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Wednesday: Ponderables

Obama’s campaign stops reflect his growing problems with Appalachia left over from 2008.

So, the results are in for the Arkansas and Kentucky primaries and there’s reason to be concerned for the Democratic party:

With 61 percent of precincts reporting in Arkansas, Obama took 60 percent to 40 percent for Wolfe. In Kentucky, with nearly all precincts reporting, 42.1 percent of Democratic primary voters opted for “uncommitted” rather than backing the president, who received 57.9 percent.

For a guy who’s running uncontested in Kentucky, that’s not a good sign.  By the way, in California and NJ, there is a “write in” option for the June 5 primaries.  Might I suggest that Democrats who are most seriously displeased with Obama write in John Wolfe’s name.  Oh, I know, they’ll call you a racist:

One easy explanation — and the one regularly espoused by some Democrats — for Obama’s struggles in Appalachia and portions of the South is simply that some white voters will not vote for an African American for president.

But although no one doubts that race may be a factor, exit polling suggests that the opposition to Obama goes beyond it.

And seasoned political observers who have studied the politics of these areas say race may be less of a problem for Obama than the broader cultural disconnect that many of these voters feel with the Democratic Party.

Or stupid:

“Race is definitely a factor for some Texans but not the majority,” said former congressman Charles W. Stenholm (D-Tex.). “The most significant factor is the perception/reality that the Obama administration has leaned toward the ultra-left viewpoint on almost all issues.”

But that’s just because campaign spinmeisters can say anything to journalists who have spent their four years in college hanging out at Starbucks and avoiding science courses that have labs.  (more on this later)  They can’t reason their way out of a paper bag.  So let me do it for them.

{{tying hair back, rolling up sleeves, putting on goggles and gloves *snap!*}}

1.) Let’s consider the possibilities.  These are southern states and southern states do have a history of racism.  People who grew up in the south may be unaware of the lingering attitudes about race that they have picked up from their environment and we cannot discount this possibility. But my mom lived in the whitest of white neighborhoods of Pittsburgh and didn’t experience racism until she went to high school in the 50s.  There was racism in the north as well.  It was just different.

2.) However, in the case of these particular states, Arkansas was in the vanguard in coming to terms with its racist heritage.  In 1957, Central High School in Little Rock was the scene of ugly racism as well as courage when 9 african american students matriculated.  Some states have leadership forced upon it but I suspect that there were many white people in Arkansas who were ready for integration as those who spat on those kids.  There’s also the possibility that the resentment of forced integration remains there but has gone underground.

3.) For those who were around in Little Rock in 1957, probably a lot of older people, how many of them were for integration and how many were against? We can’t assume that all of the older people in Little Rock were against because presumably there were pockets of support for integration in 1957 or it never would have happened, even if it was a struggle.  Who were these people and who did they vote for yesterday?  And let’s not forget that the Democrats lost a lot of voters in the south in the aftermath of Civil Rights legislation in 1964.  Many of the real racists abandoned the Democrats for the Republican party in retaliation.  Did they cross back over party lines to vote against Obama?  Enquiring minds want to know.

4.) It’s is personally painful to be called a racist.  Yes, believe it or not, my feelings are hurt when I am called a racist, but I overcome it because I am strongly confident that that’s not who I am or how my parents raised me.  I wasn’t alive in 1957.  Nope, not even a twinkle in my dad’s eye. By the time I got to school, Little Rock had already changed the world I lived in.  I’m not going to say there wasn’t racism but I wasn’t aware of it in my schools with the exception of the times when I lived in the south and when *I* was one of  the white kids bussed in to an inner city school.  Believe it or not, we all got along.  It was the adults who seemed to freak out.  So, you know, people my age and with my experience of living all over the place, racism isn’t part of who we are.  There was a time when people used to have different expectations about African Americans? I can’t wrap my head around it.  But I recognize a slur when I hear it and I don’t like to be called a racist.

5.) But let’s say there are Democrats who are a bit older than I am who watched the Civil Rights turmoil and were cognizant of their privilege and felt guilty about it but also grew up in an environment where those expectations about African Americans still existed.  That would probably be the older generation of baby boomers.  For them, there might be an inner conflict.  This is all just speculation.  I can’t know what older boomers are thinking and it might not be all older boomers, just some (so save your breath and comments for some other thread.  You know who you are.)  But that number of older boomers might be *just* enough to be useful for political spin doctors.  Those older boomers probably also went to school at a time when girls had to wear skirts and dresses and where the genders were segregated into wood shop and auto repair class for boys and home ec and sewing for girls.  I blissfully escaped that crap but older boomers did not.  So older boomers lived in a twilight period where there might have been enough indoctrination of stereotype about race and gender but they were forced to reprogram themselves.  The Civil Rights era reprogrammed them on race but left gender pretty much untouched.  Legally, feminism just didn’t have the same bite. For these voters, intellectually, racism is unacceptable but on a deeper level, it’s never completely gone away.  There might be some guilt about it, like a mental smack on the wrist whenever those older feelings of race start to bubble up.  And maybe it’s not just age related.  Maybe if you grew up in a town that was mostly white, the shock of the new is just as unsettling.

6.) Obama as president has done a lousy job.  Sorry, you can call me what you like but I’m evaluating him by the same criteria as I would have evaluated any of my elementary school classmates in Hawaii in 1970 and he definitely would have been in my cohort.  As one of my potential classmates, I am judging him by the standards of my generation and he just sucks as president.  That doesn’t make me a racist.  That’s just me, saying to Barry who may be sitting two desks over, “Barry, we’re walking to that store up the road to get some cracked plum seeds after school.  Are you coming?   My dad came back from Japan and got me a new Sony tape recorder, do you want to try it out tonight at my house? (My gadget addiction started young, I blame my father.) Did you vote for Patty Smith for class president?  I don’t know, I just think she’s really smart.”  So, when I go to the primary, I’m going to pick the best candidate based on past performance and future projections.  And Barry does not get my vote.

7.) But if I have an inner conflict, my trip to the voting booth may be quite different.  I  may not like the job that Obama is doing but I have to evaluate that assessment based on my background.  Am I making that assessment because I have residual feelings of racism or because Obama is really a lousy president?  Well, there have been other lousy presidents and I didn’t feel this level of discomfort.  Instead of saying to myself, “Jeez, how is it that a Democratic president could be worse than George W. Bush, is that even *possible*?” or “it’s because his skin color is interfering with my ability to judge his performance”, I might attribute my discomfort to my own character flaw.  If I can’t tell the difference, then the shame of not being able to tell the difference might persuade me to vote for Barry so that I overcome my inner perception of racism or to reinforce my political tribal affiliation.

8.) One of the things that disturbs be greatly about the “Well, they must be racists” memes is that it presumes that otherwise, Obama’s about as close to Jesus level perfection as a human can possibly be.  If a voter is critical of Obama’s caving to Wall Street on the economy, or his pronouncements about equality or the war that he fails to deliver on, or his slavish devotion to putting everyone’s retirement and social safety net on the table, all of that are just trivialities.  We voters are being unnecessarily harsh and peevish if we complain about how Obama’s mere presence in the White House has given the Republicans carte blanche to destroy the quality of life for the generations of Americans who have not yet reached the magical age of 65.  We have no right to be angry at this man whose delicate feet never touch the soil as he floats ethereally from issue to issue without a political compass.  He’s got a lot on his plate (that he asked for against many of our objections and concerns with his shocking inexperience). We must have some petty and embarrassing reason for rejecting him that has nothing to do with our ruined careers, foreclosed houses or children’s future indebtedness to the banks.

Now, I am just speculating about this here and all of this might be pulling it out of my ass but there is the possibility that the people most affected by perceptions of race yesterday were the ones who actually voted for Obama.  The stigma of being called a racist is powerful and in order to prevent that inner discomfort, they go along with the crowd and vote for Obama so that they don’t have to listen to those voices.  Then there are others who just evaluated Obama by their own standards of performance and observations and decided that Obama is not a very good president and needed to be opposed in order to send a message to the Democratic party.

You know, I don’t know what to say to those people who are struggling with the potential accusations of racism.  Those accusations, and repetitions of them by journalists, must be working because they keep popping up over and over again to explain why it is that a guy who is unchallenged is suddenly getting stiff comptetition from “uncommitted”.  At least be aware of the possibility that they are attempting to manipulate you with them. But sometimes, you have to do the painful thing and live with people calling you names.  Ask yourself if the country is going in the direction you want it to go and whether Obama is capable of taking you there.  If the answer is no, vote for the other guy in the primary or write a name in.  There is too much at risk to let the spindoctors roll over you and poke at your inner turmoil.  Ignore all of the other messages.  Obama will do ok if he doesn’t get the nomination this year, trust me on this.  He can make a mint on the speech circuit.  Maybe he can even take a genuine interest in social issues, though I wouldn’t count on it.  It’s not something he’s spent a lot of time on in the past and he shows no real affinity for it.  Let him manage The Foundation for Poor Facebook Millionaires and their Mashie Niblicks.  He’d be good at that.  Let him earn money the old fashioned way- through his Harvard connections.  Just get him out of the Oval Office, fergawdssakes.  I promise not to call you a racist.

Another thing I wonder about is the idea that DEMOCRATS are rejecting Obama because they think he is too “ultra-left”.  What are the chances?  The people who really think this are the ones who abandoned the Democratic party for the Tea Party in 2008.  Those people will believe anything, but how many of them are participating in closed Democratic primaries?  I find this cohort very interesting because I’m not sure that they actually went to the polls yesterday to vote in a Democratic primary for John Wolfe whose positions are, if anything, to the left of Obama.  Wolfe is a civil rights lawyer who thinks that Wall Street has gotten away with murder.  I guess it’s possible that a bunch of brain dead Democrats went to the polls thinking Wolfe was more right than Obama but shouldn’t we find out?  If I were a journalist, this is the question I’d be most interested in finding an answer for because it could be very important to the general election.  Who were the 40% of the voters who passed on Obama and voted for Wolfe?  And what about the people in Kentucky who would rather put their votes in limbo in uncommitted territory rather than give them to Obama?  Would the have picked someone more or less left than Obama had they been given a choice?  Appalachia benefitted from the New Deal and it voted heavily for Hillary in 2008.  It’s a lot to untangle but could make for some very interesting reading.  Maybe Wolfe is just speaking their language or maybe there’s something else going on that the other states haven’t had the opportunity to express.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped journalists and pundits from idly speculating on voter discontent and then, sweeping it away as distraction from what’s really important- the disastrous Facebook IPO.  Nothing to see here, people, move along.

Get on it, journalists, and stop taking dictation.

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9 Responses

  1. I’m a middle boomer. I experienced what the early boomers did, but as the younger sister watching from grade school and middle school. Some of it effected me. I was in middle school when Kent state happened, old enough to organize a walk out where we all gathered at the flag pole and read poetry. We did have to wear skirts etc… but protested that when we were in 6th grade and won. After that it was jeans and peasant blouses.
    I can tell you all about guilty white liberalism. I had a bad case of it. It is about getting over racism. You grew up with racist thinking because that is all there is. Even if your parents had black friends (and mine did) you could not avoid the fact that black people lived mostly on “the other side of the tracks” and hung together at lunch etc… They were “others”.
    When the civil rights movement gained power in the 60s and melded with the peace love and rock and roll generation, it was a point of pride to work on getting rid of your prejudices. It was something I spent time doing, examining my mind for latent bad programming. I took pride in becoming open minded and chasing all form of prejudice from my thinking. They wasn’t a race card played I wouldn’t bet on.
    But then I got called racist for supporting the older smarter harder working more experienced candidate. I got called racist by him, by his supporters, the media and even by friends. I felt betrayed and I had my mind opened to a new reality. Guilty white liberalism is racist in and of itself. So many Obama supporters could not imagine what you could possibly fault him on other than the color of his skin, as if black people were not real people with the same faults and failings as the rest of us.
    If you always expect less of the black person so that only the fact of their skin color is apparent to you, you are a racist.

    • Thanks for that, Teresa, honesty is the best policy.
      And I know just how you feel when it comes to assessing the candidates in 2008. Calling us r@cyst was cruel, unfair and a nasty lie.

  2. Great post. I agree that disentangling people’s complex motivations for voting is difficult and saying that it’s all about racism is easy but misleading. It’s “progressive” comfort food, something that tastes good and that you can wolf down easily without thinking too much about it. Everything I know about voting behavior (I’m an election geek, it keeps me off the streets) tells me that voters tend to vote their bottom line – are things generally getting better/worse for me and the country at large, and how much does the guy in the White House have to do with it? The answers to both questions would have to be (1) meh – sorta/kinda/maybe a little better but not much and (2) I dunno. Klein, Yglesias and Lemieux have been trotting their Bystander Theory of the Presidency/The Bully Pulpit Is Useless! meme for 3 years to rationalize the fact that, after the (inadequate and badly explained) stimulus, Obama hasn’t been seen to stir or do a whole lot on improving anyone’s bottom line. So why vote for a guy in that situation, especially if culturally (not just race but Mr. O’s other, fiercely prized marks of being one of The Best and the Brightest!) on a conscious or unconscious level either don’t attract you or rub you the wrong way? Dropping g’s and talking about “folks” every 4 years doesn’t fool anyone and won’t get them on your side in the voting booth, especially if you haven’t given them any other concrete reasons to back you.

    • I like the cut of your jib, Scott. I agree that a lot will depend on how people feel they are doing on election day and if that’s true, and Republicans haven’t even begun to make life hard this year, then Obama is going to be in big trouble.

  3. To me those ponderings of yours make a lot of sense. And above it all (the fear of being called out as a racist) seems to always hover the cloud of ‘White Liberal Guilt’.

    But as this – the guilt – shouldn’t really affect Europeans, I’ve been wondering all along about why Obama from the very start has been so extremely popular here. I don’t know; it can’t all be written up to political correctness; but part of it could have to do with the widespread opposition to both segregation in the US and Apartheid in South Africa, and how immensely popular both as a politician and as a human being Nelson Mandela is and always were. That somehow people saw Obama as the American version of ‘Mandiba’?

    But I can’t really figure it out, just as I can’t figure out why Obama – as far as I know? – haven’t gone to see the old statesman. I would have thought it would be a given for the first black POTUS to go meet with and honor the Nestor ?

    (He did send his wife though … to sit, not as would have been more appropriate at the feet of, but instead on the arm of Mandela’s armchair, snort!)

    • Bummer! ‘Spammy’ got me. :(

    • I have a hypothesis that it’s one potential source of European pride and “superiority” that they managed to overcome their racism so much more quickly than Americans did. Of course, that’s not necessarily the case, is it? It’s just that apartheid in Europe was never official policy as it was in the US and South Africa.
      It’s distance that keeps the Europeans from seeing the situation as it really is. Distance and an oversimplification of the Civil Rights era here. Barack Obama is definitely post Civil Rights. He and I were contemporaries and although racism is not gone here in the US, I can assure you that Barack Obama’s experience with racism wasn’t anything like the kid who might have been born 10 years earlier. In fact, Obama’s background is much more privileged than he lets on. He does come from a different class than the inner city kid and growing up in Hawaii at about the same time I did, I can assure you that he was pretty well insulated from the kind of racism he might have encountered on the mainland.
      Obama was not a civil rights leader. I wouldn’t put him in the same class as Mandela or MLK Jr or Jesse Jackson. Maybe Obama’s advance team creates that illusion (and it’s definitely and illusion) when he goes to visit European leaders but what Obama really goes to represent is American capitalism in its present extreme form.
      Yes, it’s too bad that Europe still sees him as some transformational, visionary messiah that is going to lift America out of its backward, ignorance and racism. I guarantee that that’s the farthest thing from his mind. Backward ignorance is working so well for the bonus class.
      Funny thing: Remember his crocodile tears speech about Trayvon Martin and how if he’d had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon? I thought about how he’s virtually ignored the AA community since they rallied around him 4 years ago and uncritically gave him their support and thought of the perfect headline: “Father finally acknowledges paternity after four year absence”. It could have come straight from the Onion and would have been just as deadly accurate.

      • “It’s just that apartheid in Europe was never official policy as it was in the US and South Africa.”

        Besides, most countries, at least in East and Northern Europe, used to be quite … even coloured. It’s so easy to be a ‘besserwisser’ when a problem isn’t up front and personal, but when the population here became more ‘uneven’ and the problem – and of course there are problems, at times even big problems, when very different cultures must find a way to live together. It calls for both tolerance and understanding – literally moved closer to home, we suddenly saw it from a new angle. Oops!

        And then the intolerant, far right, nationalistic, populistic, political parties had something to build on, sigh.

        Of course our new citizens from the Middle East besides having darker skin also have the “wrong” religion, but I still see ‘the dilemma and how to cope’ in many ways as similar to what happened in the US and in South Africa.

        And I absolutely agree that Obama in no way is in the same league as neither Mandela, Martin Luther King or for that matter Jesse Jackson. I just don’ t get why he seems to almost make an effort to distance himself from these admired, front-running, black leaders while at the same time his whole campaign was/is built on him being black. Jealousy? And then suddenly he identifies with … Trayvon Martin. Huh?

        But maybe it just comes down to him and his campaign always being far, far too calculating and controlling – even as it probably would be much more rewarding to once in a while being a bit impulsive and most of all: Sincere.

  4. I will offer another theory as to why the Democratic identified citizens living in the areas on this map are anti-Obama. They are anti-Obama because they percieve Obama to be anti-coal.

    This area is Appalachia and much of it is a One Industry Countryside and that one industry is coal mining. They percieve the Obama Administration to be anti deepmining, anti stripmining, and anti
    mountaintop removal mining. Now, if one is going to slow the advance of global warming, one may well have to slow or stop the mining of coal for electricity. But if “national society” is going to do that, “national society” should feel itself morally obligated to support the living and expenses of the forcibly de-jobbed miners either till the nation invents other work for them or until they reach fully supported retirement age. And since “national society” will not do that, the miners and their dependents and surrounding communities will of course vote against the “anti-coal” candidate every single time. And that is rather ironic in this special case because say what we will about Obama otherwise, the Obama Administration has been less hostile to the health and safety of coal deepminers than the Bush Administration was and the Romney Administration will be. Both Shrubya and Romney consider Massey Energy to be a Great American Company and Mr. Blankenship to be a Great American BossMan . . . and 28 avoidably dead miners is the Price of Progress, and maybe wasn’t nearly enough. And at least Obama does not share THAT view.

    “White Privilege”? What exactly “White Privilege” did the 28 dead miners get to enjoy?

    And as to European airs of superiority regarding us Americans . . . I like a comedic bit I saw on the comedy channel once. An American comedian recounted a bunch of static he was getting from some Eurointellectual snobs about our racism etc. And he replied: ” Well thank YOU for sending over YOUR best and brightest to get the party started.” After getting some static about that from an ENGlishman at an agricultural conference we were both at, I reminded him that the word “n – – – – – r” was an ENGlish word brought here by ENGlishmen from ENGland, along with their ENGlish invention of slavery. So there.

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