Thursday, April 24, 2008

How Candidates Transform Themselves


If Barak Obama doesn’t watch it, he’s going to talk himself right out of the Democratic nomination. He keeps saying dumb things.

He did it again the other day. Speaking to a group of fat-cat donors in San Francisco, he said he was having trouble winning working-class voters because of their frustration at economic conditions. Then added:

“It’s not surprising, then, 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 frustration.”

See? I told you it was dumb.

There may be truth to the observation that economic conditions are making the proletariat bitter but to tie that to guns or religion is like checking how much gasoline you have left by holding a lighted match to the mouth of the tank.

No sooner had the comments been posted on the Internet than Hillary Clinton and John McCain were all over it like white on rice.

Senator Clinton was especially sanctimonious. She said Obama’s comments were “demeaning” to the good, loyal folk of Pennsylvania whom she hopes will vote for her.

“I grew up in a church-going family, a family that believed in the importance of living out and expressing our faith,” she told a rally in Indianapolis.

“The people of faith I know don’t ‘cling to’ religion because they’re bitter. People embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they’re spiritually rich.”

Wow. Is that one pious lady or what?

Senator McCain contented himself with saying that the comments were “elitist” and “a fundamental contradiction of what I believe America is all about.”

It was enough to make you gag. It makes you wonder whether any of these clowns have ever known any working class Americans. The objects of their reverence sure don’t seem much like the working-class Americans I grew up with on the near-northwest side of Detroit.

Politicians would have you believe that all time-clock punchers are “hard-working people who play by the rules, go to church on Sunday and struggle to make ends meet.” They blow off steam by bowling and deer hunting and umpiring Little League ball games.

Well, some are like that, some aren’t. Some are mean and duplicitous, some are stupid and lazy, some beat their wives. Some wives cheat on their husbands, who in turn are cheating on them.

In other words, there is no single template for the American working class and Obama was wrong to suggest one, although no more wrong that Clinton and McCain were to nominate the group for sainthood. Blue-collar folk do a variety of things for a variety of reasons. They are diverse. Just like rich people.

Still, no politician ever went broke pandering to the self-regard of the American voter and you have to give Clinton and McCain a plus on this, Obama a minus.

But the real story of the Pennsylvania primary is the remarkable transformation of Hillary Clinton. When she went into the state she was seen as a product of a comfortable, middle-class Chicago family, who went to the best schools and married a hotshot who took good care of her, although at a price. In the past seven years, she and her husband have made more than $100 million.

She has peeled off that persona like the skin of an onion and now stands before us as a former waitress who as a child couldn’t get enough of the primitive Pennsylvania shack her family vacationed in; a closet gun enthusiast with a hidden love of bowling.

No Chicago bluestocking, she. The new Hillary is a hash-slinging, pistol-packing, beer-drinking lover of all things Pennsylvanian, who also observes vespers. I expect her to show up for the last debate, chewing gum, and announce that she and Bill have bought a summer place in a Scranton trailer park.

I can hardly wait for the Indiana primary, when we learn that “Hoosiers” is her favorite movie.

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