Sunday, May 11, 2008

Democratic Blind Spots

At this point in the primary campaign, there isn't a lot of doubt about what the primary contests themselves will hold. Hillary has a chance to pull a slight upset in Oregon, as rural voters and a growing number of voters in the greater Portland area are leaning towards her. I'm also curious to see what the Montana primary margins end up looking like. Other than those two details, the rest of the campaign is Obama getting his arrogance handed to him by the voters.

I will simply repeat what I've been saying for weeks now: Hillary = nominee = victory; Obama = nominee = defeat. Neither candidate has enough pledged delegates to get to 2209 votes without super delegates, so it is up to the SDs to decide the fate of the party in this electoral cycle. The nominee isn't the person with the most at a certain point in time, it is the person who first hits 2209.

What does interest me greatly is watching the modern day "Best and Brightest" come totally unhinged over Hillary's candidacy. No, really, this is a fascinating sociological study that is confirming themes and thoughts I've been writing about since long before this particular campaign. It has to do with the fault lines in the Democratic coalition as such and the difficulty the two major strands - Stevensonian and Truman/Jacksonian - have trying to keep the coalition together. It's all further complicated because of the way in which non-white ethnic groups brought into the coalition since the New Deal do not fit neatly onto what is fundamentally an argument among the "whites" about class privilege and distribution of socio-economic power.

I was sent a link to an article written by Sen. Jim Webb about the Scots-Irish in America and the way in which the current Democratic Party is failing to appeal to this group. It is a short piece that does not candy coat anything. Here are key paragraphs, but be sure to read the whole thing:

The Scots-Irish comprised a large percentage of Reagan Democrats, and contributed heavily to the "red state" votes that gave Mr. Bush the presidency in 2000. The areas with the highest Scots-Irish populations include New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, northern Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas, northern Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, southern Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and parts of California, particularly Bakersfield. The "factory belt," especially around Detroit, also has a strong Scots-Irish mix. ...

The Democrats lost their affinity with the Scots-Irish during the Civil Rights era, when -- because it was the dominant culture in the South -- its "redneck" idiosyncrasies provided an easy target during their shift toward minorities as the foundation of their national electoral strategy. Their long-term problem in having done so is twofold. First, it hampers their efforts to carry almost any Southern state. And second, the Scots-Irish culture has strong impact outside the South. This is especially strong in many battleground states. It is no accident that many political observers call the central region in Pennsylvania "Northern Alabama." Scots-Irish traditions play heavily in New Hampshire -- the only New England state that Mr. Bush carried in 2000. Large numbers of Scots-Irish settled in the southern regions of Ohio (called "Northern Kentucky"), Indiana and Illinois. They were among the principal groups to settle Missouri and Colorado. They migrated heavily to the industrial areas in Michigan, which is one reason that George Wallace, ran so strongly in that state in 1968 and 1972. ...

In fact, the greatest realignment in modern politics would take place rather quickly if the right national leader found a way to bring the Scots-Irish and African Americans to the same table, and so to redefine a formula that has consciously set them apart for the past two centuries.

Secret GOP Weapon: The Scots-Irish Vote
WSJ, October 19, 2004

These words are very different than what we have been hearing lately from the Left punditocracy, yet they are exactly what does need to happen for the Democrats to solidify the promise contained in their large and disparate coalition. The states listed by Sen. Webb include the most crucial swing states. It also shows a fundamental relationship between the Bunkers of the north and the Bubbas of the south, namely in the presence of this ethnic group in the different geographical regions.

As a reminder, my three major themes on Left politics that I try to write about are:
  1. The tension between liberal democracy and more radical modes in the conduct of Left politics.
  2. The way "The South" works in the Left's political imagination, and how that mitigates against coalitions.
  3. With reference to current affairs, what is the effect of the netroots (if any) on the conduct of Left politics.

That ongoing analysis will be my focus from here on out. As I see it, there is a serious power struggle going on within the party to retain control within the old guard Northern tier faction to prevent the rise of a border-state power center that looks to ally the Southwest (Hispanic) with swing state working class voters for a voting block not beholden to Teddy Kennedy & Co.



orc said...

For what it's worth, I live in Portland proper and I've seen a grand total of two Clinton bumper stickers, compared to countless hundreds of Obama bumper stickers. Similarly for yard signs, though I haven't travelled out of southeast portland at all in the last couple of months. And the Obama campaign has buckets of money (to the point where they are calling me -- a socialist, so I'm not likely to be voting in the Democratic primary -- multiple times asking for my vote.)

If my part of Portland is at all representative of the Democratic population in the state, Ms. Clinton will not be winning here. Sorry :-(

Nance said...

anglachel, i think i've finally arrived at an interpretation that makes sense (for me) of this whole shitshow of a primary season. the thoughts had been percolating for a while now, but they crystallized when i saw this comment by chancellor over at talkleft:

[A]s I see it, this year, the will of the voters is going to mean less than the power struggle going on within the Beltway Dems--aided and abetted by some in the blogosphere. The Mountain States are seen by these "new coalition" Dems as representing the best opportunity to counter the Southern Strategy of the Repubs.

As best I can tell, there are many in the Dem party who would like to write off the South entirely as an electoral strategy. This would mean being able to throw out the influence of the Carters, the Gores and the Clintons. Of course, they can't do this without replacement states to make up the votes. What they're hoping is that they can cobble together enough Libertarians in the Mountain States and the border states, such as Virginia and Missouri, to re-draw the electoral map. Obama is the candidate that they chose to draw these voters into the Dem fold.

The problem is that the big electoral votes are still in states where the voter demographics favor Clinton. IMO, the neo-Libertarians will do anything to stop Clinton in order to execute the first part of their strategy--including taking a loss in the GE, as long as they think they can pick up the congressional races. They're trying to prove a point here, IMO, whether or not it means winning back the White House. There's also a problem in that Libertarians are not Democrats, so we are seeing a fight not just for votes but for values. . . .

My guess is that they believe it's now or never, and that due to the state of the economy, the Iraq war/occupation and Bush's approval ratings, this is the time for the coup.

BTW, I do believe it is an attempt at an internal coup. IMO, the comments by Brazile were a slip-up in her anger--we weren't supposed to know that we were being told to go to the back of the bus and stay there, at least not until November. However, now that the plan is out there, you have people like Chris Bowers and Matt Stoller extolling the virtues of the new, neo-Libertarian party, formerly known as the Democrats. Maybe they think we'll change our minds once they tell us how wonderful everything is going to be under the new order. It's Animal Farm redux, best I can tell.

and as an FDR/WJC dem, i'm definitely royally f*cking pissed at this.

gendergappers said...

Nailed it again. Also I think Nance's chancellor quote has it right and it demonstrates the "feeling of things not being right" that many of us have.

Donna Brazil has always had a problem of not being able to keep her mouth shut when she gets angry. She has been near frantic in her defense of BO so it is not surprising that she let the plans of the big boyz slip.

lakelobos said...

First and foremost I have to state that I a newcomer. A lot of the political tradition of this country is new to me and may be missing nuances and historical fragments. Once, this is out the way, I can comment more freely.

At least through the Obama prism, the struggle doesn't seem to be a power struggle going on within the party to retain control within the old guard Northern tier faction to prevent the rise of a border-state power center that looks to ally the Southwest (Hispanic) with swing state working class voters for a voting block not beholden to Teddy Kennedy & Co.

Obama seeks, in my opinion, to replace the old guard, never mind that its leaders Kennedy and Kerry jumped on the Obama band wagon, and totally ignores Hispanics, border states and, of course, working class voters.

If my view is correct, then how do one explain the Obama success? I see it more as the emergence of a charismatic, opportunistic and demagogical outsider, e.g. Napoleon-Clinton-Thatcher, who appeals to an ad hoc coalition whose parts have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

We must face the fact that the young (he is a rock star), the wine drinkers (we had enough of the Clinton, the papers say so, and we want to be more important) and the fake lefties (he is black and progressive) are as different from each other as you can find.

I disagree with two additional comments in the post. I find the talk about the left misplaced. There is no left left in this country. Symbolically the left died with Paul Wellstone. The Nation, the organ of the left for decades has endorsed a candidate who insults the blue collar workers; that is not left. At best, this is center. Cesar Chavez is left. Supporting a candidate that doesn't support universal health care is not.

The post is "watching the modern day "Best and Brightest" come totally unhinged over Hillary's candidacy." I can recognize hate when I see it. The best and the brightest are not unhinged they are full of hate. They needed like they need oxygen. They hated Bubba and now hate his wife. They are not allowed to hate blacks; it's a no no. Then they find another target Clinton/blue collar workers/Clinton supporters, etc.

gendergappers said...

Today I have heard several radio commentators/hosts remark on how tired Obama is getting, of course, being sympathetic [it's all her fault it's gone on so long],but I wonder.

One even mentioned BO saying he'd been in 57 states and then, repeating 57 states again. Now that's tired! And there is that habit he has of running home to rest even before the ballots are counted in states he lost.

Why is this seemingly strong, young male exhausted? Does it indicate a latent health problem? Stress may be making him tired but think of the stress in the Oval office or facing up to McCain in debates or enduring the firestorm of negativity from the right.

On the other hand, there's the Energizer bunny in a pants suit, a good 10 years his senior, looking and acting like the first day of the campaign. This is an amazing feat as she has been running with the msmedia, AARadio, poisoned blogs and the DNC on her back throughout.

Not a peep from the cables about his seemingly weak constitution but just wait if he officially wins the primary and has old guy McCain dancing circles around him.

sas said...

You must not forget that there is a whole faction of men (young in particular), who are scared s**tless of a woman in power. They don't say it in so many words, but it is real. These are some of BO's strongest supporters. It's the dick thing.

Pat Johnson said...

I think this is more the "I Cannot Be Bothered Syndrome" than any physical inertia. He could not be bothered to attend the MLK commemoration. He could not be bothered to attend the Tavis Smiley event. He could not be bothered with debates. He could not be bothered to meet with the gay community. He could not be bothered to meet with the Chicago reporters until pushed into a corner. He could not be bothered to campaign in WVa. It is a sign of is entitlement to the nomination and he is signaling that from his perspective it is over. If elected, we will witness a lot more of his "I cannot be bothered" from this inexperience, unqualified media creation.

Anna said...

I'm feeling really slow: I've just realized how closely this whole campaign tracks the patter of the nomination of Clarence Thomas. Any and all criticism of the nominee is discounted as suspect racism and the woman trying to report reality is demonized with glee.

dragoneyes said...

Some observations...

Much as many traditional conservatives found themselves somewhat blindsided by the neo-conservatives takeover of the reins of the Republican party, the "traditional" left is now getting the opportunity to observe the neo-liberals do the same thing to them, courtesy of the Stevensonian wing of the party.

We live in the age of the corporations and K Street, who naturally are giving their biggest bucks to Obama, the neo-liberal who has promised them whatever they want in order to win this election.

Who needs the workers in America anyway, when you can get "slave" labor in 3rd world countries to do the work for so much less. Especially when there are no pesky regulations or government policies to prevent them from offshoring the work.

Apparently populism is dead for all practical purposes... yet some of the blogger boyz are pretending that Obama has populist policies buried somewhere on his website... the key word here being "buried."

Common Sense Gram said...

Thanks for another great post. Food for thought on the Scots/Irish voters. I will be bookmarking that link! The Irish suffered tremendous discrimination when they came here in droves, but managed to build themselves up. (I would be interested to know if the Irish had preachers telling them they couldn't succeed because the system was against them?)

jacilyn said...

Orc, it's no great secret that putting a Clinton sticker on your car is asking to have your car keyed.

The last time I put a nominee sticker on my car during a hotly contested election, that sticker not only got my car keyed, but my bumper taken off. Seriously: three attacks on one car, one of them while I was in buying groceries. And the local Dem HQ reported massive attacks on yard signs.

So you can't take that as an indicator anymore. The politics of aggression is changing voter behaviors :(

jacilyn said...

You must not forget that there is a whole faction of men (young in particular), who are scared s**tless of a woman in power.

I think it is just as likely or more likely: they are also scared of being drafted into an unpleasant war.

That IMO is one reason why Clinton is unacceptable to them. Her comments about Iran scared them half to death. They really believe Obama will get us out of the war.

Anna said...

I give it three years before Obama has his new 90,000 troops fighting in Pakistan.

orionATL said...

scots-irish, hillbillies, rednecks

my people.

jim webb is a senator (D) from virginia. mark warner, a former virginia governor, is now running for the other virginia senate seat, as a dem.

last week former gov warner launched his senate campaign.

where in virginia did he start?

he began it in abingdon, virgina, far southwest virginia.

hill country.

scots-irish (and not a few polish miners).

warner considers this area and its voters the source of his political strength in virginia.

he is very respectful of their culture and their opinion and their needs.

in warner's 2000(?) gubernatorial campaign the now nationally famous political character "mudcat" grant was a key player in warner's effort to reach out to this group and establish that a democratic campaigner would listen to these citizens, respect them, and assist them.

that meant tolerance for hunting and guns, appreciation of nascar, and political promises (roads, jobs, health care for children) -

promises that MUST, in the scots-irish culture, be kept.

warner kept his promises.

note: not to romanticize, but the scots-irish were the over-mountain men and women in the late 1700's and early eighteen hundreds in american. and they kept on moving west into texas, indiana, ohio.

orionATL said...


due to an unfortunate mid-synapse collision between memory molecules,

i got my "mudcats" mixed up.

the guy who helped run the southwest virgina portion of mark warner's 2001 gubernatiorial campaign was david "mudcat" saunders.

"mudcat" grant was a pitcher for the cleveland indians.

Chinaberry Turtle said...

"I would be interested to know if the Irish had preachers telling them they couldn't succeed because the system was against them?"

Just to be fair, the Scots-Irish, Asians, and Hispanics came to this country by choice, seeking a better life, and have a consequent perception about exploitation vs. participation. Blacks were brought here by force as slaves, so they understandably have a different calculus when looking at these things - a calculus that may in fact be more accurate from their point of view.

Of course, this observation cuts the other direction as well. The new Democratic coalition of (1) creative class wine drinkers, (2) African Americans, and (3) college kids w/ no real responsibilities is unlikely to find appeal among Hispanics, Asians, and working class Scott-Irish.

Solving the problems faced by AAs (or, more accurately, electing an AA figurehead who may or may not solve problems faced by AAs) does not automatically translate into gratitude from these other racial groups. Nor should it. Hispanics and Asians don't have the sin of U.S. black slavery laying at their feet, so the "white guilt" angle is particularly ineffective against them.

Denise said...

Lakelobos: a separate issue from what the Obama voters want or what he himself wants is what the party wants. Other than hatred of the Clintons, I can't account for why so many Democratic political figures came out for Obama. It was almost - but not quite - enough for me to reconsider my own position, thinking they must know something I don't. If they can succeed in putting together a big enough coalition without the South, that might be great, except that if the party goes libertarian I'll be looking for a new home myself; in my way of thinking excessive individualism is the problem in this country, not the solution.

If they can't put together a winning coalition, then it's the past 30 years all over again. We've been too self-righteous to reach out to the white working class (except for Bill Clinton), and we should have realized the problem with that approach long ago.

Alice said...

I do think the DNC and the Super Delegates have to look at how the Bush Administration’s approval ratings have continued to slide for 4 years or more. And now they are as low as ever. A 70% disapproval rating! The GOP brand is so bad they had to steal the Democratic party. If you think you can spin reality indefinitely, think again. Even Rove can’t fool everyone forever. Reality is such that you ignore it at your peril. Do they want to lose the party to Rove and his ilk? Maybe it is time for the disaffected Democrats to focus on taking over the GOP. It might be easier than wresting the reigns from the likes of Dean, Pelosi, Obama, Kerry and Kennedy. Let the cheaters take their ball and play without us. Let them have it, we’ll vote McCain and take them over. Or if that fails, the Democrats may decide that they need the majority of Democrats to win and govern. WHAT A REVOLUTIONARY THOUGHT! Remember, if we vote for McCain, (perish the thought but) it will take them two votes to just be even. And three votes to gain one. How easy will it be for the DNC to round up 33 million more voters to make up for the Hillary voters they snubbed and mocked. Just a little food for thought for the DNC and the delegates. And that doesn't even take into account the really ticked off voters in MI and FL!

Ivory Bill Woodpecker said...

Chinaberry Turtle--I actually respect African-Americans; racist myths to the contrary, most of them are honest, hard-working folks.

However, I cheerfully despise the other two groups you mentioned as the Precious's core support, which is why I finally decided I prefer Clinton after thinking for months I'd be happy with either one of the two remaining candidates.

Ivory Bill Woodpecker said...

BTW, I fall into the working-class and mostly Anglo-Celtic category, with some German, French-Canadian, and a dash of Cherokee thrown in.

orionATL said...

the discussion of race in this democratic primary, especially with regard to west virginia and kentucky, might be enlightened by a reminder

that parts of the old south were vehemently anti-slavery

and that

those parts were almost exclusivley in the appqalacian plateau -

parts of tenn, north carolina, penn, virginia, kentucky

in short " appalachia".

west virginia, you'll recall, was part of virgina prior to the civil war.

east tenn, where i was raised, refused to co-operate in the sourthern "cause" with the rest of that state during the civil war. it became republican long before the days of the 1965 civil rights act or the schemes of lee atwater

and it remains so today.

i'll include here a quote i picked up from google to illustrate my point. i picked it for no other reason than i happened upon it and it illustrates the point i want to make.

need i add,

all these areas have a very stong scots-irish cultural base.

straight from google:

[ Author: Martin, Asa Earl.
Title: “Pioneer Anti-Slavery Press.”
Citation: Mississippi Valley Historical Review 2 (March 1916): 510-28.
HTML by Dinsmore Documentation * Added March 25, 2003



While the history of the anti-slavery movement after 1830 is well known to every student of American history, the movement during the three decades preceding that date is much less familiar and deserves critical investigation. This period has been characterized frequently by anti-slavery writers as the “neglected interval” or the “period of stagnation,” but it may be regarded more properly as a transition epoch, when the scattered forces were being organized and when issues were being defined and plans of operation adopted.

The center of this activity lay in the border states, particularly the great Appalachian plateau, where the system of slavery was poorly adapted to the economic, social, political, and religious life of the people. As slavery was a real problem with them, it is not surprising to see them putting forth special efforts to rid themselves of it. In this work, naturally, the way was led by the Quakers, whose antagonism to slavery is proverbial, ably assisted by the Presbyterians, the Methodists, and the Baptists. The minutes of the American convention of abolition societies during the years immediately preceding the inauguration of the modern abolition movement by Garrison and his followers show in the border states an unusually large number of anti-slavery societies, which at times greatly exceeded in membership those in the free states. This is especially pronounced in 1827 when 106 of the 130 societies and 5,125 of the 6,625 members were located in that section... Western North


Carolina and eastern Tennessee were generally regarded as better fields for anti-slavery labor than either Ohio or New England. John Rankin, a native of Tennessee and for many years one of the leading abolitionists in the country, declared that in his boyhood “a majority of the people of East Tennessee were abolitionists”2 and that “it was safer to make an anti-slavery speech in the South than it became during the thirties to make the same speech in the North.”3

The one important feature of anti-slavery work with which this study is concerned is the establishment and the development of the anti-slavery press, which had its origin in this region during this period. One of the greatest difficulties before the anti-slavery workers in these early years was the small number of periodicals through which they could place before the people their arguments against the system of slavery, since the columns of the regular newspapers were, as a rule, closed to their discussions. The press has always been, as it is today, a powerful agency in determining the final result of any great movement. Horace Greeley wisely stated, “A History which takes no account of what was said by the press in memorable emergencies befits an earlier age than this.” And Napoleon Bonaparte is credited with saying, “Four hostile newspapers are more to be dreaded than one hundred thousand bayonets.” The steady and persistent opposition of the slave interests of


the South to anti-slavery publications indicated their appreciation of the dangers of such propaganda.

The editor of the first periodical established primarily for the discussion of slavery was Charles Osborn. Born in North Carolina of Quaker parentage on the twenty-first of August, 1775, he removed at the age of nineteen with his, parents, to East Tennessee, where he entered the ministry about ten years later. On his frequent ministerial visits among the numerous Quaker settlements in that region,4 he assisted in every way possible in the organization and the activities of the anti-slavery societies. His time during the three years from 1814 to 1816 was devoted almost exclusively to this work. In 1815 he was one of the eight charter members of the Manumission Society of Tennessee, an organization that developed rapidly in numbers and influence. As a result of his aversion to the institution of slavery, he removed, in the latter part of 1816, to Mount Pleasant in southeastern Ohio, where he became the minister of a Quaker congregation.5 Soon after his arrival, he issued the prospectus of a paper that he proposed to establish under the name of the Philanthropist, the first number of which appeared August 29, 1817. This undertaking not prospering as he had hoped, he sold the paper in October of the following year to Elisha Bates6 and a few months later removed to Indiana, where he spent the remainder of his long and eventful life.7

The Philanthropist was a weekly newspaper of religious tone intended, as was set forth clearly and forcefully in the prospectus, to aid in the campaign then being waged by the reformers against three great national evils: war, slavery, and intemperance. In its pages the subject of slavery was discussed nearly


ninety times, or on an average about twice in each number. Benjamin Lundy, then residing at Saint Clairsville, Ohio, was from the first an agent and a regular correspondent of the paper and during the last few months of its existence was, an associate editor.8

The Philanthropist is regarded by many not only as the first anti-slavery paper published in the United States but as the “first journal in America to advocate immediate, unconditional emancipation.” While Osborn is said to have been from his earliest years a “thoroughgoing abolitionist,”9 there is nothing in the Philanthropist to confirm or disprove this, contention, although in one issue it is distinctly stated that emancipation must be gradual.10 In his first number the editor declares hopefully that the time “is is fast approaching when the United States shall no longer be stained with this foul polution of slavery.”11 The fact has been well established that Charles Osborn advocated immediate, uncompensated emancipation as early as 1816,12 yet an examination of the Philanthropist indicates that he did not use this paper to any considerable extent as a medium through which to express such sentiments. In fact, the strongest words against slavery are found in the selections from other papers and in communications from Saint Clairsville, in all probability from the pen of Lundy. That the paper exhibited a moderate anti-slavery spirit may be attributed in part to Osborn’s being so much occupied with his ministerial duties that he was forced to depend for most of the articles, including even many of the editorials, upon his co-workers, men as a rule more tolerant than he. ....]

just a little historical reminder for our day.

jackyt said...

I think it is a mistake to call the AA voting block "members of a coalition". In this primary, they are voting, overwhelmingly, based on shared skin color. Nothing I have heard coming from the Obama campaign leads me to believe he offers anything in the way of policy that would improve the lot of anyone who is not already privileged, much less offering any ideas to bridge the social divide that exists between all too many identifiable minority groups.

That said, I think the DNCniacs are in for a huge disappointment the minute they hang their hat on a non-AA candidate. When the AA community gets back to voting based on "what the candidate will do for me", the "new" democratic party doesn't hold a candle to the one Hillary Clinton represents.