This is what we need to address
by irish09, Mon Jun 02, 2008 at 07:32:48 AM EDT
I am an intern for the Democratic Party in a swing state. Part of my duties today (besides making coffee of course!) was to answer incoming phone calls. Some people in this area decide to call the local Democratic Party to vent their anger and frustration regarding the primaries and their results. Many of them are angry Clinton supporters, though there are some Obama people who are very upset that she hasn't stepped out yet. I want to tell this community of a conversation that I had this morning with a Catholic woman who identified herself as a lifetime Democratic voter.
This caller is a Clinton supporter and she started the conversation by asking, "Why did our party make this mistake of nominating an inexperienced candidate with so much baggage from Chicago?" I of course provided the company line that the Democratic Party has not endorsed a candidate and that ultimately we are going to support whichever candidate is nominated.
She pressed further, "but even him?!" This is when I started to engage with her and try to push her towards the candidate that does appear to be our persumptive nominee. In regards to the lack of political experience, I told her that Barack Obama has been in elected office for more years before the presidency than George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and many former presidents, including Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Franklin Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson. What matters in this election is judgement, which can be achieved through the sheer number of years in government or the ability to appropriately see a problem and find its solution. In regards to Obama, we know that he wants to push for an end to the war in Iraq, economic reform, and greater health insurance benefits. For McCain, we know that he wants 100 years in Iraq, no substantial change to our nation's "markets," and reductions in a number of items that affect our nation's safety net. Who has the better judgement there to solve our problems?
From here, this caller discussed how women feel so shunned in this process because the Democratic Party itself decided to throw women to the side. I calmly told her that the party doesn't get to decide the nominee, that voters decide through the primary and caucus process. And I told her that women made up the majority of voters in all contests for the Democratic nomination, except for in Puerto Rico. She said that McCain and the Republicans "are moving towards the center and his policies really can appeal to me and many other women." I tried to point out certain policy proposals that I feel would really upset women, including cutting SCHIP, but this didn't seem to go over well with her.
Finally, she went on about Obama's "baggage" which consists of "Chicago machine politics, Farakhan, Ayers, Wright, and that church of his which is so against what I as a Catholic believe in." This was a doozie. I started by asking for where she heard this information - and she said TV. Of course, I told her that she shouldn't accept everything she sees on TV wholesale, which she said that she didn't. I talked about how almost every politician will have a connection to a political machine - it's part of the game. The bigger issue is how a candidate attempts to run a campaign that is as clean as possible, which made me bring up that Obama doesn't accept a dime from lobbyists. I informed her politely that there isn't a connection at all between Farakhan and Obama and that the media, regardless of party, will always blow non-stories into front page news. I also mentioned that all candidates have baggage, include the Clintons.
Then, she asked, "well what about the church? They all hoot and holler." I, like the caller, am a Catholic. I also major in Theology at the University of Notre Dame, which has allowed me to experience all kinds of faith experiences. I told her that I have attended African-American churches that are much like Senator Obama's now former church. It is a completely different style of worship that is interactive and focuses on creating the fire of the Holy Spirit in the church members. It is a wonderful way to express faith and to form a religious community.
Her response, "but what about saying 'God damn' during church services?" I kindly pointed to the former rite of the Catholic Church that included many uses of the word "damn" or "damned." The word "damn" in a religious context has no value as a modern curse word.
Now this set her off, though. She went on, "A person from that kind of a culture that is not advanced on the evolutionary scale cannot serve as the President of the United States. Thank you for listening to me, good bye." Quite the horrible, race-based ending to our conversation.
This phone call shows what exactly we need to address during this campaign. Obama's lack of experience and "baggage" need to be artfully addressed. I obviously failed today because the woman was receptive to none of it. We need to be prepared for this sort of thing, especially as we unify this party. It is also clear that the media narrative about maverick McCain is too quickly accepted by even core Democratic groups. It's obvious that the minute that Obama hits the magic number, he needs to run a biographical ad, and then he, along with 527s and whatever the DNC can muster, need to put together a constant negative ad campaign out against McCain that highlights his many failures in judgement.
Finally, we need to remember that there is a race element to this campaign. That is the world that we live in. We need to find a way to not allow the media's narrative to become one of Obama being a "scary black man." Frankly, talking to this woman, and others over the past few weeks, I am afraid that we are unable to reach many voters who are in our base camp because of certain prejudices. What can we do to look up this base? We need to decide that as soon as possible or else John McCain will run away with this thing and be George Bush's third term.
*I'm not saying that Clinton supporters are all inherently racist. I am merely saying that race is probably a problem for at least some of her voters, which is a reasonable statement.Update: Thanks for placing me on the rec list, my first time! These are important issues and to move forward as a party searching to create change not only in this election but in our culture, we need to discuss them.