Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Black working class voters

After Pennsylvania votes in today's not-too-important Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton will claim that her victory there, once again, positions her as the strongest candidate to face John McCain. She will win despite the near-absence of black support, something her husband enjoyed in 1992 and 1996, and that Al Gore and John Kerry received as well in 2000 and 2004. There will be little attention paid to Hillary's estrangement from African-Americans, a development based in no small part to Bill's blunders on race in South Carolina and Hillary's tacit endorsement of racially-coded appeals to "white working-class voters" and self-identified independents who are unsure about whether to vote for John McCain after the disastrous presidency of George Bush.

We will hear that Hillary's "commanding" lead among the white working-class raises questions about the breadth of Obama's appeal across the race line as the income and education scale slides downwards. We will hear almost nothing about Hillary's inability to reach black voters, although we will hear that Obama must make inroads among white women in order to compete against John McCain. This assumes that Women for Hillary will abandon a Democrat for McCain, as conservative a Republican as any of the party's nominees since 1980, absent the interest in cultivating the religious wackos that played such an important role in the 1980 and 2000 presidential elections.

We will hear precious little about the Clintons' race problem, since the assumption is that African-American support for Obama is based almost exclusively on race, while Hillary's core demographic backbone -- white women and the white working-class -- are drawn to her because of her "competence," "resilliency," and "tenacious" nature. The Clintons and their supporters are quick to downplay the role that race has had -- and still has -- in their campaign strategy while never hesitating to point out that Obama is a "boutique" candidate of Whole Foods white Democrats and African-Americans.

On May 6th, North Carolina will hold its Democratic primary. Depending on which poll you believe, Obama holds anywhere from a 12 to 21 point lead there, a result that the professional commentariat -- the salt-of-the-earth Americans who work for the nation's elite establishment print and broadcast media -- will argue is due only to the large number of African-American voters there. The Clintons will downplay the significance of their loss in North Carolina, claiming that theirs is a campaign designed to reach out to "average" people who get up and go to work everyday to jobs they can only hope will be there at week's end. You would think from listening to all the concern for white working-class voters that North Carolina's African-American voters are somehow all related to the Huxtables from 1980s "The Cosby Show," which featured a black family in New York City living a fairly comfortable upper professional-class life in a household headed by a physician and a lawyer. Believe it or not, African-Americans are, on the average, far less well-off than whites regardless of the class in which one places them or the color of their shirt collars. In North Carolina, like everywhere else, African-Americans don't live as long as whites, earn far less money, have higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, are far less educated, are almost six times as likely to have families headed by a woman, contract chronic illnesses at higher rates, are far less likely to have health insurance and, in general -- no surprise -- score lower on government "quality-of-life" surveys than whites.

But the odds are between now and May 6th you will not see Hillary Clinton bragging about her "deep connection" with small-town North Carolina voters. You will not see her taking photo ops in the diners, churches, picnic tables, bowling alleys and farms preferred by African-Americans, reminding them of where she learned to shoot a gun or offer to knock back shots of Crown Royal for the cameras. You will not see her in these places because African-American voters in North Carolina have written her and her husband off, and Hillary knows it. But will see you stories written about her "inability" to connect with black voters, or how she managed to find herself in this situation, or whether, as a national candidate, she can win the Democratic nomination without the party's most loyal constituency? In other words, will she have to answer for her position with black voters as Obama has for his supposed "disconnect" with white working-class voters, which, as I have suggested before, is simply a polite phrase for white voters who have trouble voting for black candidates.

I don't think so. How surprising, given the anti-Hillary posture of the mainstream media . . . eh?

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