Apparently, this weekend we reached a new phase in the campaign; I sort of caught it late yesterday, but by today (the weekend is not, apparently, still his friend), it's everywhere: Barack Obama think working class people are bitter, angry... and confused.
I think it's fair to say that the places where we are going to have to do the most work are the places where people feel most cynical about government. The people are mis-appre...I think they're misunderstanding why the demographics in our, in this contest have broken out as they are. Because everybody just ascribes it to 'white working-class don't wanna work -- don't wanna vote for the black guy.' That's...there were intimations of that in an article in the Sunday New York Times today - kind of implies that it's sort of a race thing.
Here's how it is: in a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long, and they feel so betrayed by government, and when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn't buy it. And when it's delivered by -- it's true that when it's delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama (laugher), then that adds another layer of skepticism (laughter).
But -- so the questions you're most likely to get about me, 'Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What's the concrete thing?' What they wanna hear is -- so, we'll give you talking points about what we're proposing -- close tax loopholes, roll back, you know, the tax cuts for the top 1 percent. Obama's gonna give tax breaks to middle-class folks and we're gonna provide health care for every American. So we'll go down a series of talking points.
But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
There's a lot to get into here, and a lot of people already have. But what fascinated me - and still does - is the decision of Obama to drop hope and go with "angry."
As Ezra notes, Marc Ambinder has a fairly comprehensive discussion of why everyone's pissed - it's interesting that conservatives, and McCain, decided to take this moment to complain about the part about "guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them" part; that part, I tend to agree with the lefty side, is pretty much the storyline as we see it.
What I actually take issue with is the broad-brush attempt to paint economic issues in the way he does - a way that, yet again, suggests unbroken misery from the Reagan Administration (or earlier) until today "And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush
administration, and each successive administration has said that
somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not." Well no, that's not exactly the case.
On one level Obama's right that towns hard hit by the loss of manufacturing jobs have never completely recovered; though the fact is, that's one place where neither he, nor McCain, nor Clinton actually have a lot of good answers. No one does, short of reigniting manufacturing job growth, something no one really knows how to do. But on another level, it takes years of fairly positive developments in the nineties (now dismissed by Obama supporters as "those Tech boom years" that helped only the rich... er, people like those who support Obama... oh, never mind) and lumps them in with the lousy economic stewardship of both Bush Presidencies, and creates one long wash of misery, bitterness and despair. There's complexity here - complexities about what can be done when people have opportunities to retrain for new skills, when economic growth stimulates the economy, when government works to ensure fairness and opportunities for all in part by regulating business, and not pretending that business can simply regulate itself.
But really set aside the quibbling... you know who already made this argument?
Yes, amazingly - at least to me - we have swung full circle to a point where what John Edwards used as his campaign theme - fighting the fight for those left behind - becomes Obama's rallying cry. He's angry, he's populist, and darn it... no one's gonna make him look like he hates working people!
Um, okay... let's review.
This actually didn't work for Edwards. As I said then, as Obama teases Clinton's notion that people are well, optimistic and hopeful... that's just what we are - hopeful. These may be the worst of times... but as Americans we're really not into downbeat. If Edwards was right about the need to help those passed by in the economic progress of the nineties (something I quite agree with), by making it a tale of anger and outrage, the message he offered was pretty dismal. Life is hard, jobs are lost... we're struggling and failing to get ahead.
This is not what people want to hear. It's not even, despite the insistence of "realists", what we need to hear
What people need to hear, apparently, is what Hillary Clinton has offered instead - a notion that we already have the wherewithal and the tools to fix what's broken... which, by the way, is not everything, and calling it bitterness and hopelessness is too simplistic (and this, arguably, is where conservatives probably do have a point - reducing concerns over social issues, gun rights and other topics to "cynicism" or triablism; some people do, actually care about these things because they think they're important).
I think Obama may well have turned an already hard story in Pennsylvania - where his winning was at best, ether a longshot or required an absolute reversal of Clinton's prospects that has not, despite their best efforts, materialized - into a total losing proposition. Between the San Francisco remarks and the remarks later the same day, Obama came off both as patronizing (I think) and downbeat. Though he is an amazing speaker, in many ways, I think repeated exposure has revealed some flaws: that he's tetchy when questioned too hard or too often, and that he tends to talk strategy and analysis when action and specifics are needed. I don't want to know why you think white working class voters don't trust you; I want to know the plans you have to work on the problems we face.
I'm not alone in this: from TalkLeft to Shakesville, this speech (and that Advocate interview) seems to have opened up a way to discuss, finally, the issues over issues, not personalities. As I've said, here and elsewhere, I think the Obama campaign is frustrated that the message they've carried to a roughly 48% success rate can't seem to go across the line. If "hope" and "change" won't cut it... how about "angry.. and cynical?" Yeah, that's the ticket...
I titled this post based on an old item from an Esquire "Women We Love" issue a while back - which, despite the heavy panting over reimagining real women as breathy Varga girl drawings, does so with a generally light touch and some self effacing humor (and hey, I think Josh Hartnett is purdy, too) - that came out as Alanis Morissette was enjoying the runaway success of Jagged Little Pill, their little blurb being "Oh, we get it; so... you're angry, right?" Well yes and no (When you told me you'd love me until you died, til you died... well, you're still alive - I mean, it's.. bracing, at least). I like the line because it gets the point, while also missing it.
I figured, when push came to shove, when winning PA became a mission, not just an afterthought, that Obama would have something... something interesting... to show; instead, it's "I get it... you're angry." We're angry, I'm angry... the banister's angry.
If that's the best he's got... well, I think we can work with it. Cause I'm not angry. And I'm not impressed.