- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sens. John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday criticized Sen. Barack Obama as a condescending, out-of-touch elitist over remarks made Sunday and again last night in which the Illinois senator said small-town Americans are “bitter” and cling to guns and religion as symptoms of frustration.

“Pennsylvania doesn’t need a president who looks down on them,” Mrs. Clinton said at a Philadelphia rally yesterday. “They need a president who stands up for them, who fights for them, who works hard for your futures, your jobs, your families.”

McCain spokesman Steve Schmidt said that Mr. Obama’s initial remarks, made at a fundraiser in San Francisco, “shows an elitism and condescension towards hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking.”

In the remarks earlier this week, which surfaced yesterday on the Huffington Post Web site, Mr. Obama told the closed-door fundraiser that “you go into 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.”

Mr. Obama told the San Francisco crowd that these economic struggles would unsurprisingly make small-town residents become bitter or back conservative social issues.

“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,” he said.

Robert A. Gleason Jr., chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania called the remarks “incredibly insulting” and predicted that many in his state, where Mr. Obama has trailed Mrs. Clinton in surveys and polls poorly against Mr. McCain, would agree.

“In light of this most recent statement, I believe Americans are going to have even more questions about his values. Not only do these comments reveal a condescending elitism, Obama illustrates to us just how out of touch he is with middle-class America.” Mr. Gleason said.

“The vast majority of Pennsylvanians believe wholeheartedly in their constitutional right to bear arms, have a strong devotion to their faith, and believe that our government should be actively looking for a solution to the illegal immigration crisis, and Barack Obama managed to offend every single one of us with this one statement.”

At a campaign stop last night in Terre Haute, Ind., Mr. Obama addressed the San Francisco remarks, but repeated their essence and tried to turn the furor into a basis for criticizing the other two candidates’ stances on economic issues.

“Look, they’re frustrated. And for good reason. Because for the last 25 years, they’ve seen jobs shipped overseas, they’ve seen their economies collapse,” Mr. Obama said.

“Of course they’re bitter and of course they’re frustrated. You would be too … the same thing is happening all across the country,” he said, noting that people then “don’t vote on economic issues because they don’t expect anybody is going to help them. And so they end up voting on issues like guns … on issues like gay marriage and they take refuge in their faith.”

The Illinois senator then attempted to recast the issue, ridiculing the other campaigns’ charges that he is out of touch, based on their stances on economics.

“Out of touch? John McCain, it took him three tries to finally figure out that the home foreclosure crisis was a problem and to come up with a plan for it, and he’s saying I’m out of touch? Senator Clinton voted for credit card sponsored bankruptcy bill that made it harder for people to get out of debt after taking money from the financial services companies, and she says I’m out of touch?” he said.

“No, I’m in touch. I know exactly what’s going on,” Mr. Obama said, adding that voters “are angry and they are frustrated and they are bitter, they want to see a change in Washington. And that’s why I am running for president of the United States of America.”

The Obama remarks and their apparent reduction of religious faith to economics bring another religion-related problem upon Mr. Obama, who has gone through weeks of criticism over his close ties to the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., a firebrand pastor who married the Obamas but also has said that blacks should call on God to smite America and that the U.S. government invented AIDS as an anti-black genocide weapon.

The other campaigns were unimpressed, Mrs. Clinton already having said earlier in the day that bitterness was “not my experience” of Pennsylvania voters, who she said “are working hard every day for a better future, for themselves and their children.”

Spokesman Phil Singer criticized Mr. Obama over the Indiana speech because “instead of apologizing for offending small-town America, Senator Obama chose to repeat and embrace the comments he made earlier this week.”

He then picked up his boss’ refrain: “Americans are tired of a president who looks down on them … The Americans who live in small towns are optimistic, hardworking and resilient. They deserve a president who will respect them.”

The former first lady once had a big lead over Mr. Obama in Pennsylvania opinion polls ahead of their April 22 primary election showdown, but has seen her lead shrink to about four or six percentage points.

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds virtually repeated Mr. Singer’s initial words, saying that, “instead of apologizing to small-town Americans for dismissing their values, Barack Obama arrogantly tried to spin his way out of his outrageous San Francisco remarks.”

“Only an elitist who attributes religious faith and gun ownership to bitterness would think that tax cuts for the rich include families who make $75,000 per year. Only an elitist would say that people vote their values only out of frustration. Barack Obama thinks he knows your hopes and fears better than you do,” Mr. Bounds said.

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