It's a gaffe only in the sense of letting slip a truth most people think to radioactive to state in public. From Mahablog:
It always amuses me when upper-class people with power and privilege start screeching about “elitism.” Today all manner of political, media and blogging elites — people with advanced degrees who’ve never been to a tractor pull in their lives — are snorting about elitism because Barack Obama said something that anyone with a real redneck background knows to be true — working-class, small-town whites feel left behind, bitter and frustrated.
This remark allegedly is an insult to working-class, small-town whites in Pennsylvania. I have a different perspective. Granted, my background is southern Missouri small-town working-class white, rather than Pennsylvania small-town working-class white, and there are subtle cultural distinctions between the two. While I may have kinfolk in half the trailer parks in the Ozarks, I admit that doesn’t qualify me to speak for Pennsylvanians. But over the past forty or so years small-town, working-class white America has been living through the shared experience of diminishing opportunity combined with increasing financial instability.
In community after community, the old factory or mining jobs that sustained the local economy are gone. Forty years ago, young folks left high school, signed on to jobs that paid Union-obtained wages and benefits, and looked forward to all the trappings of American middle-class affluence — homes, new cars, trips to Disney World. Now the bright young people move away to cities, and those who remain in the small towns sustain themselves — barely — by flipping hamburgers or cashiering at Wal-Mart. Read more.
UPDATE: From someone who was at the San Francisco fundraiser:
At the end of Obama's remarks standing between two rooms of guests -- the fourth appearance in California after traveling earlier in the day from Montana -- a questioner asked, "some of us are going to Pennsylvania to campaign for you. What should we be telling the voters we encounter?"
Obama's response to the questioner was that there are many, many different sections in Pennsylvania comprised of a range of racial, geographic, class, and economic groupings from Appalachia to Philadelphia. So there was not one thing to say to such diverse constituencies in Pennsylvania. But having said that, Obama went on say that his campaign staff in Pennsylvania could provide the questioner (an imminent Pennsylvania volunteer) with all the talking points he needed. But Obama cautioned that such talking points were really not what should be stressed with Pennsylvania voters.
Instead he urged the volunteer to tell Pennsylvania voters he encountered that Obama's campaign is about something more than programs and talking points. It was at this point that Obama began to talk about addressing the bitter feelings that many in some rural communities in Pennsylvania have about being brushed aside in the wake of the global economy. Senator Obama appeared to theorize, perhaps improvidently given the coverage this week, that some of the people in those communities take refuge in political concerns about guns, religion and immigration. But what has not so far been reported is that those statements preceded and were joined with additional observations that black youth in urban areas are told they are no longer "relevant" in the global economy and, feeling marginalized, they engage in destructive behavior. Unlike the week's commentators who have seized upon the remarks about "bitter feelings" in some depressed communities in Pennsylvania, I gleaned a different meaning from the entire answer. . . .
The response that followed sounded unscripted, in the moment, as if he were really trying to answer a question with intelligent conversation that explained more about what was going on in the Pennsylvania communities than what was germane to his political agenda. I had never heard him or any politician ever give such insightful, analytical responses. The statements were neither didactic nor contrived to convince. They were simply hypotheses (not unlike the kind made by de Tocqueville three centuries ago ) offered by an observer familiar with American communities. And that kind of thoughtfulness was quite unexpected in the middle of a political event. In my view, the way he answered the question was more important than the sociological accuracy or the cause and effect hypotheses contained in the answer. It was a moment of authenticity demonstrating informed intelligence, and the speaker's desire to have the audience join him in a deeper understanding of American politics. Read more.
There's a mind at work here; he's not some robopol.