well, I am in agreement with you there; and that just plays into the whole stiff-upper-lip, real-Americans-don’t-cry b.s. that makes prolonged economic abuse and abuse of our military possible. I watched Barbara Kopple’s American Dream this morning (will write about it later) and one of the first things I noticed was how smiley and stoic and non-bitter the Minnesota plant workers were (as smiley as Reagan himself)… and then boy did the real feelings come out later in the film, when it was too late.

  5. Simon St.Laurent

    The first vs. second person question is a good one. I think that’s one he can best address on the campaign trail, talking with people.

    If I were the campaign manager, I’d schedule a few extra stops in Upstate NY, Clinton’s backyard, not just in PA, though. The “Twin Tiers Tour” or something.

    Of course, I’m not the campaign manager.

  6. Ellen

    Oh yeah! For Obama to come to Upstate NY and counter Clinton on this subject would be a very cool knife twisting!

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