Saturday, April 12, 2008

Small Town Blues

Barack Obama is getting a lot of press for pointing out why it’s tough for him to get votes in economically depressed portions of Pennsylvania. Here’s the entire quote, not just a snippet.

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.

The Clinton and McCain campaign, along with the right-wing Orcosphere, are all over this and proclaiming Mr. Obama as “elitist” (there’s that word again) and out of touch. Actually, I think he’s right on the money, and what pisses off the other campaigns and especially the Republicans is that he is pointing out the factors that the GOP has been exploiting for generations (remember the “Southern Strategy”?) to ramp up fear, loathing, and bitterness among the rural and blue-collar voters so that they would vote for the Republican candidate who said all the “right” things when it came to guns, God, gays, and Mexicans.

By the way, one of the ways to gauge how important this perceived gaffe is to the future of the Obama campaign is to see the hysterical response of his opponents. It’s an inverse ratio: the louder and more outraged they are, the more trivial the actual event and the sooner it will be forgotten. That’s why they’re trying to make a big deal out of it and make their reaction the story instead of the story itself. And how much do you want to bet that both the Clinton and McCain campaigns will turn this into a fund-raising letter?