While I have been making pointed observations about the way in which Hillary Clinton and her supporters are demonized by Media Whores and the Loser Brigade in the DNC, I don't want to fall into a trap of merely valorizing what is being attacked. Sarana's comment to my post "Resentment" is a cold shower to simple inversions of the "Bash the Hillbillies" narrative. There really are places and people where the glib stereotypes being thrown by the Obamacans do not begin to explain the deep psychosis that afflicts those living there. These are modes of life that I, as a humanist and as a Democrat, reject. As one of my professors wryly said to us bright-eyed idealistic students breathlessly expounding on the glories of multiculturalism, not all otherness is good.
But there lies the conundrum facing us as Hillary supporters and as Democrats (whether our party wants us or not), and that is how do we refuse the arrogant reductionism of a disconnected party (DC insider) elite, yet avoid falling into narrative traps of our own making? The claim made by Obama supporters is that those who vote for him are good, non-racist progressives while Hillary is just attracting the bottom-feeders, the white bigoted Bunkers and Bubbas. If these white voters weren’t stupid racists, they would vote for Obama. The reason such claims have salience is because of stories like Sarana’s, where she watched exactly this kind of behavior by whites.
To turn this attack aside, we're encouraged to either identify with the not-Bunkers (Oh, heavens, I'm not an untutored bigot! I've got a graduate degree and live in a hip urban neighborhood!), or else goaded into total identification (Yeah, I'm a hick. You gotta problem with that?). In either case, it is difficult to craft a response that is not framed by the stereotype. We’re put into a position of reinforcing the meme that someone who hasn’t gone to college and has predominantly European ancestry is probably a hateful racist rube, something to be spurned.
I turn to the incomparable Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler, who, in analyzing the ravings of Randi Rhodes, David Sirota, and (snicker) “the person who has kidnapped Josh Marshall”, sums up the entire toxic mess far better than I can:
The very real specter of racism is being used in a gratuitous and defamatory way towards Hillary and her supporters. It seeks to divide her constituency by peeling away voters who can be shamed or bullied by the “You racist bitches!” calumny. Sadly, it also provides cover for actual racists and anti-democrats through the sheer exaggeration of the claim, excusing them for acting on their worst impulses.
Long ago, we observed an unfortunate fact; some men go into stand-up comedy to ridicule women from a bright stage, with the help of a microphone. Similarly, some people seem to be become “progressives” so they can accuse average schmoes of racism, thus displaying their own moral grandeur.
It’s true: Sirota’s graph does in fact show that Obama “has destroyed Clinton” in “the states with the smallest black populations.” (The states in question on Sirota’s graph are these: Idaho, Vermont, Maine, North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Washington, Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska and Kansas. We dropped Hawaii, for fairly obvious reasons.) Sirota is careful enough to say that this pattern is “likely” due to racial dynamics “in part.” But as good pseudo-progressives must do, he then moves straight to the racial insults, failing to note other obvious factors which could explain this clump of outcomes.
One such factor is fairly obvious. These are almost all caucus states; on Sirota’s chart, all the data from these states (except Utah and Vermont) reflect caucus events. How different might these data have been if these states had conducted primaries? There is, of course, no way to know. But the state of Washington is one of the states at whose results we’re supposed to gape—and Washington did conduct a primary, ten days after its caucuses. (No delegates were awarded in the primary.) The outcomes of these two events were substantially different. Obama won the caucuses by a huge margin, 68-31, as you see on Sirota’s graph. Ten days later, he also won Washington’s primary—but only by 51-46, presumably with many more Democratic voters taking part. (It’s hard to know how many people took part in the caucuses. The numbers in this Washington Post summary seem to reflect delegates chosen at the caucuses, not the number of voters participating.)
So which is it? Is Washington a 68-31 state? Or is its “real” margin 51-46? And what would have happened if those other states had conducted primaries instead of caucuses? Once again, there’s no way to know—and the force of Sirota’s lusty charge stems from the big margins achieved in low-turnout caucus events. But in a great deal of modern “progressive” politics, the real purpose of the exercise is fairly clear—the real goal is the desire to brand “low information voters” as slobbering racists. In Sirota’s hands, this led to some very slapdash analysis. …
So Rhodes was calling Clinton a wh*re, and Sirota was calling the public racists. At TPM, whoever has kidnapped Josh was tip-toeing along behind him, trying to wink and insinuate without quite saying such things. (Click here, for example. The person who has kidnapped Josh is quite good at clearing his throat.)
Are we liberals more intelligent? Or are we name-calling ditto-heads too? Let’s return to whoever has kid-napped Josh—because, in yet another third example, that person does seem to have stifled Greg Sargent. It has now been four full weeks since the “very short break” described in this post stopped the noise at Greg’s Horse’s Mouth site. Check out the work Greg was doing right before Josh’s kidnapper acted and you will perhaps wonder, as we have, if ditto-heads now rule your world.
Greg was discussing an obvious point, a point which has absolutely nothing to do with the relative merits of Obama and Clinton. Yes, large parts of the press corps have savaged Candidate Clinton, often in repugnant ways. Surely, this isn’t a controversial notion—and it continues an obvious pattern which extends back sixteen years. Did the person who kidnapped Josh think this was too much to ask young liberal readers to bear? We have no way of knowing, of course. But the “very short break” we were told about has now extended four weeks. And yes: We progressives used to laugh at the other side for just this sort of thing.
Today, though, progressives channel “Mister Drudge” and let the world know “Where the Wh*res Are.” Could it be we’re all ditto-heads now? For years, we did tell ourselves silly tales about our goodness and brilliance.
What it also points to, in terms of the Democratic Party narrative, is the paucity of the liberal imagination among the alleged best and brightest on the left. This is not just a cynical tactic being thrown out to derail Clinton (though it is that as well). This is something people like the person who kidnapped Josh Marshall hold as an article of faith, that working class whites in America are the problem, that they are racist, that the problem with Kansas (and Louisiana and Ohio and Idaho and Virginia, etc.) is that poor whites vote their bigoted impulses, and that any candidate who appeals to them is obviously the candidate of racist white supremacy.
When the opposition to the ineffectual upper class northeast liberal white guy (the Yankee de jour) is a Republican, the inadequacy of the argument is masked by the simple fact that it is in the Republicans’ interest to appeal to exactly the worst impulses and fears of the voters. They are unapologetic and crude about playing the race card. The Dixiecrats who were the proponents of segregation switched to the Republican Party to be able to continue their hate-filled ways, doing everything they can to keep people in the economic and psychological conditions Sarana described above – because this is how they retain power.
When the opposition to the ineffectual upper class Yankee of this round is another Democrat who has ties to the South and is irrationally hated by a certain powerful faction of the Party, we see the narrative being deployed against her, with the added spice of misogyny making it even more vile. Against this backdrop, where you can’t simply write off those voters as voting their worst impulses, the arrogance and disrespect is thrown into relief.
Which brings up the question, why have so many people in the Democratic Party been complacent about the crap thrown at Reagan Democrats? We get back to the “Oh, no, not me! I’m not an Archie Bunker! How dare you call me that?” reaction, where instead of defending the honor and integrity of fellow voters, we attempt to show that Hillary’s supporters aren’t Bunkers and Bubbas, that we’re nice, clean upper-middle class professionals thankyouverymuch. Commenters on this blog may be resisting that move, but be assured it is striking nerves among “creative class” Democrats. There’s a bigger problem going on with how the Democratic Party is failing to make itself relevant to working class voters such that a substantial portion of those voters feel more comfortable with the Republicans.
The Democratic Party has spent four decades demonizing working class whites as the stupid rubes who are a drag on the American Dream instead of taking seriously the need to assuage the hidden injuries of class. The immediate elite reaction to Hillary’s use of Rocky as a model for her campaign tells us all we need to know about their perspective on this portion of the Democratic Party – Rocky is a loser, har, har! He got beat by the black dude, snicker, nice choice of examples, bitch.
As Susie pointed out, that is not the point of Rocky’s story. He made something of himself, on his terms, and even in defeat, he retained his honor and rightful pride.
The reason why Bill Clinton endeared himself to that Democratic constituency is not because he is some crypto-white supremacist, but because he provided an honorable way out of the “lo-ser” narrative. Hillary is building upon that. “You are not invisible to me,” she says with refreshing directness. She offers policies and programs, such as universal health coverage, that will materially improve their lives. She talks about helping them stay in their homes. She speaks to them face to face about the nuts and bolts of how to make them more secure, talks that bore the Media Whores to death, and does not simply tell them to be inspired by her awesomeness.
Here is the challenge to the Democrats – how to cease treating working class whites the eternal “Other” of the party, the roadblock to fulfilling the promise of the nation, and seriously address the ways in which the party will help all Americans live their lives with dignity.