Ironically enough, while accusations of racism have been thrown around by the Obama campaign (and gleefully amplified by the MSM and the CDS-afflicted blogosphere), the campaign to date has demonstrated that racism (or more specifically, promotion of white supremacy) has lost its salience among Democratic voters. There is no group, faction or movement within the Democrats advocating white supremacy - that strand of the party has either moved to the Republicans or else has renounced and abandoned their former position. There is no disagreement on the left that racisim is pernicious and destructive, and that it has to do with defending privilege. The critique that local and regional elite groups (usually but not always Republican), instrumentally deploy race-based arguments to try to encourage fear in different racial groups and by doing so eke out narrow electoral victories is known and understood. On the Left, it is increasingly accepted that African Americans as a group have been harmed in a way no other identifiable racial or ethnic group has been over the course of the nation's history [Note: I am describing a phenomenon, not declaring a fact. Please don't weigh in on how this or that group has been equally/more brutalized than AAs.] and that hundreds of years of formal and deliberate brutality towards them as a group is not reversed in a few decades. Black anger at white privilege is justified and white resistence to relinquishing that privilege is entrenched. A great task lies before the party and the left generally to continue to battle this blight upon our nation.
What the tactic of branding Hillary supporters as racist has done, strangely enough, is expose the class bigotry of a portion of the party leadership and the Left punditocracy. I have said before and I will say again - I refuse to accept that millions of Democratic voters, black or white, are choosing their candidate only because they won't vote for someone of the other race. Yes, there have to be some people who won't vote for the black guy. I'm willing to bet there are no more of those voters on the left than won't vote for a woman (Indeed, Paul Lukasiak's analysis of polling trends indicates that gender bigotry may be stronger than race bigotry.), so race bigotry is most likely cancelled out by gender bigotry. To the degree that we can see race-based voting, it is going to be in areas where racial division is a political tool of the local elites. In California, we are seeing more and more of this aimed at dividing white and Hispanic voters. My county, San Diego, is the epicenter of this manuever, home to Pete Wilson's political machine. Dark mutterings about "Reconquista" are always about, and Latino politicians' loyalty to the state vs. loyalty to "La Raza" is always in the campaign mix.
I also reject claims that AA voters are only voting for Obama out of racial identification, any more than women are only voting for Hillary out of gender identification. Our identities are complex and what is important in one context may be less so in another. I doubt AA Obama supporters would be similarly enthusiastic about Alan Keyes or that female Hillary voters would jump for the chance to vote for Kay Bailey Hutchison. Once candidates reach a threshold of acceptablility, then certain non-political attributes about the candidate that bear political weight (ethnicity, gender, celebrity) may tip the scapes in that person's favor. What others see as some kind of rejection of a candidate, and the argument is most often put forward as AAs are rejecting Hillary, is better and less divisively seen as merely a ranking of preferences - I like both, but I prefer A to B.
What we are seeing, however, is the way in which Democratic Party leaders and power brokers, large swaths of Left Blogistan and the always opportunistic MSM are seizing on a narrative about working class white ethnic voters - one derived from a shallow, reductionistic interpretation of historical patterns - as being mired in racial resentment and casting votes for punitive reasons. It is as though they are unable to get past historical incidents of white resistence to desegregation, school integration, affirmative action, and other acts that explicitly weakened white socio-economic privilege, and see that the US is a different nation than it was forty years ago. People in these groups, from Obama himself to anonymous commenters on blogs to media whores are persistently pushing a picture of those who do not vote for Obama as:
- Middle class or lower
- Bitter over lack of economic success
- Unrepentantly racist
- Violent (gun owners, pro-military)
- Deluded (clinging to religion)
- Illiberal (Reagan Democrats, i.e., not loyal to the Left)
They explicitly label non-Obama voters as "Archie Bunkers" and "Bubbas". There is another, less explicit thread running through thet characterizations, that these people are either too dumb or too deluded to take advantage of social opportunities that would allow them to improve their socio-economic status; in short, that the condition in which these people find themselves is self-inflicted because they are white and therefore are privileged in comparison to minorities as such. If they really wanted to get ahead, they could. (Hmm, where have we heard that kind of argument before? It's kind of what the right argues about minorities...) The list also excludes the possibility that whites of their own class may be illiberal and racist, granting themselves an unacknowledged class exemption from the faults of their socio-economic inferiors. Finally, it skates over the cultural, economic and geographic factors that place the ethic groups in lower income stratas into fierce competition with each other for increasingly scarce and impermanent socio-economic goods. You know, like jobs, health care and retirement income.
There is no acknowledgement that non-Obama voters have far more complex identities than the punch list above. It does not allow room for someone who is working class and struggling to have a constructive preference for another candidate (I like them both just fine, but I prefer B to A). They are always already pernicious race voters. The claim becomes even stranger when one understands that this description is meant to apply to any non-Obama voter, even someone like myself who is in the top quintile of household income, has a graduate degree, is a "creative class" worker, has extremely radical left stances, fervently believes in gun control, does not believe in any deity, and will not vote Republican under any circumstances.
Let's come to a full stop here. What I am describing is a political tactic, based on an inadequate narrative, that is finally backfiring badly on those who have been pushing it. This is not reverse racsim. This is not some attempt by the Democratic elite and their enablers to construct and defend economic and political structures to enforce inequitable distribution of social, political and economic goods on working class whites as a group. (The question of whether Obama's "policies" would enforce inequitable distributions on the working class regardless of race is another question.)
In addition, the hamfisted deployment of a moronic claim against Democratic party rank and file stalwarts in no way excuses the very real persistence of racism in the US, the kind so expertly exploited by the Movement Conservatives for the last four decades. White racsm is real. It harms this nation. It is used to excuse the hateful behavior of others (I'm just fighting the KKK!) which has it's own corrosive effect on the body politic but which cannot equal the damage done here and now by entrenched white privilege, which is mostly entrenched upper-middle and upper class white privilege.
I'll say what Brad Delong, Markos, Ezra Klein, Big Media Matt and the Guy who Kidnapped Josh Marshall (GKJM) will not: The people currently arguing about the alleged racism of Hillary voters are exactly the people who most materially benefit from the existence of white privilege in this nation. That means YOU, boyz. People who are in my socio-economic class (so I'm talking about ME here - I am not excluding myself from the ill-gotten gains) are those who are reaping the long term benefits of the wealth and power generated by centuries of white supremacy.
To my mind, the Obama campaign is unselfconciously, though quite deliberately, pushing an argument about a group of citizens that was never entirely true back in the 60s and 70s and long ago ceased to be true among the vast majority of Democrats. They really think of Democratic voters as two groups - an enlightened creative class and a retrograde working class - and place upon the head of the latter all the failures of the party since LBJ. It is not factually true, but it is the story they tell themselves about themselves and what allows them to so vigorously advance a claim about Democratic primary voters that is not supported by an examination of the voters themselves.
The economic success of the Clinton administration went a good way to removing the grounds for racial resentment by focusing on the economic conditions that creates unreasonable competition for social goods. To argue more could have been done is to ignore that advances did happen, and now the party has an opportunity to restructure economic conditions, cementing gains and advancing goals. We won't get there by demonizing an opponent's supporters as bitter, vengeful and stupid. Voters do vote their interests, but those interests arise from complex identities and contradictory lives. Interests are not monolithic. They can be nudged in better directions and cemented with legislation that obviously improves their lives.
The Democratic Party elite needs to get over their obsession with HillBillies and start concretely addressing the bread and butter concerns of all working class Americans.