Saturday, April 12

Weasels in a bunker

April 11, 6:50 AM

Brrrrrrinnng! Brrrrrrinnng!

[Barack Obama campaign manager David Axelrod gropes for the red phone next to his bed]

AXELROD: [groggily] Hullo?

OBAMA: David, I can explain. I had a sip of wine and a bite of cheese at the fundraiser and I had an allergic reaction. That's the only reason I said what I did.

AXELROD: [fully awake] Let's hear it.

OBAMA: First let me lay out the narrative --

AXELROD: Can the crap. What did you say?

OBAMA: Remember one of those little fundraisers in San Francisco last week? I um said some things that the Clinton and McCain camps will try to spin as my being against small town America.

AXELROD: [raising his voice] What the -- what did you say?

OBAMA: I said -- look, you have to understand the context of my remarks and how this combined with my allergy.

AXELROD: [screaming into the phone] WHAT DID YOU SAY?

OBAMA: Listen, let's not worry about what I said. I'm calling to let you know my remarks were tape recorded and the Huffington Post just published them.

AXELROD: Was it a spy from the Clintons?

OBAMA: Uh, no, it was one of those old white ladies who follow me around the country. She's a supporter, maxed out her donations to my campaign, I think. But see I think she's from a small town. And she blogs.

[David Axelrod frantically punches buttons on the red phone and sets up a conference call.]

JEN PSAKI and TOMMY VIETOR, Obama campaign spokespersons [in unison]: We hear and obey!

AXELROD: Listen carefully: You cannot confirm or refute the remarks attributed to Barack Obama at a fundraiser in San --

JEN and TOMMY: That will be hard, sire! The audio is clearly his voice.

AXELROD: [yelling] YOU CANNOT CONFIRM OR REFUTE. If Clinton and McCain say anything about the remarks, talk about McCain's cruelty to the middle class and Hillary's stupid proposals. DO YOU UNDERSTAND? NO DIRECT REFERENCE TO WHAT OBAMA SAID!

[Axelrod punches more buttons on the phone.]


AXELROD: Tell me exactly what the twit said. Uh huh. Uh huh. Uh huh. Whaddya mean there's no way to say the remarks were taken out of context?

SUPERDELEGATE: Evidently he used the occasion to present a thesis that if small town Americans just had better jobs and pay, they wouldn't need to take refuge in religion and guns and be xenophobes.

AXELROD: If you get a call from the Lou Dobbs show to appear and comment on anything Obama said about anything, you have the mumps. Understand? [slamming down the phone receiver] Next time I use a professional actor for the presidential run.
* * * * * *

Senator Obama's Small Town Remarks Largely Criticized

Aired April 11, 2008 - 19:00 ET


[...] Tonight, uproar and fury after stunning remark by Senator Obama. Senator Obama blasts small town America in front of wealthy donors. Obama's remarks could shake the entire presidential campaign. We'll
have complete coverage.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Friday, April 11. Live from New York, sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening, everybody.

Outrage tonight after Senator Obama blasts small-town America. The remarks could seriously damage Senator Obama's presidential campaign. Obama made the remarks in front of wealthy donors at a fund-raiser in San Francisco last Sunday. The news was first reported by the "Huffington Post" Web site. The "Huffington Post" provided an audio tape of what Obama said.

Let's listen.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been done now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And it fell through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration and each successive administration has said that these communities are going to regenerate but they have not.

And it's not surprising that then they get bitter, they cling to their 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.


PILGRIM: Now Senators Clinton and McCain immediately pounced on Obama's comments. They criticized Obama for being insensitive and out of touch. The Obama campaign tried to limit the political damage as soon as this news broke.

Obama's campaign said, "No one from our office was there. We don't have a campaign recording. We are neither confirming nor refuting." We will have extensive coverage tonight from the campaign trail and from the finest strategists. We begin with an exclusive interview with "Huffington Post"'s Mayhill Fowler who broke this story.

Mayhill, thanks for joining us on the phone.

MAYHILL FOWLER, BLOGGER: You're very welcome.

PILGRIM: Mayhill, please set the scene for us. What kind of a crowd was assembled here, first of all to set the scene, the context of these remarks.

FOWLER: This is a fundraiser, the fourth in the day. This last Sunday in San Francisco and Marin and the South Bay in California. And it was at a house in Pacific Heights. There were maybe 350 to 400 people there. Quite a crush. Quite a crowd. These were people that had maxed out their donations to Senator Obama and among that group is myself.

PILGRIM: How would you characterize them, prosperous, middle class, wealthy, what category?

FOWLER: That's a very good question. You shouldn't have the impression these were very wealthy donors. These were mostly middle class and upper middle class who, I'm guessing, like myself, had slowly given money over time to Senator Obama until they reached the $2,300 cap.

There was the wife of an army surgeon. There were Safeway grocery store union workers. There were professors, there were house wives, it was quite a cross-section of prosperous California.

PILGRIM: And they had maxed out their $2,300 donations.

Mayhill, you told me in a previous conversation on the telephone, you always record what you report. So you had a tape recorder going at the time. Tell us how that played out, how you had this tape recorder going. What you noticed as he was making remarks.

FOWLER: I cover the campaign for Off the Bus, for the "Huffington Post." I'm a citizen journalist. I've been covering the campaign since last June, intensely since September. I had just been in Pennsylvania following the Obama bus tour from west to east across the state. So I would say his frame of mind was the same as in Pennsylvania, calm, relaxed, very upbeat, full of confidence.

PILGRIM: The remarks we quoted at the top, when you heard those remarks, what was your reaction and the reaction of those attending the event?

FOWLER: Two different reactions. First of all I should say it's not the first fundraiser I've been to. Most of the ones I go to I don't write up. I don't think they're probative of anything. I wasn't expecting this one to be probative.

Therefore I was quite surprised when he waxed at length and eloquently on a number of topics. And the first thing that caught my attention was ruminating about possible choices for a running mate should he be a nominee. I was also struck by what he said about Pennsylvanians particular since I had just been in Pennsylvania meeting the same people that he was talking about.

But I would say most people there, I can't speak for all of them, but most of the people there don't follow the campaign at enough of a detail or at length to have been struck by his having saying things that he hadn't said before.

PILGRIM: Mayhill, you wrote in your blog that these comments you felt reinforced negative stereotypes. When you wrote this blog, how much time between the event and when you wrote it. How much did you consider what you were going to write in the blog and did you realize you might generate --

FOWLER: I gave it a great deal of thought. Sunday night I went home and right away I wrote the piece right way about choosing the running mate. That appeared on "Huffington Post" on Monday.

I was not initially going to write about Senator Obama's remarks about Pennsylvanians. Because, frankly, I didn't want to bring down the campaign. I gave it more thought and I decided that the remarks bothered me enough that I wanted to write them up.

PILGRIM: Mayhill Fowler, of "Huffington Post," thank you so much for joining us and describing your recording of these remarks at the event in San Francisco. Thank you, Mayhill.

FOWLER: You're very welcome.

PILGRIM: Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, joins us now from Terra Haute, Indiana. Candy, what is the Clinton campaign saying about the Obama remarks?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me start with just one thing. The Obama campaign put out a statement about this directed mostly at John McCain who as you know said this proves Obama is out of touch. And listen, said if John McCain wants to talk about who is out of touch, talk about the tax cuts he supports for rich people. They tried to explain these remarks by saying the senator has long said that people are angry at their government for not delivering on promises particularly on politicians.

To with the problems of the people. The campaign was all over the blog really before it hit mainstream media. They were pushing it to reports, showing it to reporters. And at a Pennsylvania economic round table, Hillary Clinton took her shot.


PILGRIM: All right. Thank you very much Candy.

Let's turn to Bill Schneider, our political analyst.

Bill, your reaction to these remarks this evening?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's certainly true that a lot of voters are angry and bitter over the war, over trade, over the economy. But he got into trouble for one precise reason, and that is because he said that people turn to religion and guns, by which I assume he means thinks like hunting, and that they criticize trade and illegal immigration because they are bitter and frustrated with their lives.

Now that's a causal assertion, religion, guns, and criticism of trade and illegal immigration because they are bitter and frustrated with their lives.

A lot of voters are going to find that statement untrue and insulting to their values and condescending. So I think to be fair we have to hear a fuller explanation from Senator Obama of what he meant. Maybe an explanation and maybe an apology would be in order.

But we need to hear more about what was his intention in making that causal statement.

PILGRIM: Bill, we heard Mayhill Fowler remark that when she heard it she was particularly struck by it.

We do have the Obama campaign statement in response to the McCain and Clinton campaign attacks on Senator Obama.

Let me read Senator Obama's campaign statement: "Senator Obama has said many times in this campaign that Americans are understandably upset with their leaders in Washington for saying anything to win elections while failing to stand up for the special interests and fight for an economic agenda that will bring jobs and opportunity back to struggling communities. If John McCain wants a debate about who is out of touch with the American people, we can start by talking about the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans that he once said offended his conscience but now he wants to make permanent."

That was the Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor who gave us that statement now -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Well, that doesn't quite answer the question. It really changes the subject. Because he has to explain what he meant by the assertion that people's bitterness and frustration are causing them to turn to religion. And anti-trade sentiment and criticism of illegal immigrants. As I said, a lot of people are going to find that condescending and insulting.

And I think he needs a fuller explanation of what he intended to say by that statement. I think the woman who was there said she was bothered by it, some people in the room were bothered by it a lot of voters will be bothered by it. It requires a fuller explanation than that.

PILGRIM: It certainly does. Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

Let's turn to my panel in these studios.[...]
Cross-posted at Rezko Watch. Don't miss the pix accompanying my post over there.

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