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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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