Focusing on his real audience - the unpledged Democratic superdelegates, and the independent voters who will ultimately swing the November election - here's what Barack Obama needs to say tonight during the debate in Philadelphia (assuming he hasn't sufficiently damaged himself already):
"...I'm glad that Senator Clinton has again brought up my remarks about small-town America, because I do have a few things to say about that. Obviously, as I have repeatedly admitted, I regret my choice of words and intended no disrespect. Yet while we continue to fight over words, we risk ignoring the real problem: that actions speak louder than words. And it is the actions of several recent administrations - or perhaps I should say inactions - that have put small-town hard-working Americans so deep in the hole.
"I'm speaking not just of President Bush, of whom we naturally expected so little, but also of my opponent's husband, of whom we expected so much.
"Senator Clinton has called my words 'elitist.' But where was she during the '90s, when she was supposedly gaining White House experience, when Bill Clinton took a series of actions that benefited the elite at the expense of the small-town worker? It is a matter of record that NAFTA, which President Clinton fought for and signed in 1993, without sufficient protections for domestic workers, has severely hastened the exodus of jobs from so many of these towns, and worsened the living conditions of the very people that Senator Clinton professes to speak for today.
"In 2000, her husband also successfully pushed for giving permanent trade privileges to China, again without adequate safeguards for adversely affected American workers. Her husband also said, 'the evidence is clear that not just in the long run but in the near run, we'll have more job gains than job losses' out of these trade deals. Well, tell that to the small-town workers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in America. In fact, one of the Democratic congressmen here in Pennsylvania, Tim Holden, said a few years back that 'Pennsylvania has been the most adversely affected state in the union as a result of these trade agreements that we entered into.' Those were elitist actions, and actions speak louder than words.
"You know, it was Henry Ford who once said, 'I gotta pay my workers enough so there is somebody to buy the cars they are making.' But now we have a situation where companies are firing their own customers. They're shipping the jobs overseas, then goods get made overseas, then the goods are shipped back here to be sold - but the problem is, laid-off Pennsylvanians can't afford to buy them. That's all the result of elitist actions, and actions speak louder than words.
"By the way, organized labor leaders noticed all this happening back when Senator Clinton was partnering with her husband. Way back in 1995, one top Democratic labor strategist said in the newspapers that 'there's a lingering feeling among many in the rank and file that you can't quite put all your trust in this guy.' Another said, 'They screwed us on NAFTA, what have they done for us?' I'd invite Senator Clinton, who today champions the economic underdog, to tell us why she never uttered a word of protest during her in-house training for the presidency.
"Yes, actions speak louder than words - and so do statistics. The Census Bureau reported in 2000 that the income gap between rich and poor actually widened during the Clinton years, and that every household income category below $80,000 lost ground during the Clinton years. The median wage, adjusted for inflation, was actually lower than what it had been in 1989, when the first George Bush took office. And, in fact, during the final year of the Clinton era, the average CEO compensation at Fortune 500 companies was $37.5 million, while the average worker salary of all companies was $38,000.
"So let's take a break from all this back-and-forth about bad wordplay, and give this issue the context it deserves. I would expect John McCain to make the 'elitist' charge, because it's a great way to divert attention from his new economic plan - which offers fiscally irresponsible tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, including CEOs, at the expense of the small-town Americans whom he professes to revere, and which offers huge new tax cuts to the same corporate sector that is outsourcing these jobs I'm talking about. But I expected better from Senator Clinton. The least she can do, right now, is to explain the elitist economic actions of the Clinton era - explain and defend, or reject and denounce. Unless she truly believes that actions are less important than words.
"Senator? Go right ahead."