Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama Attributes Support for Reagan by Blue Collar "Reagan Democrats" to "Anger Over Welfare and Affirmative Action" [UPDATED]

Barack Obama, in his "A More Perfect Union" speech yesterday, attributed the formation of the Reagan coalition to anger and resentment over welfare and racial preferences:
... In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding...
(emphasis added)

Got that? Blue collar "anger" and "resentment" over race "have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation" - meaning that the conservative ascendency that began with the election of Ronald Reagan was a product of there being a whole lot of angry white male factory workers, whose anger was being misdirected toward black folks and exploited by cynical right-wing operatives "for their own electoral ends".

So, in those 3 paragraphs cited above, Obama regurgitates the tired old leftist meme that the only thing that could possibly explain traditional Democrat voters supporting Ronald Reagan - thereby forging the "Reagan Coalition" - was because Reagan "made us comfortable in our prejudices".

I wonder what self-described "Catholic Reaganite for Obama" Doug Kmiec has to say about that assessment?

Tito noticed the same thing:
... Then Mr. Obama takes a swipe at white Americans by painting some of them as hate mongers in the image of Jeremiah Wright’s bigotry. Mr. Obama explains that this came to the surface in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan by those resentful of affirmative action and welfare programs; Mr. Obama calls those that voted for Reagan the “Reagan Coalition”. Imagine that, implying those that voted for the greatest president in the 2nd half of the 20th century as bigots. After insulting Americans who voted for Ronald Reagan he then went after conservatives with the following diatribe:

“Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.” ...

More on blue-collar whites and Obama's message:
... There's a new entry next to Mika Brzezinski's name in the annals of MSM elitism. The Morning Joe panelist today lamented blue-collar whites who "can't hear" the message Barack Obama propounded. Poor benighted souls. Joe Scarborough called Mika on it.

Brzezinski's comment came in response to Scarborough's exposition of why he didn't think Obama's speech would work with many blue-collar whites.

View video here...
It's not that blue-collar whites "can't hear" Obama's message; it's that they don't appreciate being accused of being motivated by biogotry, anger, and resentment in voting for Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush.

UPDATE #3 (20 March)
It seems that the anecdotal data confirms that the Obama speech only exacerbated his problems with blue-collar voters:
PHILADELPHIA — Stephanie Gill, a bartender in a white working-class neighborhood in this Rust Belt city, noticed the shift immediately.

A week ago, her customers at Rauchut’s Tavern in Tacony didn’t have much to say about Barack Obama. But when she returned to work Wednesday, a day after the Illinois senator attempted to quell the furor over his pastor’s racially incendiary remarks, the reaction inside the corner bar was raw and unapologetic.

“People are not happy with Obama,” Gill said. “It’s the race stuff.”

Obama has always been a tough sell in largely white Northeast Philadelphia and in the city's blue-collar river wards, a collection of white ethnic enclaves where customers at the local watering hole are often born and raised in the neighborhood that supports it.

And his speech Tuesday, although widely praised by the pundit caste and Obama supporters, has only seemed to widen the gulf with the Budweiser class here.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton relied on this blue-collar coalition — Catholics, union households, ethnic Europeans — to win Ohio. It accounts for her significant lead in Pennsylvania polls, and represents the demographic that political analysts say Obama needs to make gains with in order to present the strongest case possible for the Democratic nomination and the presidency.

Glenn Peter, 54, a patron at Rauchut’s Tavern, said he heard finger pointing, not reconciliation. He took issue with Obama’s explanation that Wright’s observations of a racist America were reflecting the racial scars of his past.

“I don’t want to hear that you are blaming us for him saying this,” said Peter, who is white and worked at an auto parts factory until it was shuttered several years ago. Cutting ties with the church “would have been the best way to do it. That way, I could have been able to listen to him again.”

Peter nursed his early evening cigarette and a beer at Rauchut’s, where Eagles memorabilia and decorative shamrocks feel secondary to an intimidating portrait of Frank Rizzo, the barrel-chested former mayor popular with white ethnic voters but with a mixed legacy on racial issues.

Peter said he’s never voted for a Republican for president, but if Obama is the nominee, he will support Sen. John McCain.

(emphasis added)

Last week, I mentioned some anecdotal evidence of my own in comments over at Vox Nova in regard to Obama's problems with blue-collar Americans.

UPDATE #4 (24 March)
Tertium Quid, whose writing at From Burke to Kirk and Beyond ... I hold in very high esteem, thinks Obama's speech was "brilliant". Posting in comments, I note my antipathy toward the speech, citing to Victor Davis Hanson's reaction at National Review Online.

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At 3/19/2008 11:36 AM, Blogger matthew archbold said...

Nice post, Jay. The same exact thing jumped out at me as well although I've heard nobody else talk about it. Nice post. Well thought out.

At 3/19/2008 1:13 PM, Blogger Pro Ecclesia said...

Thanks, Matthew.

At 3/19/2008 3:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's see, a Harvard educated lawyer, raised in a well-off white family, impugns the political motivations of white blue collar workers, as part of his defense to sitting in a racist far left church for 20 years. Way to woo the Reagan Democrats Senator! With this type of political strategy you may yet give McCain a Reagan landslide this Fall!


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