I’ve said very little about the ongoing primary battle between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the past few weeks. The reason’s fairly simple — I don’t have a horse in this race. Maryland voted weeks ago, and I didn’t vote for either candidate. But whichever candidate receives the Democratic Party’s nomination in November will have my vote. Hence, I feel no need to comment on the race, or boost one side or the other.
It’s simply not my fight any longer.
Yet, I can’t let some recent events pass by without comment.
Late last week, in a campaign speech, Senator Obama made a comment along the lines that in vast swathes of the country the past fifteen years have passed them by. Jobs have left. The economy has soured. “And it’s not surprising then 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.”
Since making that comment, Obama has come under fire from both his Democratic opponent, and also from the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain. Both have called Obama “elitist,” and have suggested that he’s denigrating the very voters he needs to appeal to in the general election campaign.
I’ve read the relevant passages of the speech.
Obama is right.
It’s the point that was made in What’s the Matter With Kansas. People are voting against their economic interests, time and again, because they are being pandered to on issues like religion, like gun control, like trade deals.
The Bush economic program did nothing for areas like central Pennsylvania. Yet, central Pennsylvania is largely Republican and supportive of Bush and his policies. The Bush policies aren’t bringing jobs back. The Bush policies aren’t making life better.
Obama’s point is that when social and economic programs have failed people — and that’s what the past seven years have definitely been, and what global outsourcing during the Clinton years began — people turn to the things that they have some control over, and to the things that give them comfort. Like religion. Like guns.
And the Republicans have had a lock on those voters for years.
The problem is this — How does the Democratic Party get them back? The social and economic programs espoused by the Democratic Party are more in line with what would benefit them, but trying to sell people on long-term benefits of governmental social programs is a difficult game.
Does Obama have that answer? I don’t know.
Is Obama being an elitist for raising the question? Absolutely not.
John McCain’s attack on Obama is unsurprising; if the Republican Party is seriously questioned on Obama’s point, the Republican Party could lose badly.
Hillary Clinton? She’s trying to appeal to the very voters that Obama is speaking of. But is she actually offering those voters anything but empty rhetoric?
As I said, I have no horse in this race between Senators Clinton and Obama. I don’t think that Obama has committed the faux pas that pundits and politicians claim that he has. There’s an economic divide in this country. The rich have become richer, and the gap between rich and poor has widened dramatically. Pointing that out — and the social resentments that follow — needs to happen so the issue can become part of the political conversation.
The problem can be solved.
But not if that means ignoring the message and burying the messenger.