Obama: Will the ‘elitist’ label stick?

This could be the break Hillary Clinton has been hoping for, said Adam Smith in the St. Petersburg, Fla., Times. For weeks she’s defied calls to drop out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, hoping for a game-changing event that might n

This could be the break Hillary Clinton has been hoping for, said Adam Smith in the St. Petersburg, Fla., Times. For weeks she’s defied calls to drop out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, hoping for a game-changing event that might nullify Barack Obama’s seemingly insurmountable lead in pledged delegates. Then, just a week before the crucial Pennsylvania primary, “into her lap dropped a gift from Obama himself.” During a closed-door fund-raiser in San Francisco, Obama said that small-town Americans hit by job losses were “bitter,” explaining, “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.”

Hillary pounced, calling Obama’s comments “elitist, out of touch, and, frankly, patronizing,” said Amy Chozick in The Wall Street Journal. By contrast, she stated, “I grew up in a churchgoing family” whose father “taught me how to shoot when I was a little girl.” As her campaign went into full attack mode, Obama counter-attacked, mocking Hillary’s attempt to portray herself as a gun-toting member of the working class. “She’s talking like Annie Oakley … with a six-shooter,” Obama told a laughing crowd of steelworkers. “I want to see that picture of her out in the duck blind.” So far, poll numbers show that Obama’s tin-eared remarks haven’t had much effect. Still, he’s played right into Clinton’s strategy of trying to convince the party’s superdelegates that Obama is out of touch with white, working-class Democrats—and is thus unelectable.

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This was clearly not Obama’s best moment, said Dick Polman in The Philadelphia Inquirer. But an elitist he’s not. He was raised by a single mother in a middle-class home, worked as a community organizer in the Chicago ghetto, and just recently paid off his own college loans. Hillary, on the other hand, owns not one but two mansions in tony suburbs, and, along with her husband, Bill, has earned $109 million since they left the White House. For sheer comic relief, said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post, nothing topped the sight of Hillary tossing down a shot and a beer this week in Indiana to convince voters that this graduate of Wellesley and Yale Law School is “actually just a regular gal.” Please. “Tell me: Who’s being patronizing?”

Scoff at Hillary if you like, said Michael Lind in Salon.com, but this “firestorm” highlights a real problem for the Democrats. Every time the party nominates a Northern liberal wonk such as Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, or John Kerry, it loses “the white working-class populist vote,” and thus, the general election. For all his eloquence, Obama, unfortunately, is starting to look as if he belongs in that sorry group, said John B. Judis in The New Republic. Can a black man with Harvard Law School diction and a former pastor like Jeremiah Wright carry Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the other industrial heartland states that Democrats need to win this election? All of a sudden, “Democratic prospects do not appear to be good.”

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