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I'll never forget the day Jesse Jackson swung through my hometown on his 1988 presidential bid. The whole city turned out to hear him speak at the soon-to-be shuttered Motors plant. Jackson won the hearts of autoworkers and their families -- including plenty of bigoted Archie Bunker types, dittoheads-to-be -- that day.

My grandmother, not a bigot but very reserved and not usually given to sullying herself with the dirty business of politics, stood at the rope line and shook his hand. I don't think she washed that hand for days. He was a man for the moment -- one of a precious few (Bruce Springsteen and Michael Moore also come to mind) who were speaking to our concerns as globalization and the outsourcing of American manufacturing lowered the boom on a way of life for tens of millions.

Well, of course, there's still millions of those jobs out there in America -- good union factory jobs that pay a living wage -- but there are far fewer than when I was growing up, and their disappearance has ransacked our cities, small and large alike, plunging many families into poverty and many more into a marginal, hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck Wal-Mart existence that can be upended at any moment by a medical crisis or some other financial hiccup that middle class professionals like myself could sweat out or shrug off like a cold.

John and Elizabeth Edwards spoke to me, right at me, to the values, anxieties and aspirations that molded my politics in the cauldron of my '80s blue collar Midwestern youth. And yet, in recent days, despite his worrisome habit of mouthing rightwing memes, I found myself listing towards Obama. Because the other major formative influence on my politics was the betrayal of the working class by the Clintons as they sought the approval of the neoliberal elites, and I won't be fooled twice. I can find much to admire in Hillary Clinton, and I pine for a strong woman president, but I'll never forgive her and her husband for their sneering, condescending sell-out of working people, sold to us with populist blandishments, bullshit talk of retraining and bright, futuristic tomorrows that never came.  

I read somewhere today that Hillary Clinton was the wine and cheese candidate, which, however perversely, is untrue. Somehow, she's the bread-and-butter, kitchen table candidate, pulling in the blue-collar votes while Obama, despite his own experience of hardship and his work as a community organizer in working class neighborhoods of Chicago, is the "aspirational" candidate, with appeal to youth and the upper-middle-class.  He comes off far more Cambridge than Chicago. His message is pitched, in large part, to soothe the dumb shit opinion leaders of Washington and Wall Street. And that's fine, insofar as it gets him fawning coverage and large donors. But right now, he needs those blue-collar votes to get past Super Tuesday. They're not the constituency they once were -- hence Edwards' third-runner-up status -- but they're the key to the nomination.

JedReport says Obama needs more "pickup truck" in his persona. I'm not sure about that. For my vote, or at least that of the folks back home, he needs to give voice to the economic insecurity that's wracking the nation, promise to hold the corporate malefactors accountable and point to a way out. Perhaps more importantly, he needs to cut the mealymouthed post-partisan rhetoric and tie all the above up in a rebuke to Republicanism. Inspirational leadership is nice and all, but people are fearful for the future -- and very, very angry. Muzak might play well on college campuses and in the nicer suburbs, where people are insulated from the immediate effects of Iraq and the mortgage/credit crisis, but it doesn't speak to that anger and anxiety.

Obama doesn't need to put on any phony jus' folks BS to talk to working people -- he just needs to talk to them.

Originally posted to Septic Tank on Wed Jan 30, 2008 at 11:48 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Uh. As an Obama supporter, Edwards was NOT (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the Jesse Jackson of 2008.

    What's madness but nobility of the soul at odds with circumstance?

    by slinkerwink on Wed Jan 30, 2008 at 11:49:28 AM PST

    •  As an Obedwards supporter (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Timroff, lgmcp

      I disagree. In terms of message (and, lest we forget, hammy charisma), Edwards and Jackson had a lot in common.

      But in any case, it made for a good headline, didn't it?

      "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." -Benjamin Franklin

      by Septic Tank on Wed Jan 30, 2008 at 11:56:06 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I agree. Edwards was the Jesse Jackson (4+ / 0-)

    this time. He was the guy on a quixotic bid for the Presidency, who constantly pulled the conversation in the progressive direction. If you look at Jesse Jackson's platform for the presidency, it's probably somewhere between Edwards and Kucinich.

    Obama would have more of my support if he became just a little more like Jesse. So would Hillary, for that matter.

  •  Totally Agree (0+ / 0-)

    I still have my "Just Say Jesse" shirt from 88.

  •  With only 2% of the Black vote in SC, Edwards was (0+ / 0-)

    hardly the Jesse Jackson in the race. Jackson called for a 25% reduction in the defense budget. None of the Dem's, including Edwards is talking about any reduction in defense spending. Edwards should be given a lot of credit for talking about the two America's. I believe he will have a positive impact on the eventual nominee. But his voting record was not nearly as progressive as his rhetoric.

    I hope he is the Attorney General or Labor Sec. in Hillary's administration. Not surprisingly, another person takes a cheap shots at the Clintons.

    •  You mean the cheap shot that's debunked (0+ / 0-)

      in the very next phrase?

      I read somewhere today that Hillary Clinton was the wine and cheese candidate, which, however perversely, is untrue. Somehow, she's the bread-and-butter, kitchen table candidate, pulling in the blue-collar votes

      "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

      by lgmcp on Wed Jan 30, 2008 at 01:45:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Look at exit polls... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mojo Jojo

    Clinton took the working class vote, not Edwards. I agree that Edwards appealed to this group but he didn't win their vote.

  •  Perpetuating race-cards on dayEdwards drops out (0+ / 0-) yet another example of some of the poor taste I've witnessed here today. Why lump John Edwards in with the whole unfortunate code-laden episode in SC?

    Let the scab heal, already.

    Yesterday Maxine Waters told MSNBC's Nora O'Donnell that she was refusing to entertain these overtly race-laden and not-so-overtly race-laden questions.

    Let that be an example for all of us. It only drgs us down.

    I'm listing toward Hillary Clinton because she's already speaking to suburban and rural America in 2008 without having to pander or pretend.

    I agree that pick-up trucks don't need to be added to the pander-list. Most of suburban neighbors of mine here in the Northeast have trucks or SUVs to get them through winter and have many other issues pressing on their minds than worrying about who sounds most rural.

    •  I took this primarily as an economic-based (0+ / 0-)

      commentary, not a race-based one.  Jesse Jackson as the darling of those suffering from rust-belt decline.  Whassa matter, do you only see JJ as a representative for blacks or something?!  

      "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

      by lgmcp on Wed Jan 30, 2008 at 01:39:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I was riding a city bus to my college classes (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dania Audax, lgmcp

    through downtown Cleveland in 1988 and my best friend -- who was black -- and I were talking about voting for Jesse in the Ohio Primary. We both agreed that he was the most interesting and exciting candidate, and that we were both excited to vote for him, but there were a few questions we still had about him.

    My friend at one point said that he thought Jackson was "an enigma" when the woman in front of us -- an elderly black woman -- turned and glared at us.

    "Who you callin' a 'nigma?" she said angrily, and while I hastily suppressed my laughter, my friend explained that he had said enigma, that he was a curiosity, and had unknown qualities. It took a while, but her feathers finally unruffled, and she said that she was glad we were going to "vote for brother Jesse."

    I'll never forget it...

    •  Great story. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Timroff, Dania Audax

      Moments from true life.  And isn't it nice that the world had finally progressed to the point where she felt safe enough to challenge strangers over the slur she thought she heard?  

      "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

      by lgmcp on Wed Jan 30, 2008 at 01:40:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  There is a Certain Logic Here (0+ / 0-)

    I voted for and contributed to Jesse Jackson in both 1984 and 1988 and I planned to vote for, and contributed to, John Edwards this year.  The reasons were the same -- Jackson and Edwards were the most progressive, anti-corporate, candidates in the race.  

    Also like Edwards, Jesse Jackson was an overwhelming underdog, whom the press vilified for his anti-corporate rhetoric.

    On the other hand, Jesse Jackson, like Barak Obama, was known for giving a great speech.  As a Jackson volunteer in Harlem in 1988 I stood in front of the State Office Building on 125th Street in the rain along with 6,000 other people to hear Reverend Jackson deliver a speech that left few eyes dry. Like Senator Obama, Reverend Jackson appealed to the better nature of our citizens.  His eloquence inspired us.

    And also like Senator Obama, Reverend Jackson did incite pride in the black community.  Though the black community certainly wasn't unanimous on this. there were many people who wouldn't necessarily have voted or worked for Jesse Jackson because of his stand on the issues, but who did in fact vote and work for him because of black pride.  I walked the precincts in Harlem in 1988 and spoke to many people who felt this way.  Shirley Chisolm had already run for president, but Reverend Jackson took it all to a new level, winning several primaries.  People were proud.

    So I can see your point about Edwards being the Jackson of 2008, but there are still many ways that Barak Obama is to 2008 what Jesse Jackson was twenty years ago.  But who cares if Obama is compared to John Edwards or Jesse Jackson or if either of them is compared to Obama. Any of these comparisons should be considered compliments to any of the parties.

    This aggression will not stand, man.

    by kaleidescope on Wed Jan 30, 2008 at 02:25:07 PM PST

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