Monday, January 21, 2008

Who Pays for a Party's Mistakes?

This is something that has been going around in the back of my head for a number of weeks, but has come to the fore as a result of my analysis of polling crosstabs and from thinking very concretely about the reactions of people I know to Hillary Clinton.

One of the uglier memes to come out of the New Hampshire scramble to explain away the pollsters' mistakes was that the people who voted most consistently for HRC - working class women - were de facto racists (I heard the term "unconscious racists") because they were too poorly educated and uncultured to overcome their prejudice against Obama. For several months, there has been a discussion going around the blogosphere about wine track vs. beer track Democratic Party members (i.e., a class distinction), and how the wine drinkers go for Obama and the beer drinkers go for Clinton. The triumphant, and smug, conclusion of this kind of discussion was how Hillary's "own class" of college educated women knew better than to trust her or support her.

The sotto voce argument here is that those blue collar people, especially the uneducated broads, are suffering from false consciousness and don't have enough brain power to understand that, really, they need to ditch the bitch and let themselves be swept away by the Golden One.

I know too many people with less than a college education who are smarter than your average bear to buy that crap. I know way too many "edumacated" people (starting with C+ Augustus) who haven't the sense God gave geese to give much creedance the instincts of the wine crowd.

So, why does Hillary, a wealthy, hyper-educated woman who travels in elite circles appeal so much to Joe and Jane Bag-o-Donuts? It comes down to who pays for a political party's mistakes.

I grew up eating out of food banks and buying second hand clothes from the Salvation Army. In my family's case, it was temporary poverty, eventually overcome by steady employment and paying down large debts. Since then, I've had to struggle a bit to make my way in the world. I worked my way through college, won scholarships and took out loans for grad school, made some dramatic career changes when things weren't working out and now I'm doing pretty darn well. It doesn't matter to me who is president or what party controls Congree from a very cold-minded and objective view. I'm white, I'm married, I have highly marketable skills and a wide professional network, and enough money that I never have to go without any necessity. I'm an incredibly privileged member of of this country, in other words.

But what about people who aren't? These are the people who, as HRC points out in the recent New York Times article, need the power of the government and regulatory agencies firmly on their side to avoid catastrophic consequences to events that would simply worry and inconvenience me. These are most of the people in the US. These are people for whom a dysfunctional agency, like FEMA, is not just the difference between life and death, but the difference between recovery and being mired in misery month after month after year. When a party messes up something like health insurance, it is not the politicians who pay, save perhaps in electoral success. It is the mother whose child dies of a curable fever. It is the widow whose joint disease never gets treatment and so her mobility and independence are impaired. It's the father who gets laid off from work due to recession cuts and no longer has insurance to cover his family.

For these people, it matters very, very much that the person sitting in the White House pays attention to them and demonstrates that she's aware of just how close to the edge they live. Even more, it matters that the party in power be dedicated to advancing the cause of ordinary people. They want good old-fashioned FDR Democrats running things and making the government work for the people, because they know who will be the first to pay for systemic problems.

While "change" resonates because the current condition of the country blows chunks, not just any change will do. This is why, over and over, Hillary out maneuvers, out performs and out polls the rest of the guys. People remember the 90s as being significantly better and more stable than what they have now, they know HRC was a part of that government, and they want to start with someone they trust to get the basic shit in order right away. They don't see it as "picking between evils." They see it as returning to a time when somoen with talent and a hellacious work ethic was in charge. Whatever warts there were (and are) dwindle in importance compared to the good performance they have seen before.

People who support Obama, by the demographics, are people who won't be harmed if he loses the election or fails to perform in office. It is a nearly costless vote for them, an extravagance. If they are wrong in their choice, it will be Clinton supporters who pay the price.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bravo. You should really submit one of these posts to the NYT editorial or other worthy newspaper for publication.