Candidates shouldn’t stereotype voters

In a speech last week, Barack Obama commented on small towns in Pennsylvania, saying a lack of regeneration has led their inhabitants to “get bitter” and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them ... as a way to explain their frustrations.” While these rural residents might fall back on their “guns and religion,” it seems politicians fall back on pleasing a crowd. Speaking to a wealthy California audience of campaign donors, Obama said what his audience likely expected to hear. The mental image of a rural hick sitting on his porch in a rocking chair, holding a Bible with his shotgun behind him leaning up against his clapboard shack aligns with the sort of stereotypes that are maintained about Appalachian America.

Obama should have known that comments as derisive as these would not stay confined to a cheering audience in San Francisco. The Internet, and specifically the machine that is the blogosphere, eats soundbytes like these for breakfast. And here we are too, pointing out that this comment is abrasive, not politically correct, and is a generalization that attempts to help people 2500 miles away understand the lives of people in our state.

It is simply impossible for a single person to connect to each of the other 300 million living in this country, but we expect our presidential-hopefuls to try. Candidates do so with their own personal stories: They describe their military involvement, their adventures duck-hunting in east Arkansas, and the rising prices of vegetables at their local Whole Foods. But even through these anecdotes that range from heartfelt to comical, they will not be able to build a bond with every voting citizen.

The problem with Obama’s recent comment is not that it is entirely incorrect, but it groups a large population into a lower class than those present at the fundraiser in California, a distinction at odds with Obama’s campaign for equality and unity across our nation. It is a comment that erodes respect for the individual. We’re not considering this blunder of Obama’s to be a death sentence to his campaign, but we hope that the Senator and others learn from this mistake and do not repeat it.