First is Michael Lind's brilliant piece in Salon, The Rubes and the Elites. He engages in some reasonably straightforward political science cross-cut with sensible sociology and comes up with a calm explanation of the voting patterns we are seeing in the campaign. If you don't subscribe to Salon, you may need to sit through an ad to read the article. Believe me, it's worth it. Some key paragraphs:
The events of the past few days are additional evidence of a profound rift in the Democratic Party, one revealed in the differing constituencies of the two remaining candidates. One story, told by Obama backers and the mainstream media, holds that there is a white racist problem: The Democratic Party is deeply divided between anti-racists (that is, supporters of Barack Obama) and racists (Democratic primary voters who preferred Hillary Clinton or any candidate other than Barack Obama, particularly the working-class white men who are often described, in zoological terms, as "white males"). The other story, which has yet to be told, holds that the difference between the constituencies of Obama and Clinton has little to do with race and reflects instead long-familiar regional and cultural splits among whites in the Democratic electorate. The prospects of the Democratic Party in the fall depend in part on whether these rifts can be healed.
The path of least resistance for liberal journalists and bloggers is to respond to these disturbing numbers by demonizing less-educated white Democrats. That is easier for them than to grasp the idea that these voters might actually like Hillary Clinton. One theory holds that "low information" voters, ignorant of the candidates and the issues, favor Clinton because of name recognition. But contrary to the progressive mythology about "low-information voters," a March Gallup poll shows that "both Obama and Clinton have near-universal name identification across all educational levels."
Even more common has been the claim by many supporters of Obama that the Clinton campaign, by means of subtle appeals to white racial prejudice, has attracted a large number of bigots who oppose Obama because he is black. The "race baiting" is alleged to have consisted of Bill Clinton's comparison of Obama to Clinton's friend Jesse Jackson, and Hillary Clinton's praise for the civil rights efforts of Lyndon Johnson, which, it was said, denigrated the achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. Since when have white race baiters praised Jesse Jackson and LBJ?
To judge from Obama's several statements on the subject, he sincerely believes that working-class whites, lacking the self-awareness to recognize the actual economic origins of their distress, seek relief from their pain by praying in church, slaughtering deer, and making illegal immigrants and imports from foreign countries scapegoats for ills that have nothing to do with immigration or trade. They may not be racists, they may even be sympathetic victims, but they are too irrational to understand their genuine problems and their true interests, which are chiefly economic, a fact that university-educated progressives in big cities and college towns can readily perceive.
Whether the "bitter" controversy helps Hillary Clinton win enough votes in the final primaries to beat the odds and win the Democratic nomination remains to be seen. At press time, she was surging in the polls. One thing is certain: In the fall election, John McCain, whoever his Democratic opponent might be, will portray himself as the candidate who defends the dignity and pride of working-class and lower-middle-class Americans of all races against the disdain of elite liberals. Unfortunately, many progressives will make that task much easier by repeating the litany of contempt: Rubes. Rednecks. Retro.
The other post of the day is from the incomparable Bob Somerby. A blogger before the term existed, Bob takes no prisoners on the electoral impact of elitism on Democratic Party prospects:
Truly, it has been embarrassing to watch some liberals attempt to come to terms with this matter. Just as an obvious matter of fact, condescension toward average people has plagued progressive movements at least since the late 1960s, when Dr. King stopped being the public face of progressive change and various Middle America-trashers took his place in the public imagination. (Abbie Hoffman, for instance.) In his brilliant public ministry, Dr. King confronted people who turned dogs and hoses loose on children; blew up churches where children were praying; threw him in jail on tortured pretexts; and eventually chased him down and killed him. But quite aggressively, Dr. King refused to deny the soul of the Bull Connors—of those who behaved in such fallen ways. Within a few years, it became possible to tag progressivism with the face of those who loudly showed the world how much they hated the mores and life-styles of their horrible mommies and daddies. From that day to this, progressive politics has been damaged by a sometimes-accurate perception—the perception that progressives and liberals are a bunch of snooty snobs
In fact, progressives sometimes are snooty snobs. We love to display our cultural and moral superiority to those whose values or instincts may differ. We love to call them xenophobes, vigilantes and racists. We love to ridicule their religion (just read the comments whenever Amy Sullivan posts). Indeed, Bob Herbert starts off this morning’s column by giving vent to this very instinct. This is exceptionally sloppy exposition—and it’s probably very bad politics:
HERBERT (4/15/08): Maybe Barack Obama felt he couldn't afford to give the correct answer.
He was asked at a fund-raiser in San Francisco about his campaign's experiences in the run-up to next week's Democratic primary in Pennsylvania. One of the main problems, of course, is that he hasn't generated as much support as he'd like among white working-class voters.
There is no mystery here. Except for people who have been hiding in caves or living in denial, it's pretty widely understood that a substantial number of those voters—in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and elsewhere—will not vote for a black candidate for president.
“There is no mystery here,” Herbert says, betraying the confidence of the elitist. (In his first sentence, he modestly acknowledges that he knows “the correct answer.”) And then he makes a sweeping (if imprecise) assessment of the souls many people; “a substantial number” of Pennsylvanians won’t vote for Obama because of his race, he says. Later, he leans down from the mountaintop, saying this: “No one has an obligation to vote for Mr. Obama, and it's certainly not racist to vote against him.” Gee, thanks! But wouldn’t you know it? Right at the start of his piece, he seems to say something quite different.
Are there people in Pennsylvania who will vote against Obama due to race? Presumably there are—although, in fact, there’s plenty of “mystery” about how “substantial” the “number” might actually be. But at least since the late 1960s, many progressives have behaved just as Herbert does here. It’s our first instinct! We start by attributing the worst possible motives and attributes to wide numbers of everyday people—people whom we’ve never met. What exactly does Herbert mean when he says “a substantial number” of Pennsylvanians won’t vote for Obama due to his race? There’s no way to know for sure—but his formulation seems to take everyone in. This formulation—the first thing he offers—quickly makes everyone suspect. “There is no mystery here,” he says—although, of course, there is.
Unfortunately, many “progressives” simply can’t understand the nature of this decades-old problem. They can’t understand why it’s bad politics (and basically foolish) to ridicule people for being religious. They don’t see why it’s bad politics this week to build jokes around the word “gun-toting.” A few months ago, they didn’t understand why it was morally obnoxious (and vastly stupid) to accuse everyone in sight of being a slobbering racist. Sergio Bendixen, for example—so accused for answering a question he’d been asked about a delicate subject. They could tell that Bendixen was a big vile race man—and that others had conspired with him!
To all appearances, some men get into comedy so they can ridicule women from a stage. Similarly, some people seem to become progressives so they can forever parade about, telling the world about their moral superiority to all the unwashed rubes. For them, progressive politics is about name-calling. A movie is playing in their heads. In this movie, they and their friends are the very good people. Mommy and Daddy are not.
We’d be inclined to say that this political/moral problem began to afflict progressive movements in the late 1960s. And uh-oh! In the last few days, conservative columnists have sometimes shown that they know this terrain rather well. This morning, George Will goes back to FDR to illustrate this liberal problem. We won’t necessarily go along with his assessment of Adlai Stevenson. (He works from a few offhand comments here.) But as a general matter, we think he’s uncomfortably close to the mark as he describes “liberalism's transformation since Franklin Roosevelt:”
WILL (4/15/08): What had been under FDR a celebration of America and the values of its working people has become a doctrine of condescension toward those people and the supposedly coarse and vulgar country that pleases them.
When a supporter told Adlai Stevenson, the losing Democratic presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956, that thinking people supported him, Stevenson said, "Yes, but I need to win a majority." When another supporter told Stevenson, "You educated the people through your campaign," Stevenson replied, "But a lot of people flunked the course." Michael Barone, in "Our Country: The Shaping of America From Roosevelt to Reagan," wrote: "It is unthinkable that Roosevelt would ever have said those things or that such thoughts ever would have crossed his mind." Barone added: "Stevenson was the first leading Democratic politician to become a critic rather than a celebrator of middle-class American culture—the prototype of the liberal Democrat who would judge ordinary Americans by an abstract standard and find them wanting."
Many “shirts-and-skins” players will reject any words spoken by Will and Barone. But in this matter, Will and Barone are uncomfortably close to right—and Robinson and Cohen seem largely clueless. But then, conservatives have long understood these matters better than “progressives” have, thereby gaining electoral advantage. Often, they have overstated or misstated particular claims, with mainstream journos playing along. (How dare Kerry go wind-surfing?) But they seem to understand the terrain better than liberal counterparts.
Elitism isn’t about what you do. It isn’t about how much money you have. (FDR was wealthy.) It’s about the things you think and say about those small-town or working-class rubes. Some progressives have shown, again and again, that they simply can’t understand this distinction. Will Obama’s remark cost him votes? We don’t know; we hope they won’t, although we’re beginning to get concerned about his rookie mistakes. But if they do, it will be because there have been so many such remarks, by so many other people, remarks which often weren’t off-hand comments. This has been a major problem for many years; some liberals still seem to lack the first clue about what the problem consists in.
What so many Obamacans fail to get from the SF statement is that the truth or accuracy of whether people are bitter isn't electorally significant. The impact is whether those so described believe the Democratic candidate is the one who is going to do something concrete to aleviate their situation, and whether they will do so with respect for the humanity and dignity of the person in need of help.
So far, the answer appears to be "No" where The Precious is concerned.