5/1/2011—In August 2009, I blogged about the contentious healthcare debates and demonstrations going on against Obamacare. I used the quote that Obama uttered after the Pennsylvania Primary of 2008: “These protestors, especially in Pennsylvania, are the same people of whom President Obama said, after the Pennsylvania Primary, ‘And 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 frustrations.’
The people in these demonstrations never like or trusted President Obama. And if he thinks he understands them, as his famous quote suggests, he has not communicated to them respect and empathy.”
In this morning’s Post-Gazette, reporter James O'Toole called that quote “the enduring rhetorical gift that Mr. Obama the candidate gave his critics three years ago”. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee used it Saturday night in an attack on President Obama: "‘I stand here tonight as a gun clinger and a God clinger, unapologetically,’ Mr. Huckabee said to cheers and laughter. ‘My father also was a gun clinger and his father was a gun clinger, and I don't know if you noted this, but the father of our country was something of a gun clinger himself.’"
Those of us who are not gun owners miss this connection of guns and religion. And racism I guess. Ironically, candidate Obama was probably right in his analysis, at least to some extent. But by distancing himself from the people he was describing, he reinforced the forces he was implicitly opposing. He meant to be understanding and empathetic but came off in precisely the opposite way.
The story of the 2012 campaign will be the degree to which President Obama can bridge the gap that candidate Obama recognized but enlarged.