Bloggers on Obama's "bitter" gaffe.

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
April 14 2008 3:43 PM

Bitter Business

Bloggers are debating Barack Obama's "bitter" words and wondering about Texan polygamists.

Bitter business: Barack Obama struggled to explain himself this weekend after comments he made about small-town Pennsylvania voters ignited a flap promptly dubbed "Bittergate." (See the original Huffington Post item here.) At issue is Obama's comment that when faced with economic hardship, small-town Americans "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." Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee-apparent John McCain immediately responded, with Clinton calling the comments "elitist,"  "demeaning," and "out of touch." 

"I don't see how anyone known to have uttered these words can be elected President," says an outraged John Hinderaker at conservative Power Line. Mike Allen at Politico lists"12 reasons 'bitter' is bad for Obama."

But perhaps "Bittergate" is a misnomer. "While the description of small town Pennsylvanians as 'bitter' is certainly impolitic, many political analysts say it's what follows that adjective that is potentially so alienating," saysJake Tapper at ABC News' Political Punch.At Ankle Biting Pundits, Patrick Hynes concurs: "The only other angle the media seems interested in covering is the unfolding drama of how well or how poorly Sen. Obama is handling the crisis," he says. "No one is passing judgment on the content of what he has said; a sure plus for Sen. Obama." And Alan Stewart at Donklephant shifts the discussion to a different adjective: "I don't know how else to interpret the use of the word 'cling' but as condescension. It's a word of pity—we feel sorry for those who have to cling."

Ed Morrisey of conservative Hot Air spells out Obama's real gaffe: "He assumes that gun ownership, religious faith, and a desire to enforce border security grows out of a mental defect or simple petulance. … His cure is a huge, whopping dose of government intervention to replace all of it. That's the hubris, the condescension, and the elitism rolled up into a precise point." Also at Hot Air, Allah Pundit reacts to Obama's admission that "I didn't say it as well as I could have": "If his original statement boiled down to 'religion is the opiate of the masses,' think of this as adding, 'and what wonderful things opiates are.' "

Still, not everyone is mad at Obama. "He's explaining how the American experience has gotten steadily worse because of the bitter partisan battles we've been fighting throughout the last three decades," argues Justin Gardner at Donklephant. "[I]t was bad politics to frame his perfectly banal point in the precise way that he did," allows Obama supporter Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money. "But wealthy urban conservatives and quasi-liberal pundits pretending to be offended on behalf of working-class rural people is a stupid kabuki, as well as considerably more condescending than anything Obama said." Bitter Jonon at the brand-spanking-new Bitter Voters for Obama offers a translation for the confused: "[W]hat Obama was saying is that in times when you can't trust the government, people turn to issues and comforts that they can depend on. Period. Any other interpretation is a failure of comprehension." (And while you're at it, don't forget your "I Am Bitter" T-shirt.)

Steve Benen at the liberal Carpetbagger Report is worried that the long primary process and resultant issues like this are bad for the party. "We now have two dominant forces—the Republican machine and the Clinton machine—simultaneously arguing, vehemently and loudly, that the likely Democratic nominee is an elitist, out-of-touch liberal who doesn't like working families and embraces un-American values."

Read more about the Obama flap. Follow the discussion on Slate's XX Factor. Also in Slate, Mickey Kaus explains the four big problems with Obama's comments.

Yearning for what, now? The raid on a polygamist compound outside Eldorado, Texas, earlier this month continues to spark discussion among bloggers as custody hearings begin this week.  In what may be the largest child-welfare case in U.S. history, 416 children were removed from the Yearning for Zion ranch and placed in protective custody. The raid was originally sparked by phone calls from an unidentified 16-year-old girl to a domestic violence hotline reporting sexual and physical abuse by her 50-year-old husband.

"Imagine if everything in our computers, cameras, cell phones, and videotapes were discovered by Martians. That is pretty much what this is: an enormous time capsule of a way of life. I think there will need to be an anthropologist and genealogist and perhaps a few former FLDS folks or religious studies experts called in to make sense of the evidence from this society and what it actually means," says Hari Sreenivasan, a Dallas correspondent for CBS on Couric and Co, writing about the mountains of evidence carted away. Gadfly at the Mountain Moderate,  in a no-nonsense post titled "Texas Busts Perverts Utah Wouldn't Touch," writes that the sect members didn't count one thing when they moved to Texas from Utah: "What they didn't figure, though, was that the Texans had no motivation to look the other way … so the Rangers kicked the door in and hauled the kids out." At Nuts & Boalts Patrick, a UC-Berkeley law student, is looking for volunteers to help represent the children.

Not everyone is lining up against the polygamists, though. Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast, his blog about Texas criminal law, points out that the 16-year-old caller has not been identified and that Texas laws may have unfairly targeted the sect. Madcap at sacrilicio observes, "So the sect told their children that the outside world was 'hostile and immoral' and what does the outside world do? Take them from their homes and families and crowd them into social services facilities, and then threaten to place them with foster families. Say what you will about Joseph Smith and his magic stone goggles, but the sect seems to have nailed at least one prediction."

Commenting on it all at Jezebel, a stunned drunkexpatwriter remarks: "Wow. It sorta makes Scientology look sane."

Read more about the polygamist sect.

Susan Daniels is a former Slate staffer. She lives in Amsterdam.