Sunday, April 20, 2008


In his latest column, Frank Rich insists that, yes, it's a new day:

...Not the least of the reasons that the Beltway has gotten so much wrong this year is that it believes that 2008 is still 1988. It sees the country in its own image -- static -- instead of as a dynamic society whose culture and demographics are changing by the day.

In this one-size-fits-all analysis, Mr. Obama must be the new Dukakis, sure to be rejected by white guys easily manipulated by Lee Atwater-style campaigns exploiting race and class. But some voters who lived through 1988 have changed, and quite a few others are dead. In 2008, they are supplanted in part by an energized African-American electorate and the young voters of all economic strata who fueled the Obama movement that many pundits didn't take seriously before Iowa. And that some still don't....

This is what I can't figure out -- is Rich right? I see Obama remaining competitive in the polls, despite multiple setbacks and the persistent framing of him as an "elitist," and I think, well, maybe Rich has a point -- maybe there simply aren't as many old-school Reagan Democrat blue-collar voters anymore, maybe "ordinary Americans" look more like the the employees on The Office than the guys on The Honeymooners, and the current media obsession with boliermaker-drinkers is just the press deciding that a once-overlooked voting bloc is suddenly The Only Voting Bloc That Matters (remember the obsession with "values voters" just after the '04 exit polls came in?).

I'd like to believe Rich when he says this:

The video of Mrs. Clinton knocking back drinks in an Indiana bar drowned out the scratchy audio of Mr. Obama's wispy words in San Francisco. Her campaign didn't seem to recognize that among the many consequences of the Bush backlash is a revulsion against such play acting.

ButI'm not sure I can when I read something like this Nation article, about expected Clinton strongholds in Pennsylvania, where I read this:

At a cafe [in South Philadelphia], a regular asked about Obama replied: "Who is he? Where did he come from? What was he? In South Carolina, picking cotton?" A construction contractor who gave the name Mike Giordano said he did not watch Obama's speech on race after the Wright controversy broke because "I don't listen to those people. They don't make sense when they talk." And he summed up the presidential contest this way: "They put a senior citizen for President, a woman and a black man. What do you got? Nothing. But that woman's got balls."

Obviously some people are buying the notion of Clinton as working-class hero -- and obviously there are still some people to whom this matters.

I get the feeling that Obama could win, but more or less exactly the way Bill Clinton did in '92. Remember, Clinton tapped into an energized wave of young first-time voters (MTV was the Pied Piper than, not YouTube) and won over some skeptics, but he really alienated some other voters because he was painted (along with his women's-libber lawyer wife) as a guy with weird, alien values. I'm worried that even an Obama win might be just a rerun of that movie, with a Democrat on the defensive for his entire term. I'll take it -- better that than a loss -- but it would be nice to have more.

No comments: