Thursday, April 3, 2008

Obama Throws Gutter Ball, Clinton Plays Pals

At, Margaret Carlson writes:

For his first time running a $200 million corporation, Barack Obama has done a good job. No small vendors left behind in Iowa or New Hampshire with their bills unpaid, no newspaper stories about staff members screaming at one another, no having to lend the campaign cash to keep going.

Yet he's made two big mistakes, and they are doozies.

First, he didn't see how regular folks who saw the videos of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright wouldn't be able to get them out of their heads.

The clips are an unfair representation of 30 years of giving three sermons every Sunday, and Obama said he wasn't in the pews when Wright delivered them. Still, he hasn't said what remarks he was present for. And even if they were only a faint echo of what we've heard, why would Obama want his daughters to hear them or think those not conversant with black liberation theology wouldn't be shocked?

His second big mistake is bowling with others in Altoona, Pennsylvania. He ignored the risk every politician faces when trying to be one of the people if they're not, a risk that doubles if you pursue the official state sport when you've never worn a league shirt with your name above the pocket.

A savvy aide would have had Obama devote as much preparation to avoiding a 7-10 split as preparing for debates. Presidents know that if you aren't sure you can get the first pitch from the mound across home plate, better to toss it (like a girl) from the bleachers.

No Joke, Sir

By now, as many people who will ever watch a candidate forum have likely seen Obama's 37 score in a game that started with a gutter ball. He joked that an 8-year-old was giving him tips, but the reality is he didn't even know how low a score it was. He should be grateful this wasn't deer-hunting season.

It's easy to see why Obama tried to roll a few frames. Voters hunger for authenticity, or so polls say, so candidates and their consultants do their best to simulate it. This boils down to looking, acting, or sounding like the locals, eating homemade specialties, even if it's funnel cake and smoked meat products, or wearing a Teamsters or Yankees cap for the first time.

What's amazing this campaign isn't that Obama, who lifted himself up by his bootstraps but resembles George Clooney with a Harvard Law degree more than Clint Eastwood, is having a hard time passing himself off as ordinary folk. It's how easily Hillary Clinton is doing it.

Clinton, the antiwar Wellesley commencement speaker, Yale superstar, and darling of elite professionals who may have inspired the popular ``Die, Yuppie Scum'' posters, has come to epitomize the scrappy underdog.

A Bad Day

A bad day for her, we learned from her memory of landing in Bosnia, is being met with flowers and poetry on the tarmac after in-flight entertainment consisting of a live performance by Sheryl Crow.

What constitutes a good day for someone who hasn't waited in a line since 1992? Traveling with David Letterman and being greeted by a 21-gun salute? To her staff who never questioned her improbable tale of derring-do, a fine turn of events would consist of an evasive landing, dodging sniper fire from the press.

Clinton's lost her college-educated, professional base but made up for it by successfully wooing working-class whites. She couldn't change her hairstyle or job description in Washington without comment. I'm mystified that she's changed personas for the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania, since I grew up in that swath of the Keystone State between Pittsburgh and the eastern seaboard that remains happily stuck in the 1950s, when men were men and the steel mills thrived.

Raising Eyebrows

When I return there -- which is often because my brother, of whom I'm guardian, lives in the house where we grew up -- I raise eyebrows for driving a foreign car and having gone to law school without signing on with the FBI.

Still, I can pass because I got through the 1960s and '70s without ever thinking of the policeman down the street as a pig or not trusting anyone over 30. My parents were beloved. My father worked for the Naval depot, golfed on the public course, and played cards at the Knights of Columbus hall.

My mother ran us -- I had two brothers -- and was the first one there when something went wrong, with a casserole, a pan of brownies and an open wallet. She wished she weren't so plump, but everyone else was and it wouldn't have entered her mind to jump around to an exercise video in a town that still lacks for spas. There were rocky marriages but most stayed together.

`Rocky' Grabs Them

In many places, the daughters and sons of such families look back and think their parents were hopelessly hokey, if not chumps. But not in Harrisburg, the town that Starbucks forgot until recently. Like upstate New York where the blue-haired ladies also had to cope with disappearing jobs and hound dog husbands, central Pennsylvania is Clinton country.

You look around my little Harrisburg suburb and her ``Rocky'' doggedness has grabbed the sympathy of people so unlike her yet drawn by what looks like a hard-luck story. It's a place where it's not such a leap from ``he can't bowl'' to ``How could he possibly know what I'm going through?''

Already, her strategists are telling superdelegates not to vote for Obama if he can't win big states like Pennsylvania. That's code for he can't win white working-class votes.

Obama doesn't have to overcome Clinton's lead, though he does need to go back to the days when he won the white vote by substantial margins in Wisconsin, Virginia and Maryland. He has to do better than the equivalent of a 37 score at Pleasant Valley Lanes, in Altoona.