Thursday, April 24, 2008

For Obama, a Struggle to Win Over Key Blocs - New York Times

For Obama, a Struggle to Win Over Key Blocs - New York Times: "Although some polling evidence hints at the depth of racial attitudes in this country and the obstacles Mr. Obama faces winning white voters, it has historically proved challenging to measure how racial attitudes factor into voter decisions. (Respondents do not tend to announce to pollsters that they will not vote for a candidate because he or she is black.) [BUT] It is also hard to discount that Mr. Obama has arrived at this place in his candidacy after winning big victories in very white states." ["But" added]

It isn't race--it's class. But no matter how much evidence to the contrary, pundits are still harping on race.

Race benefits Obama: he would not have won the majority of black votes if he were white any more than Hillary would have won a large block of women if she were male. Of course, it's one of those counterfactuals, but my educated guess is that race doesn't hurt Obama with white voters so much as it helps him with black voters. His problem is that he can't connect with the working class. Among some blacks race tips the balance--after all, Clinton and Obama are very similar when it comes to policy and competence so why not use race as a tie-breaker and vote for a favorite son? There's nothing wrong, or racist, with that anymore than there's something wrong with voting for Hillary because she's a woman--another tie-breaker.

So why do we keep talking about race?

(1) Because we're comfortable talking about race. We Americans have a shameful past; we fought the good fight and made things better, even if there's still a long way to go. We're even comfortable admitting that we still have a race problem--and are still trying to improve. It's part of the grand American story. What we are not willing to admit is that we have a class problem--or that our detestable history of racism has been largely responsible for it.

(2) The commentariat just loves demonizing the white working class--obscuring their snobbery with moralism. Very Victorian. They don't want to admit that they don't like working class people because most working class people are ignorant, inarticulate, conventional, tasteless and boring. So they pretend they disapprove of working class people because they're racists--which, by and large, they are not. They massage their snobbery into righteousness.

(3) Members of the chattering class do not want to admit that they are an elite. I've actually seen a number of articles in response to Bittergate, where Obama supporters point out that Obama is not as rich as the other candidates and, therefore, cannot be accused of elitism. I wonder if these writers are serious. We all know that even if a certain level of wealth is necessary for elite status, it isn't sufficient. Or maybe more precisely, that given a certain level of wealth, your place in the social pecking order is not determined by how rich you are beyond the entry-level wealth requirement for elite status.

I don't think this is going to be a serious issue in the November election. Even if white working class voters don't warm to Obama they'll vote for him. Unless his supporters are so keen to explain why white working class voters aren't enthusiastic by accusing them of racism--and so alienate them.

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