Who's Bitter?

Pundits all over the Web are deconstructing Barack Obama's now infamous "bitter" remarks. By now, you know the Illinois Democrat told wealthy donors in San Francisco earlier this month that small-town Pennsylvanians and midwesterners "cling to guns or religion" because they are "bitter" about their economic situation.

Most of the Web chatter is about why or if small-town (read: white, lower-class) Pennsylvanians and midwesterners "cling" to guns and religion. But I'd like to focus on Senator Obama's use of the term bitter.

I don't think these folks are necessarily bitter about their economic status as a group. Some individuals may be, but as a group, I don't see it.

I spend a lot of time in southern Prince George's County outside of Washington, D.C., where the churches and the Wal-Marts and the Chuck E. Cheeses way outnumber the Starbucks and Urban Outfitters. Most everyone I know in the area goes to church regularly, and most of the men hunt. They're not bitter about the economy. They're worried. That's a huge difference.

They don't envy the upper class, as Obama's remarks presume.

They love their way of life as farmers, firefighters, sheriffs, and retail clerks. They're just petrified about the rising costs of their mortgages and gas--and the impact the rising energy prices have on everything in the agricultural economy (diesel to run trucks and tractors, fertilizer, transport costs for hay, grain, seeds, etc.).

My point is this: Senator Obama's use of the term bitter assumes every one of them tried to get into Yale Law School as he did, and every one of them failed, as he did not. The folks I know never tried to join and never cared for the Ivy League. It simply isn't on their radar screens. They never wanted to be rich or famous or powerful. They just want to have jobs that pay them a living wage and live their lives.

Such displays of disconnectedness from the real world make the prospect of an Obama presidency troublesome. They recall the time W's father, the first President Bush, seemed fascinated by grocery market checkout scanners. (It was at a campaign appearance in 1988, and scanners had been in use for about a decade. But it had been so long since the elder Bush had been to a supermarket, he was clearly fascinated trying to learn how they worked.)

Senator Obama is a man who also says he wants to engage in dialogue with our enemies, such as Syria. The "bitter" remark makes one wonder what kind of damage he could cause stumbling rhetorically through that kind of encounter.

By Bonnie Erbe