Department of Corrections: Barack Obama on Annie Oakley and Hillary Clinton

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Mr. Wilentz is a professor of history at Princeton University.

In his latest round of ad feminam slurs, Senator Barack Obama has denigrated Senator Hillary Clinton and her position on gun regulation by likening her to Annie Oakley. But once again, Obama has shot himself in the foot.

Annie Oakley was one of the first great female superstars in American history. Born in poverty in western Ohio, she began hunting when she was nine years old, and sold hunting game to locals in order to support her siblings and widowed mother. Her sharpshooting abilities eventually led her to become the star act in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

Obama appears to think Oakley was some kind of wild shoot-'em-up desperado. But she was strictly an entertainer -- and an enormously successful one. In addition to adoring crowds around the country, she performed before Queen Victoria and other crowned heads of state. Her aim was so true that, at the request of the Prince of Prussia, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II, she shot the ashes off of a cigarette he held in his hand.

Later in life, Oakley faced smears from the yellow press accusing her of moral laxity and drug abuse. She successfully sued dozens of her accusers, including the newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, who paid $15,000 (about $300,000 in today's money) in legal judgments. She then supported numerous philanthropic causes, including the women's rights movement.

Annie Oakley was one of the heroines of American history. Any woman would be proud to be linked to her memory

Senator Obama, in trying to sneer his way out of his latest mess, merely shows, once again, that he just doesn't get it -- whether it's the courage and decency of ordinary working people or the proud heritage of American women.

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Randll Reese Besch - 7/4/2008

Wilnetz shows his bias for Hillary in his unfounded attack on Obama's comment on the veracity, or lack thereof, concerning Hillary's recent take on guns. He was pointing out her lack of real interest in it and the cynical way she was using it. A bit more depth on Obama's part in this minor tiff I think. One lost by Wilnetz's reading of the statement. Disappointing to me such a person has such a shallow grasp in this are of both political and social context.

Also a nice echo of her recent inflated stories of heroism from her past that didn't exist. Perhaps he should have invoked Baron Munchhausen in relation to her whoppers she had related about for months previously. But then such an obscure reference might have pegged him again as an elitist. As if that's a bad thing.

Shawn McHale - 4/19/2008

Sean Wilentz seems to have access to the inner thoughts of Obama, as he writes that "Obama appears to think Oakley was some kind of wild shoot-'em-up desperado." Amazing, I had no idea that is what Obama meant. I stand corrected.

And this penetrating writing, bereft of cliches!: "Senator Obama, in trying to sneer his way out of his latest mess, merely shows, once again, that he just doesn't get it -- whether it's the courage and decency of ordinary working people or the proud heritage of American women."

Give me a handkerchief!

Robert Smith - 4/17/2008

This article amounts to an absurd lie.
Obama was clearly criticizing Clinton's recent claims about being a gun advocate, despite a very long anti-gun record.

There is no way any reasonable or honest person could conclude that Obama was attempting to insult Annie Oakley.

Robert Lewis Ooley - 4/16/2008

This must be a joke. He was not insulting Annie Oakley or women. He was mocking Clinton, and for good reason. She supports gun control but pretends to be a fan of guns when it suits her purpose of capitalizing on Obama's recent "elitist" statement and guns and religion. She was being duplicitous, and he called her on it. I thought it was funny.

Jim Cane - 4/16/2008

Its not very hard to see that if Dr. Wilentz had bothered to take the 3-4 minutes required to track down what Obama actually said (either a transcript or the readily-available video footage) he might have saved himself the time required to type out his post.

Brent Wilson - 4/16/2008

I find exactly zero evidence that Obama "appears to think Oakley was some kind of wild shoot-'em-up desperado" from his brief mention of her in his statement. Indeed, I am not even sure how it is possible for one to interpret it that way unless they are deliberately assuming a particular set of motives from the outset. In most of these types of textual analysis, it is customary to provide at least some sense of where the interpretation of another's words are justified. You clearly have not done so here.

Do you have some evidence other than this particular statement regarding Obama's thoughts on Annie Oakley or can you give us some insight as to how this particular statement can reasonably be interpreted in the way you apparently have?

Benjamin Alpers (Guest Blogger) - 4/16/2008

I completely agree with you regarding Obama's intentions. I didn't mean to suggest that he was making a deep historical comment.

However Obama's meaning was entirely clear.

By joking that Clinton "is talking like she's Annie Oakley," Obama was clearly contrasting Clinton and Oakley. Obama's was suggesting that Clinton is pretending that she is a woman with a deep personal involvement with firearms. In the context of a speech in which Obama was touting his devotion to Second Amendment rights, Oakley (whose role in the speech was pretty simple: a woman who actually uses guns) is an entirely positive character.

It's entirely possible to argue that Obama was pandering to gun enthusiasts as much as Clinton (though he was doing a more convincing job of it). But to say, as Sean Wilentz does, that Obama was attempting to damn Clinton by suggesting that she was like Annie Oakley to entirely misread what he said.

Daniel Czitrom - 4/16/2008

I wonder if Sean Wilentz and other Hillary supporters endorse her very Republican sounding charges of "elitism" against Obama. They seem desperate to me, not to mention absurd coming from a Wellesley and Yale Law School grad worth over $100 million. And just when was it that the Clintons became the champions of the white working class? Was it their support for NAFTA, their incomprehensible health care plan, their failure to ever lift a finger to promote labor law reform or strengthen the labor movement? Or maybe it was their cheerleading for a morally, strategically, and politically disastrous war that has killed and wounded plenty of the white working class. Many of us support Obama over Hillary not because we are misogynists but because we prefer his politics and believe he will make a stronger candidate in November.

M Whitehurst - 4/16/2008

Perhaps the analogy, according to what Obama says and as the minibio above reports, is that Annie Oakley was an 'entertainer.' Certainly, some of Hillary's recent comments have not been based in truth but rather colorful stories which are, without a doubt, entertainment and little more.

Lisa Kazmier - 4/16/2008

I highly doubt Obama is making a deep historical comment. When did he have time to get a PhD in history?

Sometimes I wonder when is enough enough for Dr. Wilentz, given he's gathered a reputation of being a "shill" for HRC. I guess he's not concerned that it might affect him academically. And I guess he's not concerned that HRC is such a longshot that he might be dissing the next POTUS.

Benjamin Alpers (Guest Blogger) - 4/16/2008

It's a nice Annie Oakley bio, I agree.

But Obama's comparison was sarcastic: "She's talking like she's Annie Oakley."

Far from trying to insult Annie Oakley, as Sean Wilentz suggests he was doing here, Barack Obama was trying to suggest that Hillary Clinton is no Annie Oakley.

And he's right.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 4/15/2008

An "Annie Oakley" is also a free pass, which is what both Senators got from the liberal media until they started to savage each other lately. Thank goodness they're both so awful, so we need not worry either one will run out of ammunition.

Cheryl Suchors - 4/15/2008

Senator Clinton and Annie Oakley do have a lot in common. They work hard, break gender barriers, get shot at a lot, and shoot straight. I'm all for both of them! Thanks for the article.

R.R. Hamilton - 4/15/2008

Mr. Wilentz, you have far too much time on your hands. Nice little mini-bio of Annie Oakley though.

Tara Adler - 4/15/2008

Hurray Sean Wilentz! Thank you for pointing out that far from a denigration this is a compliment to Senator Clinton!

sebastion n. - 4/14/2008

Looks like Obama has resorted to personal attacks since he can't debate or win on personal issues. So he attacks Hillary on this. Why doesn't Obama stop by and smoke some weed with some locals, to show he's in touch, I'm sure he wouldn't choke after he took a hit, like Hillary did after sipping a drink. Since after all, it wouldn't be a stranger to him.