"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. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So 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."
I've been watching The Media use this quote to try to turn Obama into the "Elitist" who is condescending, out of touch with America and unelectable. It (The Media) is trying to do the same thing to Obama as it did with Howard Dean and his yelp back in the 2000 race. Only this time it's not even really using the sound-byte so much as paraphrasing and saying over and over again the mantra "elite." I'm not who should supposedly feel offended by these remarks, but neither is the Media, and it seems to think this is the worst thing anyone has ever said and that it is going to destroy him. I disagree and think it may have sounded bad but makes good points. Oh, and my equally sound prediction is that it will not destroy him.
I think Obama should not shy away from these words. I would have included more people than rural folk when mentioning bitterness. All Americans should taste at least a bit of bitterness. Every American should lament the loss of freedoms and laws and the general ethos that make America what it is supposed to be. America is a great country, undoubtedly, but it shines much less than it should these days and at times takes on characteristics completely contrary to its ideals. When other politicians claim that Americans are not bitter but proud they present a false dualism. One can be proud of the wonders that make America great while at the same time lament the eroding of this greatness. A person can have pride in a flag or national anthem, but pride in a country that affords freedom, equality, opportunity and voices to all seems like pride better placed.
Small towns, job loss and lack of new jobs, promises made and not kept by government:
The media mostly ignored this part. Factories in small towns close. Small business can't keep up with Walmart. Ethanol production creates a new market and more jobs. The internet creates opportunities for people to make a living no matter where they are. Military recruitment takes many young people out of rural America where they might otherwise add to the unemployment rate. Economics are complicated. I'm guessing that many rural Americans feel that there is a lack of good jobs available to them and that might be upsetting after a few years or decades.
Clinging to their...:
Rural states are often Red states. The idea here is that people in red states often vote Republican despite the fact that Republicans have done little or nothing to better their lives. It is perhaps elitist to point out that sentiments have been used by politicians to get votes out, but only to those who have not noticed that many election ballots have amendments aimed at or supposedly threatening their way of life. When ballots have amendments about same-sex marriage the assumption is that conservatives will come out to vote against the gays, and while they're there they may vote for Republican candidates. It seems to work. When people think the government is going to try to take away their guns, the assumption is that they will go vote to keep the government from doing so, and they may throw in a vote for the Republican candidate while they're at it. Again, it seems to work. When people believe that the atheists are trying to ban their religion it is assumed that they will go out to vote in favor of prayer in school and they may check the box for Republican while they're at it. Again, it gets the vote out. Etc. Etc. Etc. Obama may be pointing this out, but he certainly didn't put these items on the ballots.
These issues may well be important to people in rural America. There is a way of life and timelessness that is admirable in many small towns, and these issues feed on the fear that it could all disappear someday. I think Obama was pointing out the fact that these feelings are used in a manipulative way by politicians who may preserve some parts of rural America, but only by doing nothing to better the lives of those who live there.
(creative commons photo attributed to Flickr user tonx)