Did last night’s ABC debate prove Obama right?

The blogosphere is abuzz with criticism of last night’s ABC Democratic debate, moderated by Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos. Many are calling it a superficial poke-fest which failed to address substantive issues facing the American electorate.

And I suspect that’s not far from what Barack Obama was trying to communicate at that now-fateful April 6 fundraiser in San Francisco. There, he said working-class Americans are feeling “bitter” about the economic neglect they’ve experienced in the past few decades: “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.”

Why? Because it’s those things on which politicians and campaign strategists harp in order to raise blood pressure, poll numbers and voter turnout, and on which the media — yes, I’ll say it: ESPECIALLY TELEVISION — harp in order to raise ratings.

Look at what the candidates were being asked last night: Wearing a U.S. flag pin? Gun control? To Obama, “Do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?”

Really? This is our national discourse? How about the issues that really affect the day-to-day lives of working-class people? Health care. Education. The housing crisis. Gas prices/energy policy/global warming. Trade policy’s effect on U.S. jobs.

jeremiah-wright.jpgInstead, we ask who loves America more — and by the way, did you know the Rev. Jeremiah Wright volunteered to serve six years first as a Marine and then as a Navy corpsman who provided medical care for President Lyndon Johnson, starting at a time when this nation still subjected him to the most pernicious racial discrimination?

It’s a disgrace, and if you read or listen to the entirety of what Obama said that day in San Francisco, this is exactly what he seemed to be trying to get at: Substantive discussion and action on issues of vital importance to American families has been replaced by shouting about hot-button matters which simply aren’t as important, if at all.

Political operatives, with the complacency and perhaps even conspiratorial cooperation of some media, bait the emotions of people frustrated by the constant struggle to get by, either to get them to the polls or to get them to keep watching. It’s a massive three-card monte, a giant con job.

Should people be bitter? Damn straight. Are they? You betcha. People who love this country should be angry as hell, as were most of American history’s greatest patriots. Injustice should breed contempt, matched by passion for rectification. CNN’s Lou Dobbs — himself too often a perpetrator of hot, empty rhetoric, particularly on immigration — seems to have been caught out by his own viewers in a poll run Tuesday on his Web site:


(H/T to Crooks and Liars for capturing the poll, no longer available on Dobbs’ site.)

Am I, an employee of a corporate-owned, oft-consolidated media outlet, being holier-than-thou? Maybe so; all across America, short-staffed, underpaid and overworked newsrooms too often go for the low-hanging fruit, but many of us still strive to convey useful information that’ll inspire thought, debate and action. And I don’t mean to imply all television journalists are evil; many, including many here in the Bay Area, try hard to bring out the stories that matter.

Yet on a national scale, too many of us fail too often, as do too many of the politicos on whom we report. That’s what I think Obama was talking about, and that’s what you saw last night on ABC.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • DAugusto

    Oh boo hoo. Obama got asked a tough question. Suck it up and deal. Conservatives have been dealing with a media stacked against them for decades. Funny how Josh Richman gets all hot and bothered when his golden boy gets asked a tough question, but not when the New York Times runs an unsubstantiated piece of trash on John McCain.

    And you wonder why your circulation is declining.

  • jh

    So Obama joined his church because he is bitter ?

  • Robert E. Chiles Sr.

    I listened to the ABC debate and was quite disapointed at the questions directed at both candidates. I will no longer listen to Mr. Stepanopolis, as I believed him to be partial to Senator Clinton. I personally liked Senator Clinton in the beginning mainly because of Bill. Both have recently been exposed as selfish and divisive. I generally thought Mr. Gibson to be fair and well prepared, to say the least I was quite dissapointed in him as well. ABC could have done a much better Job.

  • RF

    Obama could well have been fairly asked if Reverend Wright could be characterized as an american clinging to his pulpit out of bitterness. I suspect a consistence response might have had to have been yes, and, on this point, he should have been pressed to give it.

  • Vernell

    Rev. Wright said things that White people hate to hear. They try not..to accept the facts…all of which happened (as stated by Rev. Wright). Remember The sypilis study.? Also…remember America is NOT COLOR BLIND…THIS IS NOT A COLOR BLIND SOCIETY!!! far from it.

  • DG

    The trash that came out of Wright’s mouth was racist hatred and jealousy. “African” Nationalistic Theology? WTF is that? Wright is nothing more than a Klansman with dark skin…with the same blind hatred. If he were white, Sharpton, Jackson, and the rest of the sorry actors would still be banging at the door and giving press conferences from the Church. You see Wright’s influence in Michelle Obama’s stumping and when Barack gets his “preaching” mode on. They spent 20 years in his racist Church…and not influenced? C’mon…give us a break.

  • Katherine Graham Cracker

    What a load of crap. Where were the complaints about Tim Russert and his trophy wife Brian Williams

    Obama didn’t invent anything new or discover anything new about voters or the American media.

    You are an idiot if you believe what you wrote