Thursday, May 15, 2008


New York Times columnist Frank Rich humorously reported Senator Clinton’s characterization of Barack Obama as an “elite and condescending arugula eater.”

Relatively uneducated white voters in the lower economic classes do not see their values reflected in Obama. Somehow, they see themselves to a greater degree in Clinton. Why?

Senator Clinton is well-educated, and no voter paying attention to the primaries thinks otherwise. She is obviously not a member of the blue collar, working class. The policy differences between the two candidates is negligible. If gender were the issue, it would work against Clinton. So why is she a better mirror than Obama? Hmmm…

In West Virginia, 20 percent of respondents said that race was a factor in their decision and those voters, by overwhelming number, backed Mrs. Clinton.

“Downscale” white voters (as the pundits call those with little formal education and few financial assets) are afraid, or at least suspicious of Obama, because of what his color suggests about non-mainstream ethnic, religious, political and cultural values. His “funny” name reinforces the idea that he is “not one of us.” Some of these voters have said as much to pollsters.

Obama’s color is taken by these voters as a pointer to alien social and cultural values. The Reverend Wright episode reinforces that view for them. We can’t elect somebody we don’t even know! What if he sold the Louisiana Purchase back to France?

Consider also that 80% of black voters now support Obama. You might expect black voters to divide between the candidates much as white voters do. Even allowing that median incomes and educational levels may be lower for black voters, you would have a hard time explaining 80% favoritism on the basis of demographics.

It’s racism, just as it is for the downscale whites, but for black voters brown skin is a symbol for brotherhood and shared values. Both groups make the error of taking skin color as an index to who the person is. Blacks especially, should know better.

When downscale whites tell pollsters they are “uncomfortable” with Obama, they are expressing their true feelings based on their limited experience. I don’t think they are hate-mongers, just uninformed people with narrow life experience and limited conceptual skill. You wouldn’t blame an elephant for being an elephant and it’s hard to blame these people for their racism. (I know that sounds like I eat arugula).

Can Obama do anything to persuade these voters, who have so far preferred Clinton? I don’t think it is effective to dramatize the “plain folks” stereotype as Clinton so insincerely has. She probably believes that worked for her, but it is her white skin that worked.

The Bubba voter does not want to see Obama bowl again or watch him throw back a shot of Jim Beam. They might take notice if Obama revealed his values and the reasons for them. Voters want him to say, in plain terms, not vapid abstractions, what he really believes and why he believes it, about educational priorities, farm subsidies, military readiness, industry regulation, gun control, social security, taxation, carbon capture, the electricity infrastructure, government corruption by big money, oil dependency, the “war” on drugs, immigration, and so on. They do not want platitudes and policy statements, but the personal thought processes that brought the man to those beliefs. Actually, I would like that too.

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