Obama's "bitter" gaffe is just the miracle Clinton needed.

Down and on the way out.
April 14 2008 12:31 PM

The Hillary Deathwatch

Obama's "bitter" gaffe is just the miracle Clinton needed.

The Hillary Deathwatch is now a widget. Add it to your Facebook page or blog.

Barack Obama's "bitter" comment is just the gaffe Clinton needed to woo superdelegates. Her chances of winning the nomination jump 4.5 points to 14.2 percent.

Hillary Clinton needed a miracle. She's down in pledged delegates, likely to lose the popular vote, and slipping on the superdelegate front. So, Barack Obama's comment at a San Francisco fundraiser—that bitter Pennsylvanians "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them" in response to economic hardship—is as close to divine intervention as she could get. With Pennsylvania a week off, Clinton has just enough time to foment outrage and perhaps regain her formerly wide lead in the polls. It's also as comprehensive a gaffe as Obama could have mustered: It's got elitism, guns, religion, immigration, and trade—just the controversy cocktail Clinton was waiting for.

Advertisement

The "bitter" incident serves one real purpose for Clinton: It strengthens her case to superdelegates. Clinton has already been painting a potential Obama nomination as a disaster scenario. This flap gives her fresh buckets and a new brush. Among her plausible arguments: Obama just lost Pennsylvania in the general. He alienated Reagan Democrats across the country. He squandered a major advantage over the less-religious McCain. His "bitter" comments—and the attitudes they represent—are just the tip of an iceberg of vulnerabilities. Clinton even compared him to John Kerry and Al Gore (so much for that endorsement), who voters thought "did not really understand, or relate to, or respect their ways of life." An Obama nomination, she can now argue, would be the worst kind of disaster—a repeat.

But will it be enough to overcome the daunting delegate math? No. She still needs to win the rest of the states by fat margins and spark a mass superdelegate migration in order to secure the nomination. Even if the entire state of Pennsylvania is offended by Obama's remarks, she needs North Carolina, Indiana, and the rest to be equally miffed. And so far, Obama has been doing a fine cleanup job. He may not have chosen the right words, he says, but he was speaking elemental truths about economic hardship. (He's lucky Clinton's first salvo focused on the word bitter—the more defensible part of the statement—rather than the guns-and-religion part.) He also fired back, mocking Clinton for pretending she's "Annie Oakley" and portraying her attacks as dirty Washington politics: "Shame on her," he said. In some small way, Clinton may be doing Obama a favor—he's proving to superdelegates that he knows how to weather controversy and fight back.

Some pundits argue that Obama's mistake is a game-changer that will hurt him more than the Wright controversy ever did. That may be true. But Hillary won't be the one who benefits. John McCain will. If this flap revives Clinton's candidacy—which took a beating last week after her husband's Bosnia resurrection—it will only be for the short term. The election fundamentals still weigh heavily against her—a mathematical fact that makes Obama's screw-up, however damaging in the long run, little more than a speed bump on the road to the nomination.

For a full list of our Deathwatches, click here. For a primer on Hillary's sinking ship, visit our first Deathwatch entry. Send your own prognostications to hillarydeathwatch@gmail.com.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

How Did the Royals Win Despite Bunting So Many Times? Bunting Is a Terrible Strategy.

Catacombs Where You Can Stroll Down Hallways Lined With Corpses

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
Crime
Oct. 1 2014 4:15 PM The Trials of White Boy Rick A Detroit crime legend, the FBI, and the ugliness of the war on drugs.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 4:46 PM Ebola Is No Measles. That’s a Good Thing. Comparing this virus to scourges of the past gives us hope that we can slow it down.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?