Friday, April 25, 2008
Beltway Media as Driving the White Backlash Vote
The white backlash vote is well documented in the history books. It helped hand Nixon two victories in '68 and '72, powered Reagan and Bush 41, and has been the subject of countless stories and political theories. Whether it's the Willie Horton ad, or Nixon's successful use of busing as a campaign issue, white, blue-collar folks--"Reagan Democrats"-- have repeatedly shown anger at what they apparently view as excessively "repentant" philosophies of civil rights and liberal government.
So the question has been posed repeatedly throughout this campaign: is Barack Obama different? When he wins a state like Wisconsin, he clearly is, as he essentially ties HRC in the white and under $50,000 a year vote. When he loses a state like Ohio or Pennsylvania, he's apparently in deep shit. Especially when exit polls show 20% of voters took race into account in the former case (of those who took race into account in Ohio, they went for HRC by a 3:2 ratio, according to the CNN exit poll). Commentators then speculate: is BHO too black? Are these people flocking to Hillary because of race or just becuase they like her on bread and butter issues? Their answer: probably both. That's fine.
But when the Jeremiah Wright controversy erupted, and because these political analysts have been raised in the political journalism tradition of seeking out demographic trends and carelessly fitting them into their ideas of American history, it was suddenly clear: Obama's white support was going to tank in the primary, and this would him in the general. No one waited for polls to show this (they still do not--Obama makes up a good chunk of his lower blue collar white problem by pulling in white indies). Analysts, instead, predicted, and, indeed, may be contributing to, this process.
When writers say things like (from Politico):
A failure [to address the Wright problem] could leave many of the white independent voters — a key group behind Obama’s swift rise in national politics — doubting whether he is really the bridge-builder and healer he has portrayed himself to be.
...I can't help but feel as if they are helping to make it so. Now, one might argue they have historical bases for their statements, and they do. But the simple fact is that Barack Obama is not every other black guy, and this is not 1988. Media commentators have wondered if he will be "branded" as the Jesse Jackson kind of black politician, and thus far, he hasn't been. But when such moral deference is given to the white backlash voter--essentially, that it's understandable and even defensible if he strays from Obama over his former pastor's comments--it contributes to the racial problem in our politics. This is more than mere analysis. It is a sort of moral "thumbs up" to white voters. It's OK if you get freaked out by the pastor and black guys generally... your fathers did! Why not you?
Posted by Matt T