Let’s forget for the moment that he’s right. It was a dumb, impolitic thing to say about a state that James Carville described as “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in the middle.” Keith Olbermann put it better than I ever could, “There’s a lot of context to that quote, but to paraphrase Mae West, ‘Context got nothing to do with it.’”
This is what Barack Obama said at a fundraiser in San Francisco ten days ago. “Our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s not evidence of that in their daily lives. 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. They fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration and each successive administration has said that these communities are somehow going to regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising that they get bitter and 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 express their frustrations.”
I don’t have a problem with that, but I’ve already voted, and I don’t have a problem saying anything like that, but I’m not running for President and coming up on one of the biggest primaries of my campaign in ten days. I grew up in a small town, and never mind the reasons for their bitterness, you don’t mess with these people’s religion and you don’t mess with their guns. I remember my brother wanting to get a “Guns Don’t Kill People. People With Guns Kill People.” bumper sticker before concluding that that was the kind of thing that, in our town, would invite a brick in your windshield.
The cheesesteak and the bowling incidents were telling (he refused a cheesesteak at one Pennsylvania campaign stop, and he bowled like a one-legged girl at another): He may have been a community organizer and can sit down with anyone on the South Side of Chicago, but he’s got no small-town street cred, and it shows.
I’m amazed that this escapes him, given his organizing background. In organizing as in political campaigning, the “When in Rome” principle should be in full effect. This is an ongoing problem with the Democrats and is largely responsible for giving us two terms of George Bush. Laugh if you will at the “who do you want to have a beer with?” sniff test, but people are essentially tribal and will naturally distrust anyone whose customs are different from their own.
This election could easily swing to John McCain because Obama sucks at bowling and won’t eat a cheesesteak, and McCain has boozed, whored, and raced his sports cars, and isn’t afraid . This is also the same affliction that torpedoed George H.W. Bush in 1992. He was already suspect as an out-of-touch blueblood who blamed his 1988 Iowa caucus defeat on people being busy with their daughters’ coming out parties. He effectively ended his campaign when Bill Clinton was biting his lip and genuinely feeling everyone’s pain at the second town hall-style debate, and the cameras and the crowd caught an utterly out-of-place President Bush looking at his watch.
If the Democrats lose a third Presidential election because America mistrusts a candidate who knows the difference between arugula, cale, and endive, and publicly admits to enjoying mahi mahi tartare, Howard Dean should be run out of Washington D.C. with torches and pitchforks. They can’t stop there. The next head of the DNC needs to use party funds to organize and mandate for every candidate an American Breadbasket Reality Immersion Symposium where they have to spend a month learning how to relate to the Great Unwashed. It will be lunch bucket boot camp. For four weeks, they’ll eat with their fingers, drink beer from cans, and clean the garage. Dinner won’t be pan-seared marlin, but the $8.95 buffet at Izzy’s, where they’ll go back to fill their plate two additional times and finish with a cinnamon roll that’s so painfully filling they have to loosen their belt at the table, and will have no compunction about doing so.
The Democratic Party cannot possibly hope to take the White House until they shed their elitist pretensions and learn to behave like and relate to average, ordinary, slovenly Americans. Every day they’ll get up to their own alarm clock and eat breakfast at the Pig-N-Pancake. They’ll do this every single morning and they’ll sit at the counter and talk to Bobbi the waitress and Chet the trucker passing through on his way to make a drop in Duluth. They’ll be set up with a bank account containing $495.67, which will be replenished by the same amount every Friday. The night before payday, they’ll have to decide between paying their cable bill or their electric bill so they still have money left to drink that evening. Over the course of four weeks they can, among other things, expect to:
- Attend a Bon Jovi concert.
- Eat a chili dog with one napkin.
- Fix a toilet.
- Shop at WalMart in conditions simulating the day after Thanksgiving.
- Witness a bar fight.
- Drink beer in a plastic cup served from an openly-displayed keg.
- Get their hair trimmed at Super Cuts.
- Purchase a lap dance to the accompaniment of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me.”
- Download pornography from the Internet.
- Discharge a firearm in a rock quarry or at a small- to medium-sized woodland creature.
- Watch an Ultimate Fighting Championship with five randomly selected members of their peer group.
This is the only way the Democrats can be saved from themselves and rescue their voting bloc from a Republican Party that is happy to lend a sympathetic ear and welcome their votes, but give them nothing but the business end of the plunger, award tax breaks to their corporate bosses, export their jobs to Mexico and Vietnam, and send their sons off to die in unnecessary wars.
It’s too late for Obama, but there’s still one way he can save his Pennsylvania bid and his greater candidacy: he needs to take a weekend off from the campaign trail and head out on a fishing weekend with four unemployed mill workers turned tire store workers and cable installers, and come back after three days in a pair of Carhartts, a hoodie, and a Skoal trucker’s cap and march through Altoona and Allentown and the Susquehanna Valley giving his God, Guns, and Gravy mea culpa just like he did after the Reverend Wright controversy, and pray that they’ll forgive him, as long as he eats the goddamned cheesesteak this time.