by shef, Mon May 26, 2008 at 12:15:57 AM EDT
Crossposted at Ich Bin Ein Oberliner.
Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again ... ."
This has already been written about ad nauseam. But it isn't this quote in particular that bothers me: it's the sentiment behind it.
Also, it was the last straw.
More on the flip.
There exists a certain demographic, for which, in our political discourse, we hold great reverence. I say we rather loosely; I mean, of course, those nattering nabobs, the Serious and Respectable political class, and--it seems--Senator Clinton.
This demographic is something of a myth--a mutable many-headed myth. This is best illustrated by putting in its dichotomy. They are the opposite of the liberal, latte-sipping, coast-dwelling, urbane (this word should be spat), elite, foppish class. They are the hardworking people of rough hands and sweaty brow. They are traditional, normal Americans.
When someone says "Reagan Democrats" or "NASCAR Dads" or "Values Voters" or "people who bowl well" or "Hillary Clinton's Base," these are the people they are referring to, albeit using some kind of anti-intellectual shibboleth. This is who Senator Clinton was talking about when she said "hardworking people, white people." This is the prized demographic, and they don't exist.
T</span>he argument at the core of Senator Clinton's "electability" argument can be put like so: I win these people; Senator Obama doesn't. They point to Gore and Kerry's losses. They point to the way the media effeminizes and foppifies "weak" Democratic men--turns them into the worst kind of unpatriot, weak, emasculated creatures. They point to Reverend Wright and Bitter-gate, and claim that this makes Obama vulnerable to these kinds of attacks, where Senator Clinton is not. She's tough. Obama's weak. She gets The Demo. He says they cling.
Of course, this is a gross oversimplification, both my characterization and their actual argument. But, anyone with a pulse and a television can tell you that this is the narrative that has captured the attention of the media ever since Dukakis and his tank ride to infamy.
There are more than a couple things wrong with this argument, the least of which being that The Demo doesn't exist--at least not in the form so imagined by Senator Clinton, many of her supporters, and the media.
Obama won Iowa. He won Oregon. He won Minnesota. He won plenty of states with pretty whitewashed, poor voters. As Kos points out, he wins Montana, not know to be a bastion of the latte-sipping, sissy man.
It seems these voters really live in the Appalachia. This is, at least, where Clinton's arguments have been focused--given her massive wins in KY and WV and her strong wins in OH and PA. I'm not going to make some lame argument that Appalachians are racist; I'm not going to try to delve into the psyche of the Appalachian voter. I don't think they're all racist.
What's interesting, though, is that when you want data about why Clinton does better with The Demo, this is where you turn: these traditional, people of the earth. This is interesting because, somehow, these people have become representative of ordinary Americans.
I take issue with the idea that there is an ordinary American. We're a country of diversity and immigrants and pointing to one demographic group and calling them normal is not only deeply insulting to everyone else, it is representative of a kind of institutionalized cultural chauvinism.
I am a firm believer that primaries--even long ones--are good. Voter excitement is good. Building donor bases is good. Building the party is good. I love that states that don't normally get attention are getting it heaped on. Primaries are good things. In general.
I was not of the mind that Clinton should drop out. What has convinced me of that is her embracing of this divisive, empirically inadequate narrative: White people from Appalachia are more American than the rest of America.
I need to make an important point here. This is another reason why The Demo doesn't really exist. In the media, they are called "low-information voters". In less charitable terms, they are--apparently--stupid and anti-intellectual. I say this because of the way they are pandered to: as if they were stupid.
To be very clear: I do not believe, nor am I saying, that white people from Appalachia are stupid. I'm saying that the non-existent people in the non-existent demo are stupid.
Of course, Obama might be guilty of some of the same sort of pandering. He was, after all, referring to The Demo--playing into that narrative--when he talked about the "bitter" voters. But his campaign has not attached itself to this demo, not pandered to them, the way Clinton's has. And, when I say pander I don't mean ill-advised photo-ops (read: bowling), I mean in policy and message.
This is Senator Clinton--a policy wonk--on the gas tax:
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Sunday dismissed the "elite opinion" of economists who criticized her gas tax proposal, using a term that has dogged rival Barack Obama in recent weeks.
And, my favorite,
"I'm not going to put my lot in with economists," the New York senator said when asked to name a credible economist who supported her proposal.
Say what you want about economics (and I've said plenty), but this is just ridiculous. It's ridiculous that a policy wonk would make this kind of anti-intellectual idiocy a talking point--scoring cheap political points (or, more aptly, trying to score cheap political points) by belittling economics. It's ridiculous that engage in the kind of Republican smear of Democrats are elite fops. It's pandering, pure and simple.
A last point before I wrap up this meandering post. I say that The Demo doesn't exist. I stand by this. But people are affected by these kinds of anti-intellectual arguments. Obviously. I reject that (1) The Demo is normal, (2) that they'll vote Democratic anyway (see Digby and Ezra for more on this), (3) that they are in any way matched by the flurry of descriptions given to them, and (4) that they are as omnipotent in American politics as they're made out to be. That's what I mean when I say they don't exist.