Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned. My last blog post was three weeks ago.
Yes, I have been derelict. I spent much of my childhood in a small Midwestern town, so I have been very busy building an anti-immigrant fence around my compound in the woods, growing increasingly bitter, clinging to my guns and religion and xenophobia, the only solace I know in this ever-darkening economic climate.
But I have come out of my bunker, because Hillary Clinton has invited me for a shot and a beer, before we go on a church-sponsored hunting trip.
Yes, this is the state of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Barack Obama is being pilloried as an elitist, patronizing liberal, while Hillary's suddenly a gun-toting, whisky-swigging woman of the people.
Hmm, last time I checked they went to Harvard and Yale Law Schools, respectively, and I could have sworn Clinton just released tax returns showing her and Bill with over $100 million in income since 2000.
Yes, Barack Obama shot himself in the foot last week in San Francisco (if Hillary had been there, I'm sure she would have done the honors with the gun her grandfather gave her as a child). We all make mistakes; no one has blundered into more tactless, awkwardly-worded gaffes than I, as anyone in our newsroom who has enjoyed watching me try to explain what I really meant can attest. But this one has the Republicans chortling with glee. While Obama is busy trying to fend off Clinton, John McCain can start identifying the Illinois Senator in a negative way, with his own ill-chosen words. Hillary's already running a new TV commercial highlighting Obama's gaffe. By the time Obama locks up the nomination, many voters will already have "elitist" and "out of touch" branded into their brains, the way they thought "flip-flopper" and "windsurfer" when they heard the name John Kerry in 2004.
There's a lot of truth in what Obama said at that fundraiser in Pacific Heights last week. I have the audio of it, but it's so hard to understand I don't think it's worth posting the link here. You've read it by now anyway, right? Small-town voters are bitter after years of economic hardship and government inattention, so they cling to their guns and their religion and their antipathy towards people who aren't like them. Is that condescending and elitist? Or is it a frank assessment of America in the 21st century? The powers that be don't want someone telling the people the truth; they'd rather distract Americans with mock outrage, much as they accused anyone who dared question the government's response to 9/11 of being an unpatriotic traitor.
But Obama's words weren't artful. He's right; he could have said it a lot better. "Clinging" to their guns and religion? Ouch. That offends. This is a perfect example of why I predicted last December that Clinton, not Obama, would be the nominee. He's just not experienced enough to avoid these kinds of mistakes, and he's going to make more, folks. By the time November rolls around, assuming Obama still gets the nod, McCain will have a stack of these to use against him. Luckily for him, McCain steps in it now and again, too. We'll just have to see who the mess sticks to, and which of the nominees has teflon shoes.
Obama's stumble reminds me of the 1982 New York governor's race, when three-term Mayor Ed Koch was a heavy favorite to move up to Albany. Until, that is, he lamented the "sterile" nature of life in upstate New York, ridiculed small-town women for wearing gingham dresses, and complained about how unhappy he would be living in the boonies. That doomed his candidacy, and Lt. Governor Mario Cuomo came out of nowhere to upset Koch in the primary, and go on to serve three terms as governor.
There are a couple of other things about this that bother me more than Obama's words, though. First off, I know that many bloggers consider themselves "journalists." But it would be completely unethical, and maybe illegal, for me to infiltrate a private event, record it surreptitiously, and then report what I heard. And that's just what a Huffington Post blogger did to Obama in San Francisco. We have to identify ourselves as reporters, we can't record someone without permission (unless they're in a public place with no expectation of privacy, certainly not the case at a private home where invited guests have paid $2300 apiece to be there), and we cannot obtain information under false pretenses. In this age of cell phone videos and around-the-clock webcams, candidates should probably assume anything they say anywhere could be recorded. But still, Obama was speaking candidly with a small, private audience of campaign insiders and supporters. Those words were not for public consumption, and now he is consumed with defending them.
But Obama put himself in this position by being there in the first place. I "covered" his visit to the Bay Area last Sunday. He made four stops - all private, attended by paid donors, who coughed up anywhere from $1000 to $2300 for the privilege to hear him speak. He spent a full day here, and did not meet a single person who didn't pay him first. No voters, no reporters, no real people on the street. No interviews, no news conferences, no public speeches. The media coverage consisted of standing outside, interviewing the rich people who were going inside, and getting long-lens shots of Obama from across the street. And now, the Obama campaign has sent out an appeal for more donations, appealing to supporters who are outraged by the criticism of his remarks to dig deep and help him respond. All the campaigns do that now - they turn every attack or controversy into an opportunity to solicit more money: "Isn't this terrible? Won't you help by sending us $25 today?"
I'm fed up with the big money that drives presidential politics. If Obama, Clinton and McCain want to convince us they're in touch with the common folk, then they should start spending some real time with them. Let's face it, all three of them are elitists. They are very rich, high-achieving Americans. If they weren't, we wouldn't elect them president, would we? Isn't that the point of an election - to choose someone from the top tier to run the country? Do we want Hillary's beer buddy in the Oval Office? Or do we want a highly educated, successful person to run the government? So all three should stop pretending they're down in the gutter with the rest of us (okay, I admit it, I have risen from my humble Midwestern upbringing to become one of the elite, too) and become who they are. Stop pretending you're just like everyone else - and start caring about everyone else instead. FDR didn't try to hide his patrician roots - but he genuinely cared about the common man, and his policies reflected that.
At least Obama was trying to tell the truth in that mansion last week, and in his comments since. If we see him out hunting next week, between church services, with a six-pack in one hand and a shotgun in the other, then the Democrats are in deep trouble come November.
QUICK HITS: Okay, so I'm a little rusty; this rant rambled a bit. But I'm pleased to announce that the RTNDA/Edward R. Murrow Awards have recognized some of our earlier work. KCBS just won four regional Murrows (the Western United States) and one of them is for Best Broadcast Website, for KCBS.com, including Sovern Nation. And another one is for Best Feature, for the first parody song we did in 2007, "Super Cali Tex Illistic Yorkizona Docious," about Super Tuesday. I will proudly call myself an award-winning singer-songwriter now. Thanks to the Not Ready for Drive Time Singers for making it, well, sing. Now we're nominated for the national Murrow awards. Stay tuned.
I think there's definitely a song in Obama's bitter words and Hillary's Bosnia snipers, among other things. I'll work on that and get back to you...