Ah, BitterGate. Everything you’re not supposed to talk about at parties—religion! class! “liberal elitism”! the Second Amendment!—all rolled into one neat little Political Scandal. Just in case you missed it, here’s Barack Obama, inserting proverbial foot into proverbial mouth while speaking about the rough economy and small-town voters at a fundraiser last week: “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.”
Which…yeah. And Obama’s “cling” rap is, itself, certainly clinging. Over the weekend, fallout from the comment dominated the news cycle, with reports and retorts and retorts to the retorts and retorts to the retorts to the retorts and well, you get the idea. At its heart, though, the whole thing begged one obvious question: “What do the voters think?” Are voters in Pennsylvania really, you know, bitter?
Well, hmm whom to ask? Who, oh who, might be intimately familiar with the Mind of the Small-Town Voter?
Why, Bob Shrum, of course! And Mary Matalin and James Carville and Mike Murphy! And Evan Bayh! And pollster and Franklin and Marshall College political scientist Terry Madonna! And Brookings senior fellow Thomas Mann! And Brian Davis, a Republican candidate seeking to challenge targeted Rep. Tim Walz in the fall! And nearly every strategist imaginable from the Obama, Clinton, and McCain campaigns!
Which, hey—it’s fine to go macro. Experts are experts for a reason; the logic-of-superdelegates has its translation in journalism, as well. Still, though, there’s a conspicuous absence in much of the Analyses of the Minds of Pennsylvania Voters: the, um, Pennsylvania voters themselves. Wouldn’t it have been nice, at least in some instances, to remove the middlemen? Man-on-the-street reporting may get you only so far, sure, when you’re trying to predict the results of a statewide—and, of course, national—election. But there’s an especially perverse kind of logic—not to mention a healthy heaping of hubris—in asking pundits to read voters’ minds when you could, just as easily, ask the voters themselves about what they’re thinking. And that logic is rendered particularly ironic when applied to a story about…elitism.
Enter Fox News’s Laura Ingle, who went, as she’s wont to do, “On the Scene” to talk to voters:
So, this morning, we packed up our cameras and live truck and are heading to Allentown (we are all in the truck now listening to Billy Joel’s song “Allentown” as I write this to get us in the mood .) We are almost to our location—a diner where many locals hang, and are going to talk to them about what Obama said and how they feel about it.
My opening line? “are you bitter?” This should be interesting . stay tuned
Now, sure, the level of anthropological self-congratulation here is a bit absurd: from all the talk of camera-packing and live-trucking, you’d think Ingle and her crew were on their way to a Safari Adventure—Jane Goodall et al, ready to explore the wilds of Allentown. Still, Ingle deserves praise for actually going out and talking to voters: while she might not have needed Kilimanjaro-ready hiking boots for this particular reporting expedition, at least her approach involved some shoe leather. And the team got some good footage of voters explaining/affirming/denying/decrying their alleged bitterness.
For my money, though, the best part of Ingle’s “investigation” was after-the-fact journalism: the comments it triggered online. While many journalists—traditional reporters and bloggers alike—consulted pundits and other “experts” to flesh out their BitterGate reports, Ingle’s audience simply consulted themselves. And then hit the “comment” button.