This is from the political blog, Last Kaul.
I'm every bit as sensitive to racism as the next liberal who grew up in the suburbs and attended a Big-10 university. By which I mean, I've rarely seen it in person and pretty much never had it practiced upon my person. I am, however, aware that it exists in America. To argue otherwise would be the height of folly. It would be like claiming we never landed on the moon and citing as proof the fact that I wasn't there as an eyewitness. It would be analogous to insisting global warming was a Green Party scare tactic, evidenced by this past week's unusually cool temperatures in my hometown of New York City. It would be a non-starter.
That being said, I just don't buy the near-universal position across the progressive blogosphere that Hillary Clinton's recent statement concerning white voters constitutes race-baiting. The exact quotation was, "I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on" and she quoted an AP story that pointed out "Senator Obama's support among working, hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. There's a pattern emerging here." I don't know why Rep. Charles Rangel said, "I can't believe Sen. Clinton would say anything that dumb." Or why Joe Conason over at Salon.com would argue that she "violated the rhetorical rules" and crossed a "bright white line."
This is not Ronald Reagan decrying (fictitious) welfare queens in Cadillacs and "young bucks" buying T-bone steaks. It's not Richard Nixon running on states' rights and law-and-order in 1968 following the inner-city riots in response to Martin Luther King's assassination. Both Reagan and Nixon were tacitly signaling to their white constituents that they would use the office of the presidency as a hammer against the black community.
The only thing Clinton was signaling is the truth. Blue-collar whites have overwhelmingly preferred Clinton over Obama, especially recently. Whites made up 80% of the vote in Pennsylvania and broke for Clinton roughly 60-40. In Ohio, she won whites 64-34. In West Virginia, she steamrolled him 72-23 among blue-collar whites.
If you're Obama, that's a pattern and it's a problem. If you're Hillary, it's a pattern and it's a lifeline. Her only path to the nomination consists of the super delegates looking at the big picture after all the votes have been counted, seeing a contest that is basically a dead heat, both in terms of pledged delegates and popular vote, and using their position as it was intended -- to tip the scales towards the candidate they judge to be more electable in the general election. Now, the odds of that happening are long, and the arguments against it are plentiful, but it's her story and she's sticking to it.
Paul Begala says the Democrats can't win with a constituency of "eggheads and African Americans," the old Dukakis team. Never minding the fact that Obama is also carrying the youth vote by a margin of 70-30% over Sen. Clinton, it's still hard to imagine a Democrat winning the White House without at least a somewhat competitive showing among blue-collar whites. The question is, does a poor showing by Obama against Hillary necessarily presage a similar result against McCain in the fall? I'm not sure we can draw that particular causal relationship. Obama doesn't fit neatly into any of the candidate molds we have on the shelves -- he's a new breed and his organization continues to multiply at the grass roots level.
But that's Obama's argument to make, not Clinton's. Her challenge is to construct an electoral narrative convincing enough that the super delegates overturn the slight lead Obama takes out of the campaign. The best way for her to do that is to point out that working whites make up a larger section of the Democratic Party than do African Americans and liberal intellectuals and that many of them will choose McCain over Obama in the general election. I suppose you could hear a dog whistle in her "hard working whites" comments if you were so inclined. Almost by definition, a comment is racial on some level if it refers specifically to race. But "hard working" could just as easily be read as shorthand for blue-collar as be interpreted as code implying a comparison to lazy blacks. Depends on what you're listening for.
The point is, it's a fact that Clinton is winning the white vote. One could take issue with Hillary's argument that this is a pattern -- the breakdowns have actually been fairly consistent throughout the campaign, for the most part. Obama did about as well among whites in Indiana as he has been doing all along, with the exceptions of the few most recent primaries. I would argue that what she points out as a pattern is really just a reflection of primary scheduling serendipity. It so happens that Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky fall consecutively in the campaign. She happens to do very well in the Appalachian coal mines and hollers of southeastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky, where they've been spending an awful lot of time of late. Basically, she's got the hillbilly vote locked up. And pundits are taking this hillbilly vote and extrapolating it out across the entire electorate. Which I don't think is an accurate reflection of working class, white America. I would argue that hillbilly white America has a greater antipathy to the concept of an African American president than does much of the rest of white working class America. It's just a theory of mine, and not one I'm about to go knocking on doors to confirm, but it seems plausible.
The PC police need to recognize the difference between demagoguery and fact. When Bill Clinton compared Obama's success in South Carolina to Jesse Jackson's in '84 and '88, he was pointing out the fact that African Americans make up approximately 50% of Democratic primary voters in the state. Given that Obama wins 9 in 10 black votes, it stands to reason that President Clinton would attempt to lower expectations for a race Hillary could not win. To say that a legitimate black candidate is going to win the South Carolina Democratic primary, and that it isn't necessarily a precursor for the rest of the campaign, is not race baiting, it's fact.
It's a fine line. Lee Atwater, Reagan and Bush 41's "happy hatchet man," explained the subtleties of the southern strategy as:
"You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' -- that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now (that) you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is (that) blacks get hurt worse than whites."
See, that's race baiting, in all its abstract brilliance. Because the Southern Strategy was so successful, Democrats have grown hyper-sensitive to all things racial. It has become impossible to bring up the subject of race without drawing politically correct fire. Which is all well and good -- sometimes the race card is indeed being played. But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
And Barack Obama's problem with white, working class voters is a real cigar. I'm not sure ignoring the state of West Virginia and the subsequent 40+ point defeat was his best strategy. Maybe he should start spending some time in Hillaryland. He might end up needing every hard working white voter he can get come November.