Mitt Romney’s indictment of 47% of America tonight is a damning gaffe because it seems to reflect authentic, impolitic instincts, what some people on his side think some of the time, even if they don’t say it.
On April 12, 2008, Barack Obama’s deeply patronizing comments on conservative Pennsylvania voters spurred an almost identical flap.
““And 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,” Obama said, explaining — he thought — some voters’ politics during the long Pennsylvania primary.
“Pennsylvanians don’t need a president who looks down on them,” Hillary Clinton responded then. (Today, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said, “It’s hard to serve as president for all Americans when you’ve disdainfully written off half the nation.”)
Romney immediately today said he’d been inelegant in his phrasing; Obama, at first, stood fully by his comments, and tried to reinterpret them on the fly. “I’m out of touch?” he asked rhetorically at an Indiana event the night they emerged. The next day, he conceded: “I didn’t say it as well as I should have.”
His full, combative cleanup effort that Friday night the story broke:
I was in San Francisco talking to a group at a fundraiser, and somebody asked how, well, how are you going to get votes in Pennsylvania? What’s going on there? We hear that it’s hard for working class people to get behind your campaign. Why is that? I said, well, look, they’re frustrated. And for good reason.