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Democrats Sowed Seeds of Bitterness

By Ruben Navarrette

SAN DIEGO -- The chickens -- to borrow a phrase - are coming home to roost for the Democrats. And are they bitter.

The fight for the presidential nomination has gone from surly to surreal: Liberal Democrats who back Hillary Clinton are piling on Barack Obama for displaying the very characteristics for which liberal Democrats are notorious.

This tempest in a chardonnay glass started when Obama, while addressing a San Francisco fundraiser, recalled his interactions with people in Pennsylvania and throughout the Rust Belt who feel like they've fallen through the cracks of the U.S. economy. He observed:

"It's not surprising that 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."

Preach on, senator. The truth hurts. Too many Americans would rather blame their economic anxieties on forces beyond their control -- such as globalization -- than look in the mirror, make better choices, work harder, get retrained, move to states with more opportunity and take more responsibility for their lives.

For his straight talk, Obama has been blasted by the Clinton campaign as "elitist," "arrogant" and "condescending."

And here I thought those words were part of the platform of the Democratic Party, which has plenty of elitists who arrogantly lecture the rest of us on what to believe and then condescend toward those who disagree or deign to think for themselves.

While not disavowing his statement, Obama has tried to explain it and has acknowledged that he could have said it better.

Nonsense. He said it fine. The problem isn't the messenger; it's that many Americans aren't ready to hear the message.

We want to be free to wear our opinions on our sleeves but we don't want to wear the labels that come with them. We want to be free to support tariffs and other forms of protectionism, but don't you dare call us "anti-trade." We want to worry about immigration -- both the legal and illegal kind -- but don't call us "anti-immigrant."

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is trying so hard to get mileage from Obama's comments that she veered off the road. Clinton defended the maligned Pennsylvanians, insisting that they "don't need a president who looks down on them. They need a president who stands up for them."

And, to show her common touch, Clinton's latest makeover is as an avid gun-rights supporter who shoots whiskey in pubs during the week and goes to church on Sunday.

But when a reporter asked her when she last fired a gun or attended church services, Clinton said the query was "not a relevant question in this debate."

Republican John McCain was also quick to pounce on Obama's remarks. No surprise there. The GOP loves criticizing Democrats for their gloomy take on America -- Ronald Reagan's "shining city on a hill." But, in this case, McCain also missed an opportunity. Instead of simply bashing Obama, he should have used what the Illinois senator said to point out the problems with liberalism.

For decades, Democrats have peddled cynicism, negativity, fear, powerlessness -- and yes, bitterness, and so it's hard for them to argue that Americans aren't stewing in those juices.

Obama's hands aren't exactly clean. He's been telling Pennsylvanians and others that, as president, he would pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement unless Mexico and Canada agree to renegotiate. Remember this: Obama was talking about voters he'd met on the trail -- Democratic voters. And they are bitter ... over Iraq, eight years of Bush-Cheney, a sluggish economy, trade policies, corporate profits, the mortgage crisis, global warming, etc.

It's no mystery where much of this bitterness comes from. There is no surplus of sunny optimism emanating from the left. Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean drones on about how the country is in sorry shape. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pessimistic about Iraq, and wants to raise the white flag of surrender. Union bosses insist, without a trace of embarrassment, that their members can't compete with workers in Third World countries. And various Democratic presidential candidates tried to scare up votes by advocating protectionism, stirring class envy, predicting economic doom and trying to put a damper on optimism.

Remember when Hillary Clinton warned us to be wary of those offering "false hope?"

Well, the hope may be false. But the bitterness is real. And Democrats helped create it, fed it, nurtured it and used it to win elections. And yet they're afraid to call it by name.

ruben.navarrette@uniontrib.com

Copyright 2008, Washington Post Writers Group


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