In yet another high-minded day on the campaign trail, the two sides are now battling over the propriety of President Obama’s having yesterday invoked his modest upbringing thusly: “I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth.” This was taken by campaign reporters, and the Romney campaign, as a not-so-subtle swipe at his well-born opponent, who this morning fired back: “I’m certainly not going to apologize for my dad and his success in life. He was born poor. He worked his way to become very successful despite the fact that he didn’t have a college degree and one of the things he wanted to do was provide for me and for my brother and sisters. I’m not going to apologize for my dad’s success. But I know the president likes to attack fellow Americans. He’s always looking for a scapegoat, particularly those that have been successful like my dad.”
This brought a response from the White House—press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that anyone who thinks Obama’s “silver spoon” comment was about them “might be a little oversensitive.”
Here’s what been lost in all this. Yes, of course Obama has a certain private equity titan in mind when he talks sterling cutlery. But what’s also true is that Obama has been using the “silver spoon” line about himself since long before Mitt Romney came along. It was a standard bit of his repertoire in the 2008 campaign, particularly in the months when Hillary Clinton was trying to label him as an effete elitist. Michelle Obama also leaned heavily on the phrase in talking about herself and her husband on the trail. Here are just three of many, many invocations in 2008:
“Barack didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth.” Michelle Obama, April 16, 2008, at Haverford College
“I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. My father left when I was 2.” Barack Obama, May 31, 2008, in Great Falls, Montana
“Here’s a man who wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, somebody who came up the hard way, someone who never forgot where he came from.” Barack Obama, August 30, 2008, introducing Joe Biden as his running mate in Monaca, Penn.
No question, there’s going to be a clash all race long over the Obama campaign’s efforts to paint Romney as an out-of-touch capitalist who hasn’t known a day of hardship in his life. But the “silver spoon” tussle is a reminder that this clash is not going to be mere opportunism on the part of the Obama team. It is is going to be the inevitable conflict between Romney and a candidate who has for a long time now been running on—and his rivals might say trading off—his rise from deeply obscure beginnings. In other words: believe it or not, Mitt, this ain’t all about you.
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