Who knew that being an elitist was far worse than being a racist?
When Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama refused to disavow his pastor and campaign faith adviser, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, it ended up being a mere blip in an overlong and over scrutinized campaign. Obama more or less turned the Wright sound bites to political advantage by using the dustup as a springboard for a major speech on race. The Obama speech got great marks from the media elite, but like the Wright comments, it didn’t really move the needle much either. Maybe because he’s African-American, the electorate had already baked in the notion that sooner or later he’d discuss race issues. In other words, yawn.
On the other hand, suggest that the reason he’s not getting any real traction with angry White voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other industrialized states is because they are too busy clinging to their guns and their religion for refuge and suddenly you have a public relations disaster of the first order. Interesting what a 24-hour news cycle and an endless supply of bandwith will do for the political process.
Think what you will about Obama, but he’s no more of an elitist than anyone who ran for president during this cycle, save for maybe Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich. That’s hardly a sin. Americans expect their president to be from the moneyed and educated upper class. If they didn’t, Kucinich and Paul wouldn’t have been considered such jokes.
The real problem with Obama’s comments in San Francisco is not that they revealed him to be an elitist. It’s that they revealed most of the rest of us as myopic about the real problems facing this country and that’s a reality we’re not ready to face. At its core, Obama on the one hand and his critics on the other hand seemed flummoxed that bitter White guys in middle America aren’t instead taking refuge in the affairs of their own country. Why should they?
Eight years under George W. Bush is more than enough to convince anyone that their government is not in touch with the hopes and dreams of the average American. It’s not just that Bush came into office under the dark cloud of an election that seemed rigged that makes them cynical. It’s also not just that Bush stayed in office under the dark cloud of a war that will inextricably tie future generations to massive foreign policy failures. It’s more like the fact that the government’s response to domestic tragedies like Hurricane Katrina make too many think that the government can’t meet their basic needs. In that context, why would anyone take refuge in Washington?
The average person turns on CNN these days and is bombarded with economic news that they can’t comprehend, except at its most basic level. The weak dollar doesn’t mean much to the guy who will never travel overseas, but he understands $3.50 for a gallon of gas. He also understands that the government seems powerless to help in any meaningful way. The subprime mortgage crisis is a Gordian knot to most, but the family that can no longer make its house payment understands the anxiety they feel as they wonder where they’ll live while the government debates its response.
People who can’t turn to their government for answers, let alone relief, are going to turn somewhere. Human nature being what it is, people will not countenance a lack of information. They’ll fill in the blanks as best they can. If that’s through the Bible or from the counter attendant in the Wal-Mart gun department, so be it. You can manage expectations like any other process, but if you simply ignore them, as this government has done for the last eight years, it doesn’t mean they’ll go away. It just means that you lose the right to complain about the way they’ve drifted.
Obama may be too polite to say it in mixed company, but his campaign’s mini-crisis over what were really fairly benign remarks is Exhibit A in his speech on race. For reasons as varied as they are mysterious, the bitter White guys, to the extent they’ll ever vote Democrat, would pick Hillary simply because a White female is more palatable to them than a Black male. If they really had their druthers, bring on the same old White guy, just like the Republicans.
For all its flowery language, Obama’s speech on race still didn’t give those bitter White guys who would vote Democrat the information they really seek. It was too guarded, too scripted, to be effective. If Obama is really serious about it, he’ll have to go to the belly of the beast and make his case directly. He’ll need to challenge the racism that still permeates too many pockets in this country by challenging their most basic fears about his potential election. He’ll have to demonstrate that his election won’t be at their expense, but in everyone’s best interest.
In short, if Obama, or Clinton for that matter, really wants to get to the heart of the issue, they’ll both need to stop borrowing from the Republican playbook that wins elections on fear. Instead, if they really want to win over the bitter White guys, indeed the majority of the country, they’ll need to give them a reason to believe in their government again.Powered by Sidelines