Brooks thinks Obama wouldn't seem to "fit[] in naturally" at an Applebee's salad bar -- maybe because Applebee's doesn't have them

››› ››› ANDREW WALZER

On MSNBC, David Brooks asserted that "less educated" and "downscale" people "look at [Sen. Barack] Obama, and they don't see anything," adding: "And so, Obama's problem is he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee's salad bar, and people think he fits in naturally there." Applebee's officials have confirmed to Media Matters that its restaurants do not have salad bars.

During the 2 p.m. ET hour of the June 2 edition of MSNBC Live, discussing Barack Obama's presidential campaign with CNBC chief Washington correspondent John Harwood, New York Times columnist David Brooks asserted that "less educated" and "downscale" people "look at Obama, and they don't see anything." He added: "Obama's problem is he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee's salad bar, and people think he fits in naturally there." Media Matters for America contacted the consumer relations department at Applebee's, which confirmed that Applebee's restaurants do not have salad bars.

Brooks' claim about Applebee's, which was noted by the blog Hoffmania!, recalls CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley's reported suggestion in 2004 that Sen. John Kerry's having ordered green tea in an Iowa restaurant exemplified what Crowley reportedly referred to as his inability to "bridge the gap" with "most of America and how they live." According to a November 16, 2004, Palm Beach Post article, Crowley gave a speech in which she said that in January 2003, she and Kerry (D-MA) "met for breakfast at the Holiday Inn in Dubuque, Iowa. 'I'd like to start out with some green tea,' Kerry told the waitress, who stared at him for a moment before responding, 'We have Lipton's.' " The article reported that Crowley said: "There were many green tea instances ... There's a very large disconnect between the Washington politicians and most of America and how they live. Bush was able to bridge that gap, and Kerry was not." In fact, as Media Matters noted at the time, according to Lipton's product locator, green tea was available (and still is available in 2008) at the Dubuque, Iowa, Kmart.

In introducing Brooks, Harwood stated: "David, you have argued in your column that Barack Obama at the beginning of the year was leading a movement that was shaking up American politics, but that over time he's become more and more of a conventional politician. Why do you say that, and what do you mean?" Brooks responded that "the movement hit some natural parameters among highly educated, affluent people, people who live in places like Portland, Oregon," then claimed that "the magic is not felt by a lot of people. It's not felt, obviously, by a lot of less educated people, downscale people. They just look at Obama, and they don't see anything." After claiming that Obama "doesn't seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee's salad bar, and people think he fits in naturally there," Brooks added: "And so he's had to change to try to be more like that Applebee's guy, and as he's done that, he's become much more transactional, much more, 'I'm going to deliver this, and this, and this for you' on policy."

Later, during the June 2 edition of MSNBC's Race for the White House, NBC chief White House correspondent and host David Gregory replayed Brooks' remark about Obama. Asked for comment, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson asserted: "Well, you know, is he -- he's not an Applebee's guy -- is he an Olive Garden guy? I tend to take the sociology a little more seriously when it's delivered by people who actually eat at Applebee's, you know, more than once in a decade."

From the 2 p.m. ET hour of the June 2 edition of MSNBC Live:

HARWOOD: Now we're five months 'til the general election, and one of the questions of the campaign is: Is this the same Barack Obama right now that it was at the beginning of the year when he set off so much excitement? We're joined now by David Brooks, one of the most provocative columnists on the op-ed pages of The New York Times. David, thanks for joining us.

BROOKS: Good to be here with you, John.

HARWOOD: David, you have argued in your column that Barack Obama at the beginning of the year was leading a movement that was shaking up American politics, but that over time he's become more and more of a conventional politician. Why do you say that, and what do you mean?

BROOKS: Well, the movement hit some natural parameters among highly educated, affluent people, people who live in places like Portland, Oregon. There is a movement, and that movement is still going on. And it's big. It's a big, historic movement, but the magic is not felt by a lot of people. It's not felt, obviously, by a lot of less educated people, downscale people. They just look at Obama, and they don't see anything. And so, Obama's problem is he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee's salad bar, and people think he fits in naturally there. And so he's had to change to try to be more like that Applebee's guy, and as he's done that, he's become much more transactional, much more, "I'm going to deliver this, and this, and this for you" on policy. I've been speaking to Obama campaign people in the last few days. I think they're a little too complacent about the fall election. I think they don't quite realize they're going to have to do a few more big changes to get his identity more in tune with independent voters, who right now see Barack Obama as Jeremiah Wright's guy and sort of a question mark, an attractive question mark.

From the June 2 edition of MSNBC's Race for the White House with David Gregory:

GREGORY: First smart take. The New York Times' David Brooks, talking to John Harwood on MSNBC today, says Obama still has an image problem with many independent voters. Listen.

BROOKS [video clip]: Obama's problem is he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee's salad bar, and people think he fits in naturally there. And so he's had to change to try to be more like that Applebee's guy, and as he's done that, he's become much more transactional, much more, "I'm going to deliver this, and this, and this for you" on policy. I've been speaking to Obama campaign people in the last few days. I think they're a little too complacent about the fall election. I think they don't quite realize they're going to have to do a few more big changes to get his identity more in tune with independent voters, who right now see Barack Obama as Jeremiah Wright's guy and sort of a question mark, an attractive question mark.

GREGORY: I think it's a very interesting point, Todd, and something that the Obama campaign needs to start contending with soon. What do you say?

TODD PURDUM (Vanity Fair national editor and political correspondent): No, I think it's an excellent point, but I think one of Barack Obama's bigger strengths when he ran for the Senate in Illinois was how well he was able to campaign downstate. Let's not forget, his grandparents are, you know, corny as Kansas in August. They're his mother's parents. They're from Kansas. He talks about growing up eating not only sashimi in Hawaii, but Jell-O salad with grape halves, which as I can tell as a son of the Midwest, is a quintessentially kind of Midwestern dish. So, if he could let that side of himself out, loosen up a little bit, eat a few doughnuts and hot dogs, and not worry so much about his diet, it may sound trivial, I think that kind of stuff is stylistically important, and I think he has the ability to do it. He certainly has the potential to do it if he just pays attention.

GREGORY: I knew we'd get an allusion to Broadway before long. Thanks, Todd. Gene, you're take on that?

ROBINSON: Well, you know, is he -- he's not an Applebee's guy -- is he an Olive Garden guy? I tend to take the sociology a little more seriously when it's delieverd by people who actually eat at Applebee's, you know, more than once in a decade, so --

HARWOOD: You don't?

Posted In
Elections
Network/Outlet
MSNBC, The New York Times
Person
David Brooks
Show/Publication
MSNBC Live
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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