Wednesday, June 11, 2008

If Hillary Clinton was a white man

By Joe Sims

I was sitting with some friends yesterday and discussing the significance of the end of the Democratic primaries. One commented that the general election was going to be really difficult for the presumptive nominee who in his view had failed to get any bounce upon winning the nomination. I was a little surprised by his pessimism and sent him an AP poll in this morning's news that should put aside those fears. The AP news story says in part:

“The Gallup daily tracking poll Tuesday showed Obama with a 7 percentage-point lead nationally over presumptive GOP nominee John McCain, Obama's widest lead since Gallup started the general election polling in March.

McCain was leading Obama by 1 percent early last week, but Obama started to tick up in the surveys after he defeated Hillary Clinton for the nomination.The latest reading from Gallup showed Obama with 48 percent to McCain's 41 percent. The poll was taken June 7-9, of 2,633 registered voters. The margin of error was 2 percentage points.”

My friend hasn't responded so far, however clearly he is influenced by the doubts about Obama's chances among the general electorate because of fears influenced by racism. The reasoning goes: if he can't carry the white working-class male and female vote among Democrats, how can he possibly do well enough to compensate among independents and moderate leaning Republicans in the general election?

The ideological fault line in this method of thinking is in its analysis of the white working-class vote. The problems lies in two areas; first in the very conception of the working class itself and with it a gross misconception of gender and class and the ways in which they worked themselves out in the Democratic primaries.

On the first issue, as Erwin Marquit points out in a recent article in PA, “Overcoming Unscientific Concepts of Working Class,” narrow views of productive labor act as theoretical brakes and lends to faulty analysis and action. Fact is, “middle-class” income brackets that voted for Obama, even if composed of academics and other professionals are largely working-class by today's standards. When this is combined with the “blue collar “vote of Black, Brown and white workers, Obama clearly held his own when compared to Clinton.

The gender issue adds to this in a unique way. The women's vote in general was pro-women's equality. The vote of white women was not anti-Obama in this sense, but rather for seeing a woman become president. In addition, it's a truism that women due to their experience of oppression as women tend to vote “better” than men on most questions and come down on the democratic side of the fence. And did I mention that most of those women are working class?

I asked my friend, “What if Hillary Clinton had been a white man?” He looked at me sort of dumbfounded. But think about it; clearly it would have been a very different primary. Why? Because first, as suggested above, Obama, would likely have won a majority of the women's vote, as the absence of a female candidate would not have drawn away the galvanizing force of the insurgent female ballots. As a result, Obama both because of the his qualities as a candidate and due to the nature of the political moment might well have won a landslide. As Bob Kerrey a Clinton supporter pointed out in a Sunday New York Times op ed, he even may well have won a landslide against Bill Clinton himself and any other Democratic candidate of the last 50 years. He wrote:

"If Barack Obama had been born 10 years earlier and had been a candidate for the Democratic nomination in 1992, neither I nor Bill Clinton would have defeated him...
The hard truth is that from the moment Mr. Obama announced his candidacy in Springfield, Ill., on Feb. 10, 2007, Mrs. Clinton was facing a candidate with greater skills than any candidate her husband had ever faced in his life."

Kerrey may overemphasize individual skills and suffer from a "great-man-in-history syndrome." Still the qualities of the candidate, along with the nature of the political moment is such that a combination of the working-class vote (which by way is black, brown and white, male and female), the democratic upsurge among women, African Americans and Latinos, the addition of huge numbers of new voters to polls combined with the anti-right-wing sentiment among the broad public will result in a decisive victory in November. Need it be said that white men in general and white working-class men in particular are part of this upsurge? (Lest anyone conclude as some on the left do, that white working class men are somehow the source of the problem. The Virginia primary should have disabused anyone of that notion). Today states that formerly voted Republican are now too in play. The man has met the moment and helped create a new movement: and it's here to stay.


Anonymous said...

Joe has made excellent points which might be put on our online edition. The media attempt to portray the "white working class" as anti-Obama and minorities and "elite liberals" for him is not only a version of the old Nixon "silent majority" propaganda, but a major distortion of what the working class in the U.S. is today. If Clnton was a "white man,"all other things being the same, that is, Obama a a much more progressive, dynamic candidate seriously connected with new politics and change in a way that Cllinton could never convince people she was, regardless of her gender, I think he would have one an overwhelming victory and the race would have been over shortly after Super Tuesday. We still have a long way to go and the entrenched forces of the right and their mass media have many potholes ready for the Obama campaign, but it is a campaign that has already gone very very far in the face of massive opposition and it is campaign that can win a decisive victory, even as that opposition becomes more intense.
Norman Markowitz
Norman Markowitz

Anonymous said...

One of the problems in telling who is or is not working class is that in the US there is no distinct working class culture as there is in Europe and other countries. There is also a tendency to lump productive and unproductive (in Marx's sense)workers together.

Anonymous said...

in response to the second anon(not myself)I would say that it is more important certainly since the suburbanization and installment plan expansion of the post WWII period to look at the concept of "middle class," which is used positively and in a highly distorted way by capitalist ideology to divide the working class, pacify it in relationship to the capitalist class, and encourage it to fight against lower strata workers and the marginalized poor(of which there are tens of millions in the U.S.) The development of advanced industrial capitalism has greatly undermined Marx's 19th century definition of productive and non productive workers.
In the U.S. though, what continues to operate is the subjective connection of the ownership of personal property as against productive propertym houses especially, automobiles, and a whole group of consumer electronics, with being a member of the "middle class" Since this can only be sustained by more and more installment plan purchasing, this also makes workers, the great majority of whom are not unionized, easy prey to anti-tax campaigns which undermine them even further in terms of education and other vital social services and acts as a block to more militant action, since tens of millions are literally a pay check away from disasters that will cost them their homes and or other personal property and their "middle class" status.
Norman Markowitz