Wednesday, September 10, 2008


The polls are rattling nerves up and down the Democratic ladder as Obama and Biden turn a “No way to lose!” election year into a “How are we going to win?” nail biter. They are apprehensive of how the race is shaping up. For a look at the polls as they roll out, be sure to check out Charles Lemos' By the Fault. I find the polls fascinating but still too much under the influence of the conventions. What they look like this time next week will be more telling for the final outcome.

Some trends in the polls answer questions I raised in the SUSA poll post. The questions I had were mostly about the undecideds. Who are they? Well, they tend to be white in numbers, Hispanic in proportion, female, lower income, older, and from the Midwest. The SUSA poll did not ask who they had supported (if anyone) in the primaries, so we don’t know how previous loyalties map onto this. (If any pollsters are reading this blog, that would be a very good data point to track, hint, hint.)They are swing state voters and they are showing signs of being willing to defect to McCain. What we are seeing now is the defection game I discussed back in May, Percentage, Preferences and Defections, Oh My! The campaign that is most effective in wooing defections to their side in the Midwest and in the border state area will win the election.

The emphasis currently is on the poll numbers, but the political question is not that people break one way or the other, for this candidate over that one, but why they are doing so. Unless you know why someone is resolving to vote X instead of Y, you cannot address their concerns and win over their vote. You must apprehend what matters to them. A recent article in the BBC by Joe Bageant on being a redneck gets to the heart of the apprehension divide in Democrats:

As to having our delicate beer-sodden feelings protected from the term redneck; well, I appreciate the effort, though I highly suspect that the best way to hide snobbishness is to pose as protector of any class of folks you cannot bear. Thus we are being protected by the very people who look down on us - educated urban progressives. …

The term redneck indicates a lifestyle and culture that can be found in every state in our union. The essentials of redneck culture were brought to America by what we call the Scots Irish, after first being shipped to the Ulster Plantation, where our, uh, remarkable cultural legacy can still be seen every 12 July in Ireland.

Read the whole article; it is short and more sophisticated than its folksy veneer would have you think. Kind of like the rednecks it describes. This article resonates well with this one, Obama and the Closing of the American Dream, in the online journal n + 1. This article presents an interesting and I think correct view on the apprehensive feelings of America’s blue-collar and pink-collar classes towards the usual Democratic candidate – someone they do not apprehend to be one of them (my emphasis throughout):

This classless universality—the hope that every American citizen, through free labor, could enjoy middle-class respectability, economic freedom, and the intellectual benefits of education—lay at the core of the dreams championed by farmers, small-business owners, and factory workers. In the nineteenth century, such universal rhetoric coexisted with the practical exclusion of blacks and women, who were considered to be beneath citizenship. Crucially, however, there was nothing intrinsic to farming, wage earning, or entrepreneurship that required the permanent separation of these groups from the promise of social respectability. Today, one can and should hope for an American dream that truly includes all Americans, and which recognizes and respects all the different types of labor the country needs. This would fulfill the promise of nineteenth-century aspirations.

Instead we have been left with the professional ideal, which values only certain types of work and thus implicitly disdains the rest. It is an inherently exclusive ideal, structured around a divide between those engaged in high-status work and those confined to task execution. The political theorist Iris Marion Young writes, "Today equal opportunity has come to mean only that no one is barred from entering competition for a relatively few privileged positions." The idea of exclusivity is a necessary structural feature of professionalization. As a model for society, however, it validates an economic and cultural divide between those with meaningful access to social respectability and the vast majority of Americans, who remain consigned to low status and low-income employment.

From 1932 until 1968, the Democratic Party rested on two descriptions of American life—the American dream as embodied by the rural farmer and the industrial worker. It gained sustenance from a respect for these accounts of middle-class achievement, economic independence, and democratic inclusion. Today's party, however, has given up on establishing new forms of solidarity for nonprofessional citizens. All it has to offer is a lose-lose proposition: join the competition for professional status and cultural privilege at a severe disadvantage, or don't join it at all. The party holds on to the social programs of the past, but in ever more truncated form. It presents a politics of consensus while ignoring the fact of basic division.

This profound shift in the fabric of ordinary life, away from conditions that would support blue-collar affluence and towards a highly competitive situation of symbolic analysts and information workers has been happening since the rise of the professional middle class in the early 1900s, but has increased in speed and scope since the 1960s. As I discussed in Easy Come, Easy Go, the GI Bill helped both to hasten that shift and to help certain groups of people escape it. The people who have been mocked by the Obamacans and by the MSM – bitter, dead-enders, clinging to outré emblems of the declining classes, Bunkers and Bubbas – are those who now are undecided about what to do with their votes come November. These are people who have traditionally voted Democrat and are willing to do so again. They are Clinton Democrats, which is not merely people who vote for Bill or Hillary, but people with cultural and economic interests to defend. If their economic needs are not met, then they will vote on culture, which is how the republicans keep winning narrow victories. They are the rednecks of Bageant’s article and the people being told to engage in a fight against tremendous odds, or get out of the way.

Bill Clinton’s simple formulation “people who work hard and play by the rules,” resonates with this constituency because it appeals to their cultural values in the right way, and it captures their main complaint against the socio-economic gotcha they are now facing – we did what we were told to do, and we’re being left behind. If you work with your hands for a living, working hard takes on a different feel than the 9-5 cubicle rat race. It is hard to be on your feet all day, always moving and doing physical things, like digging stuff up, constructing things, assembling things, moving stuff. Pink collar jobs may not require the brute force, but they are still taxing – retail, restaurants, health care. People who work hard want things done by the rules. They see the irony of the rock star singing “Money for nothing and your chicks for free,” from the perspective of an appliance delivery guy.

These voters are apprehensive about someone who doesn’t seem to be on their side. They will come out to vote for someone who defends their interests as they understand them, which may not be the way that the current DNC leadership views their interests. What the polls reflect is their current opinion, subject to change but less so with each passing day, of what is most in their interest, and it is more than economics or even national security. It is about culture, class and respect. It is about appeals that are not overtly antagonistic towards them. When the Democratic campaign is about ditching the former loyalists, those loyalists begin to wonder just what they are loyal to and whether their loyalty will be better rewarded elsewhere.

The misapprehension of Clinton Democrats by the Obamacans would be funny were it not so self-defeating. Bitter knitters? In that one phrase, the current Democratic leadership insults the demographic that is going to decide the election – older women in traditional jobs and roles whose important pastimes include creative handiwork, such as knitting, sewing, crocheting, spinning, weaving, quilting and other practical crafts. As someone who cannot do any of these things to save her life, I am in awe of the women (and men) who do this. This would also encompass the men and women formerly employed in the textile industry where their skilled labor has been rendered obsolete by the disappearance of the mills. What someone (thank you, Rahm) may think of as some fringe or marginal hobby practiced by a few deranged Hillary holdouts actually goes to the heart of the loss of the blue collar middle class and the increasing divide between not so much as the haves and have nots, as those with a chance at affluence and those who are “confined to task execution.” Not just current riches but the possibility of gaining them in the future.

This cognitive disconnect among the best and the brightest is almost as severe as their misapprehension of themselves. Arthur Silber, who writes things that make me squirm and want to object (and that’s a good thing), is an unrelenting critic of progressive self-misapprehension. Read here on the conceits about racism, misogyny and “anti-war” that the Obamacan progs like to attribute to themselves, not comprehending the depths of their mendacity about how they benefit from racial privilege, gender bias, and the kind of cultural and economic divide that guarantees bodies for the war machine without threat of a draft that might pull the denizens of Whole Foods Nation into the conflagration.

These two instances of apprehension – failing to apprehend political reality leading to formerly loyal partisans feeling apprehensive about what the leadership is doing – are unforced errors on the Democratic side. McCain may have capitalized on them with the selection of Palin, but she merely illuminates the already existing split.

Undecided voters defecting to the Republicans is a symptom of the political incompetence of our current party leaders. Once the debacle is over, they should be apprehended and tossed out on their ears.



cgeye said...

Oh, there's a world of hurt for politicos who underestimate knitters.

My time spent at the knitting tables these past two weeks have let me overhear intense discussions on the choice of Palin (they covered how she wouldn't have many interviews before it became widespread knowledge) and how the Democratic response to her lies has been underwhelming. Conservatives and ultra-liberals were stitching, and they were keeping abreast of issues.

What the hell do consultants think women do while watching TV? A few thousand socks will be done by the end of each debate. Knitters listen, and think. So do whittlers, tobacco chewers, pipe smokers and bloggers. And need I mention that knitters often work with community organizers to make goods for the needy, or does Obama's men think they're too bitter to keep a chemo patient's head warm?

For Pete's sake, when do we stop making own goals?

oceans said...

During the Democratic primaries, late deciders broke 2 to 1 for Clinton over Obama (as I recall). It was never clear to me why that was, but would this phenomenom hold true for the GE? Granted, the number of late deciders may be unusually small for this particular GE. But Obama's political deafness for what resonates with the public at large doesn't seem to hold any promise of increasing his appeal to late deciders.

Anonymous said...

At some point in 2008 one started to hear that the Democratic party is addressing the problems of the middle class. For the first time, the poor have disappeared and became invisible to the party. I don't know whether this is an Obama initiated move or a change initiated by the bunch of rich cats that runs the party. As a result the party has stopped seeing the poor altogether.

In any event this was a huge switch from the FDR tradition, which was followed closely recently by Bill Clinton. There was no grass root discussion or awareness of the change. Unless we consider the primaries where Obama represented the "only middle class" camp and Hillary represent the old FDR coalition as the ideological airing and battleground for dropping the poor. I don't believe that the primaries are a proper place for a discussion of whether the party stops to be progressive and becomes the old left wing of the Republican party. These primaries were race-centered and character assassination focused; party ideology, if at issue at all, was hidden from the public and party members.

This change, of course, puts the concerns of a large number of voters in key states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio outside the target zone of the party.

If you add to that Obama's poor campaigning skills, his winded answer to simple questions and his confused campaign team you start to recognize danger to a Democratic victory in a year in which your pig could have won walking away.

Námo Mandos said...

Your last paragraph is crucial, but I think it leaves out, once again, the fact that it isn't entirely the party leadership at fault for this mess. In other words, your conclusion as I understand it is somewhat disjointed from the rest of your analysis, which I think is spot-on.

This could never happen unless a large part of the party's support, strategic and financial is coming from the vanguard of the competitive professionalization to which you refer, and to which I am personally definitely a part and have an idea of what goes on.

And that is a subconscious attitude that emanates from San Francisco that much of America is simply obsolete, and Has To Go. Need America v2.0. Not too long ago, I had the surreal experience of attending a talk by David Brin, who is a popular SF writer and academic who speaks before tech worker crowds on a regular basis, and as a futurist is therefore taken as a motivational speaker.

I love Brin's books, but it was absolutely surreal how in none of the profound economic shifts that Brin mentioned, the losers were never mentioned, and the audience never mentioned it during the long QA session.

Brin is an ardent Democrat. A Gore Democrat, who knows what Gore *actually* said and did regarding the Internet.

Bookhorde said...

It is an inherently exclusive ideal, structured around a divide between those engaged in high-status work and those confined to task execution.

It sounds a lot like a stratified third-world economy, actually. One reason, for example, that Asians culturally value education so much is that it is the one way to rise through the classes.

Bob Harrison said...

I'd like to add one follow-up point to your excellent post-- the all volunteer military is a very dangerous animal for the long-term stability of the nation. Sooner or later, the cannon fodder gets tired of being shot and turns on its masters.

The best solution to keep us out of unnecessary wars and avoid the inevitable result of a military/civilian divide is to keep that divide from occurring by making sure everyone gets a turn a the trumpet.

Anonymous said...

I'l like to respond to Bob and his views on an all volunteer military.

I'd like to say up front that I'm a retired Navy Chief so I have some experience with young troups. I can give you all kinds of reasons why the all volunteer military is more professional and efficient than a conscript military but it would take too long. So I'd like to leave you with just one thought. Do you really want to put live weapons or access to large weapons depots into the hands of young 18-21 year olds who are totally pissed off that they have been drafted?

Anonymous said...

Great post, and it gets at why the Obama folks have made this election needlessly close. If you run a campaign based on delivering tangible economic benefits to people who need them, which includes a lot of us, you are going to engender real loyalty and commitment. That's the most direct and concrete way a Democrat can show you he's on your side. Fuzz it up with a lot of empty rhetoric about hope and change, and people are left to try to figure out through slippery intangibles whether he's on your side - ie, Muslim name, Harvard grad, cling to, bitter, lipstick, etc. I actually get the feeling Obama finally (the self-preservation instinct seems to be kicking in) gets this and is trying to articulate that this election is about a campaign to help us versus a campaign to distract us from the disasters of the last 7 years. Whether it's too late or not, I don't know.

Shainzona said...

Scott: the problem I have with BO now realizing (doh!) that this should be a campaign to help us and not one to distract us is that he still offers no plans. I was furious during the primaries when I asked what he stood for and was told "Go read his website...if you can read" (Cute!)

My point was - and still is - if the average person can't articulate what a candidate will do then s/he has done a horrible job of campaigning.

The problem with Obama now is that he wasted the whole summer and let McCain take over the dialogue with Palin and BO's (now) suport for the surge. And now there are so many distractions that it will take weeks to get things on course. By then, of course, I'm pretty sure other distractions will have appeared.

I also note Tom Friedman's comments about Obama going from "cool to cold". Actually Obama just doesn't exude any heat at all. He will be ice by November.

femB4dem said...

Great post, couldn't agree more. The fixation by the blooger boyz and the Obamabots on the "creative class" was a huge mistake for the Democratic Party this year. (I was never even clear exactly what that is, but boy oh boy did PB 1.0 bloviate about it). Throw in that potent brew of misogyny that often comes from very young men (and, sadly, very young women), and in this year came also from older "creative class" types who came into our Party because of their disgust with Bush (and brought their Republican-leaning Hillary hatered with them), and it was a recipe for disaster. Add to that the disdain among this so-called class for the real working class, and the recipe became the half-baked meal that we are all trying to digest now -- the reality that the Dems managed to "select" the one candidate who will lose this year of all Dem years because he cannot garner enough votes from furious women and the so-called Reagan (I prefer Clinton) Democrats. Dumb, dumb, dumb, Democratic Party.

jangles said...

I think you have to add to all of these points what Hillary called an important new voice and perspective that is Sarah Palin. The early charges of whacko religious nut, book burner, creationist etc. have proven to be untrue and off base. But to me more important is how so many do not get the underlying reality---that Palin in many ways is the dream delivered that many of us from the 60's wanted. Not an ideological future or abortion rights but being able to compete and participate in non-traditional roles, to participate in sports and activities traditionally reserved for men, to have a career and family and a husband as partner and supporter---to have career, family, our space and time. And there is in her persona that "do it" attitude, common sense and keeping the budget real. I am amazed at how the Obama team has responded to her candidacy right down to their lack of data about her that is being filled up with hack comments, lies and one liners sucking the presidential nominee into a pointless, dead end competition with the bottom of the ticket. Apprehension, 0.

Unknown said...

The librarian I talk to about these things was having her hair cut, and the women in the shop were definitely in favor of Palin. "Somebody you could have a beer with" has been replaced by, "Somebody who could come over for a cup of coffee."
And yes, I'm a janitor. I take pride in my work, and I think people that can't work with their hands are sissies. Including W.

Unknown said...

Jangles, you are clearly mis-informed about Palin if you think she balances budgets and shows common sense.
Angalchel, I agree with much of your analysis but please let's not forget who McCain represents and the platform of his party. For all of Obama's many faults the Democratic platform is vastly superior to the alternative and he is far less dangerous than McCain. At this time liberals need to focus on beating the Republicans not continuing the internecine battles.
From my standpoint, probably described as good old fashioned socialism, it's always a choice of the lesser of two evils.

Chinaberry Turtle said...

Art said:

"For all of Obama's many faults the Democratic platform is vastly superior to the alternative and he is far less dangerous than McCain. At this time liberals need to focus on beating the Republicans not continuing the internecine battles."

My answer is "no." I don't think you understand Art. Many of us liberal former Democrats (former Democrat, but current liberal) genuinely see less and less difference between the parties. Obama, with his denigration of all things female and working class, has succeeded in erasing all the important differences.

Many of us are really gone. Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi don't believe it now. But they will come November. And after this bizarre female-hating, working class hating contingent of the Democratic party is excomunicated after the November loss, maybe I'll come back.

But we are lost to you now Art. Your pleadings would be more successfully aimed at Dean, Pelosi, and Obama: "What the F are yall doing??!!"