Sunday, April 13, 2008

Next Time, Don't Try To Play So Cute And Swipe At Hillary, M'Kay?

So, probably more has been made of this than it deserves, but here's my problem with Barack Obama's recent remarks concerning people in small towns.

The controversy stemmed from remarks Obama made at a private fundraiser in San Francisco on April 6 when he explained his struggles appealing to working-class voters by saying they were frustrated with the loss of jobs under both Republican and Democratic administrations over the last decade, adding: "It's not surprising 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."

Obama wasn't asked why Democrats have trouble appealing to working-class voters. He was asked to explain his trouble appealing to working-class voters who, rather emphatically, when they vote Democratic, choose Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama, whose support comes, to a large extent, from African Americans (from all economic classes) and better-off white Americans with college degrees. (The question commits the usual fallacy of using a term such as "working class" when what is actually meant is "white working class.") Obama's answer may or may not explain why working-class voters sometimes vote, in a "What's the Matter with Kansas" way against their own economic interests when they vote Republican, rather than Democratic. But his answer is in no way responsive to the question of why working-class voters who do vote Democratic choose Hillary Clinton over him. To the extent that voters are voting on abortion or gays or guns or immigration, they're not voting for Clinton, either.

Maybe he was too eager to get in a swipe at the Clinton administration, in a Ralph-Nader-kind-of-way: there's no difference between the Democratic and Republican administrations. That's how his answer sounded to my ears and, if that's what tripped him up, shame on him.

Maybe he was reluctant to say that working-class Americans can sometimes be racist (although then he'd have to explain why he thinks that they're more racist than sexist and I'm not sure he'd get me to agree with him on that). Fair enough, if he'd said that, even though it has an element of truth, he'd be in hotter water than he is right now. And the explanation that they're sometimes racist because they're sold hating on brown people by corporatists who want them to have an enemy other than the corporatists would have gotten lost in the sound-bites on Hardball. Running as the first genuinely competitive African-American presidential candidate is a marathon race through a field of landmines and acknowledging racism is, in the minds of Fox News anchors and squawking heads, being racist.

But perhaps he could have used the question to explain what he does intend to do for working class Americans, why he thinks that he can be more successful than his Democratic predecessors, and to begin reaching out to a branch of the Democratic party that, so far, hasn't been overwhelmed by his promises of "change" and praise for Ronald Reagan and Joe Lieberman to the same degree as college students and well-to-do Democrats. Perhaps he could have used the question to show his support among working-class African Americans and explain how he intends to build upon that to begin attracting white working class voters. There were ways to answer that question that didn't involve insulting people.

Hey, remember when we had to select Obama because otherwise the media was going to pick Clinton to death? Remember how Obama was supposed to have this amazing ju jitsu? Yeah. I do.

Susie's blog does a good job of rejecting the premise of the question, but also leaves unanswered why Clinton does so much better with working class voters than does Obama.


Persephone said...

I've supported Clinton since the beginning, and every time Obama puts his foot in his mouth, I become more sure my decision is the right one.

To me, he's the Jimmy Carter of the Third Millennium. I lived through the first Carter administration, and we cannot survive another one.

And I'm still waiting for an apology for the "typical white person" comment.

Nan said...

Oddly enough, this is where Hillary lost me. I was seeing her as the better option until this weekend. When she chose to spin Obama's comments as elitist rather than taking the opportunity to say something like, yes, there's bitterness, here's why (the Repugnicans have been playing you since 1980) and here's how I can do a better job at changing that than Obama can. The final straw was the lakeside cottage.

Now that she's grabbed for God and guns with both hands, I fully expect her to toss gays to the wolves any day now. I'll still vote for her in November if she's the nominee, but I won't be nearly as happy about it as I would have a few days ago.

LittleIsis said...

hey, don't worry nan, she'd never toss our gays out the window. In fact, she was the only candidate who would meet with the Philly Gay news, Obama and McCain refused, she's the candidate for gays, she cares the most about them, trust me. And i saw her on the faith forum on CNN, she's not a religious fanatic like Bush and Obama, she's actually very nice about her faith. The only argument she's making here is a General election argument and an argument against stereotypes and the insults to her husbands administration.

Susie from Philly said...

Distance. Obama talks about working class people as if he's standing far away, and Clinton talks about them as if she's standing "with" them.

Elitism isn't about having stuff. It's about thinking the only worthy people are the ones who have the same stuff as you.