'Today' Interview: Barack's Bitter-gate Rephrasing No Better

Would it have been any better for Barack Obama to have said people "rely" on bigotry rather than "cling" to it? I don't think so, but apparently he does . . .

This morning's "Today" aired an extended clip from an interview Meredith Vieira recently conducted of Barack and Michelle Obama. The full interview will be shown Saturday on MSNBC. While I didn't detect any blockbuster moments, there were a few notable nuggets.

On the issue of why he didn't distance himself from Rev. Wright sooner, Obama says: "When those first snippets came out, I thought it was important to give him the benefit of the doubt." That would suggest Obama actually had some doubt as to where Rev. Wright stood. Is that credible, after 20 years in the angry pastor's pews?

View the entire "Today" excerpt here.

Then there was this exchange about Bitter-gate.

BARACK: The comments I made in San Francisco at the end of a long day . . .were very poorly phrased. I should have said "angry and frustrated."

MEREDITH VIEIRA: Instead of "bitter."

BARACK: I should have said "people rely on" their religious faith during these times of trouble.

VIEIRA: Instead of "cling to."

BARACK: As opposed to "cling to."

But Obama conveniently focuses only on the reference he made in San Franciso to religion. Here is the entire sentence:

[I]t'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.

How would it have been any less insulting for Obama to have said that during tough economic times, people "rely" on "guns . . . or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment"?

As for Michelle Obama, I can imagine campaign staffers nervously looking on, hoping she wouldn't make any gaffes of the "first time I'm proud of my country" or we’re a country that is “just downright mean” variety. There wasn't anything approaching that magnitude on the gaffe-o-meter. But I can aides might have been holding their breath during this exchange.

VIEIRA: Are there moments when you look back and you go "gee, I wish I could turn the clock back?"

MICHELLE: I was always the one, when he was talking about entering politics, would say "please no, do something else. There's just such an easier way to make a living. So yeah, there's still a level of cynicism, that's there."

Michelle didn't say precisely what her cynicism is directed at; perhaps at the political process. And she did go on to describe the way Barack has inspired people. Still, I can imagine a campaign coach taking Mrs. Obama aside and gently suggesting she lose the "cynicism."

Beyond that, I'd invite readers to view the video and observe the couple's contrasting body language. Barack sits up straight and looks upbeat and in control. Michelle is often hunched, at times giving off uncomfortable, even downcast, vibes.

As for Vieira, she seemed the most relaxed of the three, and while her questioning was far from hostile, neither was it of the softball "how do you two manage to be so great?" variety by any means. Give Meredith a solid B+, Barack a B and Michelle a gentlelady's C.

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