Sunday, April 13, 2008

What's the matter with Democrats?

It could be that my bachelor’s degree, non-profit job and home in the heart of the Midwest have turned me into an elitist, but I think Sen. Obama is right:
So, it depends on where you are, but I think it's fair to say that the places where we are going to have to do the most work are the places where people feel most cynical about government. The people are mis-appre...I think they're misunderstanding why the demographics in our, in this contest have broken out as they are. Because everybody just ascribes it to 'white working-class don't wanna work -- don't wanna vote for the black guy.' That's...there were intimations of that in an article in the Sunday New York Times today - kind of implies that it's sort of a race thing.

Here's how it is: in a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long, and they feel so betrayed by government, and when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn't buy it. And when it's delivered by -- it's true that when it's delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama (laugher), then that adds another layer of skepticism (laughter).

But -- so the questions you're most likely to get about me, 'Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What's the concrete thing?' What they wanna hear is -- so, we'll give you talking points about what we're proposing -- close tax loopholes, roll back,
you know, the tax cuts for the top 1 percent. Obama's gonna give tax breaks to middle-class folks and we're gonna provide health care for every American. So we'll go down a series of talking points.

But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and
they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Um, now these are in some communities, you know. I think what you'll find is, is that people of every background -- there are gonna be a mix of people, you can go in the toughest neighborhoods, you know working-class lunch-pail folks, you'll find Obama enthusiasts. And you can go into places where you think I'd be very strong and people will just be skeptical. The important thing is that you show up and you're doing what you're doing.

- Barack Obama at an April 6 fund-raiser in San Francisco
Recent years have not been kind to the middle and working class. For eight years, these groups have been crushed under the weight of the Bush administration’s failed economic policies. And the despair started much earlier for folks in those Pennsylvania industrial towns. Like the people in the steel town where I grew up, they saw prosperity leave in the Reagan years, never to return.

When people have their way of life threatened, they become the most tribal, the most cynical, the most religious, the most xenophobic, the most fearful, the most concerned with protecting what is theirs. It’s not pretty, but it IS. This does not mean that guns, God and patriotism are not valid parts of our culture, just that in certain times they achieve greater significance.

A lot of people ARE bitter about the state of our country. Hell, I am bitter about the state of our country and, I think, justifiably so.

In 2004’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” Thomas Frank explained “an upside-down world where blue-collar patriots recite the Pledge while they strangle their life chances; where small farmers cast their votes for a Wall Street order that will eventually push them off their land; and where a group of frat boys, lawyers and CEOs has managed to convince the country that it speaks on behalf of the People.”

Obama’s comment last week sounded like a passage from Frank’s New York Times bestseller, which was hailed in liberal circles and even by George Will of all people. Now folks are acting as if the idea of a fearful class, disenfranchised and closing ranks, is some demeaning fantasy of the Obama campaign. Ever the opportunist, Hillary “Annie Oakley” Clinton jumped at the chance to curry favor with Pennsylvania voters:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton activated her entire campaign apparatus to portray Mr. Obama’s remarks as reflective of an elitist view of faith and community. His comments, she said, were “not reflective of the values and beliefs of Americans.”

Mrs. Clinton suggested that Mr. Obama saw religious commitment, hunting and concern about immigration as emotional responses to economic strain rather than as deeply embedded values. “I grew up in a church-going family, a family that believed in the importance of living out and expressing our faith,” she said at a rally in Indianapolis. “The people of faith I know don’t ‘cling to’ religion because they’re bitter. People embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich.”

Later in the day, in Valparaiso, Ind., she reminisced about her father teaching her how to shoot when she was a young girl.

Although she has been a strong supporter of gun control in the past, urging Congress to “buck the gun lobby” as first lady, Mrs. Clinton said, “Americans who believe in the Second Amendment believe it’s a constitutional right; Americans who believe in God believe it’s a matter of personal faith.” (SOURCE)
And this morning, on Meet the Press, that weevil James Carville was carrying on about his love of the Lord and a nice 12-guage so much that I thought for a moment that I had mistakenly turned to Fox News.

The Republican Party has a knack for preying upon a nervous electorate. They have made great inroads with “common men and women” in recent years by pretending to be one of them and capitalizing on exclusionary religion, xenophobia, and fears surrounding safety and race. By leveraging fear, they have convinced many people to vote against their best interests.

So nice to see Democrats like Clinton and Carville using Republican tactics to bludgeon other Democrats, trotting out the not-Christian-enough, too-elitist, not-like-us charges. The greatest offense is that I think that Hillary Clinton, James Carville and a host of other Democrats agree with what Barack Obama said. His comments revealed a sociological truth that can be easily proven. But in this presidential contest of Dem vs. Dem, It is better to co-opt Republican talking points and win, than stick to liberal principles and unify. Proof again that Hillary Clinton represents politics as usual.

CHECK OUT: Bitter Voters for Obama (Hat tip to Jack and Jill Politics)

Just priceless...Bill Clinton in 1991, while running for president:
"The reason (George H. W. Bush's tactic) works so well now is that you have all these economically insecure white people who are scared to death," Clinton was quoted saying by the Los Angeles Times in September 1991. SOURCE
Will the Clinton camp put away the fake outrage now?
UPDATE: Thomas Frank, author of "What's the Matter with Kansas," weighs in on the "bitter" flap.

UPDATE: dnA breaks it down at Jack and Jill Politics:
But this is how white folks "keep it real," by demanding that Rhodes Scholars tell folksy stories to hide their intellect, by rewarding New England blue bloods for wearing cowboy hats and talking in affected southern accents, by punishing C students as elite because they ordered Swiss on a cheesesteak. Prioritizing cultural norms at the expense of a substantive debate is no less a hustle for Clinton and McCain than it was for Marion Barry.

If there's a lesson working class white folks can learn from the black community, it's that these people are hustlers, and just because they look, talk, or act like you, doesn't mean they will do a thing for you.

It bears mentioning that any sociologist or historian will tell you Obama is factually correct. There is a reason the Ku Klux Klan's rise and rebirth occurred during the two most economically depressed moments in the history of the American South, Reconstruction and the Great Depression. There is a reason radical Islam appeals to the destitute, and there is a reason Louis Farrakhan and Chuck Colson find so many converts in prison. (SOURCE)


GoldenAh said...

It's not just that the supporters of Billary are angry that she doesn't have a chance of winning the Dem. Nom. They are angry that it was supposedly stolen by cheating and affirmative action via caucuses by a black man (or half-black).

These Democrats don't mind black people as long as they know their place (as the help). Obama usurps that world view. Billary's been saying he cannot be elected because he is black since the get-go.

It's good to see Democrat supporters of Billary finally show their true colors: blacks are only votes to them, not intelligent and compelling competition.

NOLA radfem said...

Hillary is so desperate to change the subject. After weeks of news coverage about HER lies and misstatements (like dodging bullets in Bosnia - not), she again jumps on Obama about nothing.

Of course working class white people are bitter - they're getting screwed by rich white people, and somehow the white people in charge always manage to change the subject and get them to vote against their own self-interest. Of course racism and guns and a divisive form of religion are where they retreat with their bitterness. It's not elitism to say that, and I know, Hillary, because, unlike you, I come from actual working class white people - you know, the kind who not only don't own a summer home like the Rodhams did, but don't even own property at all. Believe me, most members of my family vote Republican and are totally obsessed with the idea that somewhere "welfare queens" are getting something for nothing. They SHOULD be obsessed with Haliburton and Bear-Sterns and CORPORATE welfare, since that's what's killing us.

Tami, I love the mention of "What's the Matter with Kansas." Maybe Hillary should also read Susan Faludi's "Stiffed," which also gives amazing insight into the "angry white male" thing.

Since when is seeing the truth about working class people "elitist?" Sheesh.

ac said...

Tami - while I haven't read "What's the Matter with Kansas" it sounds very similar to a book I am reading now called "Deer Hunting with Jesus" by Joe Baegant - excellent read on rural america's not so slow slide into economic flatline and their confused continuation of support for the knuckleheads who are causing their decline.

I'm starting to be convinced that if race is the elephant in the living room, class, or economic disparity, is the 800 pound gorilla standing behind the elephant. We're going to need to address both gaps to successively get this country back on track.

I think it was over at Jack and Jill that someone sagely commented that Hillary gets in trouble for lying while Obama gets in trouble for telling the truth. Lord am I tired of this whole mess already. You?

Tami said...

Nola and AC,

I just found this great "Netflix for books" called Bookswim. I joined because I thought it might help decrease the ungodly amount of money I spend on books every year--not to mention the space they take up. Anywho, I just added Stiffed and Deer Hunting with Jesus to my pool of books to rent.

Hilary said...

What a great analysis. Reminds me again that I need to read What's the Matter with Kansas. Maybe during my summer break.

Brother OMi said...

I live in Dayton, Ohio, in Old North Dayton to be exact. Old North Dayton is a white working class neighborhood. They have been hit hard (thank you Nafta) and they always ask WHY DID YOU MOVE TO DAYTON?

Jennifer said...

AGHHH!!! I read your post this morning before my morning coffee and now the adrenaline from my frustration with the Clinton camp (as well as the media who keep reporting the sound bites instead of the nuanced and ACCURATE substance of Obama's speech) has me wide awake.

I agree with everything you and the other commenters have written. What strikes me is the problem with new media/technology--which is to say sound bites. What the Clintons seem to be able to do well is to work in a world of sound bites--pithy phrases and brief statements that ignore the complexity of situations, like race and class disparities in America (btw, I love ac's description of class being the 800 lb gorilla behind the elephant that is race).

I mean, the fact that you, Tami, point to excellent traditional print sources as validation of your points, and that others here have as well, speaks to the fact that these issues are SO COMPLICATED that we need many, many words and the space to have those words reflect our complex reality.


Obama deals in words and sentences and paragraphs--he doesn't just give us soundbites when asked about thorny issues that require real knowledge and thought.

But the Clintons...I am leaning ever more towards taking a position of voting for the Green party or a write-in independent if H. Clinton weasels her way onto the ballot by taking her horse-and-pony show all the way to the convention.

Tami said...


I think you are dead on with the soundbite vs. paragraph stuff. It seems to have been the way of this race that the media jump all over some distorted piece of a comment and then NEW media digs around and overturns the original thesis. No wonder journalists hate bloggers so.


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