The Lady Speaks

Obama Insults Pennsylvanians

Hmm… now I’m sure the fact that this speech was given in a large city had nothing to do with anything. It’s not like he was telling city folks how backwards we small-town folks are. And we probably shouldn’t get the idea that he tells his hip, urban audiences one thing and tells us small-town, traditional audiences another. Right?

Surely he’s not so stupid as to tell those of us living in small towns in Pennsylvania — people who will be going to the polls in ten days — that we’re bitter and “clinging” to our guns and our religions and our hatred of the universal “other” simply because we’ve been ignored and/or fucked over by the policies of our federal government in all its various incarnations of the past 30 years. Right?

Certainly, he’s not calling us gun-toting, white-power, hillbilly zealots. Right?

From a transcript at The Page:

But the truth is, is that, 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. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. 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.

I’d just like to point out that in the majority of small towns and rural counties, farming was our major industry. Just like many places in the Midwest, family farms were the bedrock of our county, and yes, those “jobs” are mostly gone. Family farms more or less vanished during the late 70’s through mid-80’s thanks to high property taxes, deflated prices/demand for farm products, and less young people interested in running their own farms.

I’d also like to note that places like Levittown are not a “small towns” except when compared to Philly or Pittsburgh. Levittown, one town in Bucks County, has a population of 53,966. [2000] Bucks County itself has a population of 621,342. [2005]

The entire population of Bradford County (the largest county in PA by area) is just 62,537. [2005]

Small town? How about Wyalusing [pop. 549] or Towanda [pop. 2,902 ] or Troy [pop. 1,482] or Sayre [pop. 5,585]? [2006, estimated]

These would be small towns.

These would be places which are part of what’s known collectively as the “T-zone” or “Pennsyltucky. Places where we “cling” to our guns, our religions, our traditions.

We don’t all “cling” to the hatred of the universal “other” – although, as I noted in Is the Election Over Yet?, there are some who do. (And wouldn’t vote for you even if you were lily-white, since they’re old, liberal-and-kid-hating Republicans who think El Pollo Loco is doing a smash-up job of “protecting” our country.)

However, it might be important, Mr. Obama, for you to learn some the history of our state. There is far more to Pennsylvania’s history than Ben Franklin, the Declaration of Independence, and Washington’s trip across the Delaware.

From the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission:

In April 1681, Penn made his cousin William Markham deputy governor of the province and sent him to take control. In England, Penn drew up the First Frame of Government, his proposed constitution for Pennsylvania. Penn’s preface to First Frame of Government has become famous as a summation of his governmental ideals. […] This first Assembly united the Delaware counties with Pennsylvania, adopted a naturalization act and, on December 7, [1682] adopted the Great Law, a humanitarian code which became the fundamental basis of Pennsylvania law and which guaranteed liberty of conscience.


Despite Quaker opposition to slavery, about 4,000 slaves were brought to Pennsylvania by 1730, most of them owned by English, Welsh, and Scotch-Irish colonists. The census of 1790 showed that the number of African-Americans had increased to about 10,000, of whom about 6,300 had received their freedom. The Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act of 1780 was the first emancipation statute in the United States.


Philadelphia was known in colonial times as the “Athens of America” because of its rich cultural life. Because of the liberality of Penn’s principles and the freedom of expression that prevailed, the province was noted for the variety and strength of its intellectual and educational institutions and interests.

As for clinging to our religions, indeed most do, whatever their personal choices. Christians, Jews, Muslims, pagans, atheists, Buddhists, agnostics … even Zen Humanistic Pagans like myself.

You see, Mr. Obama, our state had a rich history of welcoming all religions and allowing for the free expression of the same even before the American Revolution.

Again, from the PHMC:

Quakers held their first meeting at Upland (now Chester) in 1675, and came to Pennsylvania in great numbers after William Penn received his Charter. Most numerous in the southeastern counties, the Quakers gradually declined in number but retained considerable influence.

The Pennsylvania Germans belonged largely to the Lutheran and Reformed churches, but there were also several smaller sects: Mennonites, Amish, German Baptist Brethren or “Dunkers,” Schwenkfelders, and Moravians. Although the Lutheran Church was established by the Swedes on Tinicum Island in 1643, it only began its growth to become the largest of the Protestant denominations in Pennsylvania upon the arrival of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg in 1742. The Reformed Church owed its expansion to Michael Schlatter, who arrived in 1746. The Moravians did notable missionary work among the Indians.

The Church of England held services in Philadelphia as early as 1695. The first Catholic congregation was organized in Philadelphia in 1720, and the first chapel was erected in 1733; Pennsylvania had the second largest Catholic population among the colonies. The Scotch brought Presbyterianism; its first congregation was organized in Philadelphia in 1698. Scotch-Irish immigrants swelled its numbers. Methodism began late in the colonial period. St. George’s Church, built in Philadelphia in 1769, is the oldest Methodist building in America. There was a significant Jewish population in colonial Pennsylvania. Its Mikveh Israel Congregation was established in Philadelphia in 1740.


Now that your foot is planted firmly in your mouth, and you’ve managed to insult a good majority of our population…

Why should we vote for you?

UPDATE: 3:12pm

Hillary Clinton responds:

“That’s not my experience. As I travel around Pennsylvania, I meet people who are resilient, who are optimistic, who are positive, who are rolling up their sleeves. They’re working hard every day for a better future for themseves and their children.” “Pennsylvanians don’t need a president who looks down on them. They need a president who stands up for them, who fights for them, who works hard for your futures, your jobs, and your families.”

From Tennessee Guerilla Women:

What bothers me is the tiresome suggestion that antipathy, or an aversion to those who are different, is a trait owned by working class or poor folks. If hard economic times create antipathy, then poor people must be bigots. There is nothing new about this claim. There is a longstanding ‘upper class’ practice of attributing all of the negative traits of Homo sapiens to ‘lower class’ folks. Whites have done the same to Blacks. Men have certainly done the same to women.

Barack Obama made these remarks about “lower class” folks while he was among his “upper class” donors in San Francisco. Coming from a man who boasts of being the unity candidate, it is stunning to hear such a starkly “us vs. them” analysis. Alas, fear and distrust of those who are different from us is a human trait that is found among all economic classes.

From Riverdaughter:

I think I would call this a gaffe. It certainly seems like a campaign that is coming apart. It smells of desperation. Nahhh, I take that back. It’s more like stupidity. In any case, don’t look at it. It isn’t polite to stare. […]

Not to worry. Obama’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Models with PhDs in Architecture will speak sloooowly to the village elders and lead them out of their ignorance into the fulfillment of enlightenment and Hope™.

From BDBlue at Corrente:

Yes, Mayhill Flower, it really is a mystery why Obama has not connected better with those working class voters in Pennsylvania. They must be racists. It’s the only explanation.

And let me say that I’m glad at least Obama realizes that Pennsylvanians and other working class voters have been screwed over repeatedly. But that’s not much comfort from a campaign that’s about politics and not policy.


April 12, 2008 - Posted by | America, Politics


  1. This comment is one that is really going to hurt him. It is tough to explain away what you really think.

    Comment by Ben Keeler | April 12, 2008 | Reply

  2. Ben: It certainly is. There’s nothing quite like telling an entire state that you think they’re just “clinging” [could he have picked a worse verb?] to their guns and religion(s).

    Short of actually calling it Pennsyltucky, I’m not sure he could have said anything more damaging to his campaign.

    Comment by PA_Lady | April 12, 2008 | Reply

  3. PA Lady, I hope you know my comment “but there will be fallout once it is played over and over on AM radio and the comment sinks in to life’s losers in PA that walk on a dirt road in their bare feet to get to the polls. is just as bad,” was in jest. I think you do, just wanting to clear things up.

    I like this blog alot, and will be coming back. Keep up the good work!

    Comment by Ben Keeler | April 12, 2008 | Reply

  4. Also, my fav baseball team is the Phillies.

    Comment by Ben Keeler | April 12, 2008 | Reply

  5. Oh. Mea culpa! I didn’t get it until just now when I read it again. Probably because I actually grew up on a dirt road in the midst of farm country.

    Thanks for the compliment! I really enjoyed checking out your site as well.

    Phillies? I’m not to sure about your taste, Ben.

    Comment by PA_Lady | April 12, 2008 | Reply

  6. How amazing that he pulled that elitist card in the home of an Oil Billionaire, in California. Why it was positively, G.O.P. of him.
    I, as a lifelong, Pennsylvanian, was deeply offended. I used to hunt, because it helped put food on the table, now I do not need to, but if the need arose, I would do it again. That is not clinging to guns. That is good, old Pennsylvania hard work and common sense coming into play. We are a state made up of small towns, and small cities, except for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, perhaps.
    We are a state deeply committed to service, and faith. As you pointed out tho, we do not limit what faith, or how we serve. Here in our little town, we have all Protestent denominations, A Universalists church, Catholic–Roman and Ukraine, Evangelicals, Christian Science, Jehovahs Witness, nearby there is a Mormon meeting place, even a Moslem Prayer Room.
    No Pennsylvania is not without its bigots, and narrow minded people.
    I have found that overall we are a people who are resilent, tough, and hardworking. I am proud of my state.
    Senator Obama, don’t look down your nose at us. You need us.
    I will vote for Senator Clinton.

    Comment by Mom | April 12, 2008 | Reply

  7. From Riverdaughter:

    I think I would call this a gaffe. It certainly seems like a campaign that is coming apart. It smells of desperation. Nahhh, I take that back. It’s more like stupidity. In any case, don’t look at it. It isn’t polite to stare. […]

    Not to worry. Obama’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Models with PhDs in Architecture will speak sloooowly to the village elders and lead them out of their ignorance into the fulfillment of enlightenment and Hope™.

    I love that!

    PA-Lady, I’m so glad to see you again – especially now, and under these circumstances. You’re perspective, from all the others I’ve read, is quite unique.

    Really good to see you again. 🙂

    Comment by Buck | April 13, 2008 | Reply

  8. Thanks Buck! Good to see you again. My take on it is probably unique because every time I hear the audio or read the transcript, I hear the banjo theme from Deliverance. I’m sure there’s no correlation… LOL

    Comment by PA_Lady | April 13, 2008 | Reply

  9. If Hillary is like the NY Giants, would that mean Senator Obama, despite all his wins, is going to likened to the New England Patriots by June?

    Comment by Mom | April 15, 2008 | Reply

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