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Obama Counters 'Elitism' Charge With Tale of Hard Times

By Shailagh Murray
Bristling from charges that he is an out-of-touch elitist, Sen. Barack Obama offered an unusually detailed biographical sketch today in a speech to newspaper editors and executives.

"Contrary to current reports, I wasn't born into a lot of money," he told the group. "I was raised by a single mother with the help of my grandparents who grew up in small-town Kansas and went to school on the G.I. Bill and bought their home through an FHA loan."

The hard times were just beginning.

"My mother had to use food stamps at one point," Obama continued. "But she still got her education and she still made sure that through scholarships I got a chance to go to some of the best schools around, which helped me get into some of the best colleges around, which gave me loans that Michelle and I just finished paying off not that many years ago."

Obama often talks about his mother having raised him on her own, and the riff about his college loans has surfaced from time to time. He's covered all this ground and more in his two books. But he rarely offered such a stark and detailed picture of his upbringing on the stump -- until the "bitter" flap erupted last week.

The controversy was sparked by comments Obama made to a group of San Francisco donors about the festering economic frustrations of working-class voters, leading them to "cling" to guns, religion, and an opposition to illegal immigration.

Obama's words -- which he has repeatedly conceded were ill phrased -- were decried by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain as smacking of Ivy League liberal condescension. Yet as Obama, a Columbia University and Harvard Law School graduate, asserted to his newspaper audience, he has plenty in common with the people he allegedly disparaged.

"My story is a quintessentially American story. It's the same story that has made this country a beacon for the world -- a story of struggle and sacrifice on the part of my forebears, a story of overcoming great odds," Obama said. "I carry that story with me each and every day. It's why I wake up every day and do this."

By Web Politics Editor  |  April 14, 2008; 6:51 PM ET
 
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