Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Campaign coalitions

Every week, the friend who sent me the Obama letter joins me to check in on how we think this long running Democratic presidential primary is going. He's long believed Obama could win. For the first time, after the Potomac primaries, I was willing to say that his guy had evened the race, overcoming Clinton's potent structural advantages. Now, after Wisconsin, I am willing to believe that Obama could win the nomination.

So who makes up Obama's coalition, anyway? I've written before about the emerging electoral coalition that I think promises long term Democratic success. This is an identity-based coalition rooted in the communities of color that provide the nation's low wage workers and that also attracts a majority of white women, with relatively smaller participation from white men. It is not clear that this exists yet anywhere, but its potential can be glimpsed in California; our Democrats win behind this sort of base. Obama certainly didn't start out owning to this coalition-in-the-process-of-formation. But in each recent victory, he has come closer.

Today Digby riffed off a Wall Street Journal article that highlighted the racism and sexism of working class white male Democrats. Yes, the story does neatly purvey a stereotypically Wall Street Journal frame. But Digby's characterization of the contemporary relationship of the Democratic party to these white men rings true:

We've been told for nearly three decades that the Democrats lost this group because of taxes or being soft on crime or being "anti-military" and so the Democrats have moved right on every issue they could think of trying to recapture these guys. The only thing they couldn't quite successfully do was get rid of all the women and the blacks in the party. Until the Dems do that, these guys aren't coming back. (And they aren't going to vote for either Obama or Clinton ...)

Over at Open Left, Chris Bowers has been looking at who joined up as Obama's core activists. He concludes that Obama is riding an insurgent coalition of the neglected.

... the activist class war is not just about envelope stuffers growing tired of their efforts being wasted by an ineffective leadership. It is also an expression of frustration by both red state Democrats and grassroots progressives at being taken for granted by that ineffective leadership. ... It is only in the context of this alliance that the seemingly vacuous Obama campaign slogans of "Yes, We Can," and "Change You Can Believe In," begin to fill up with real meaning. More than any ideological or policy difference, I believe it is also what ultimately underlies Obama's coalition.

This rings true -- when campaigns consist of candidates hustling big donors for cash to run endless, focus group-inspired TV ads in battleground states, most everyone feels left out of their own democracy. Progressives are sick of being told they have nowhere else to go. People of color are sick of being patronized and ignored. Democrats in states where Republicans usually win want a piece of the action. Obama provides a vehicle for the pissed off.

One of Bowers' commenters offered a realistic appraisal in the midst of the Obama wave.

Whatever Obama's actual policies, or November election possibilities, or even whether he is left or right, Obama has keyed into the concept of being an Insurgent Candidate. That, and a general hatred of the Bush-Cheney regime is pulling people out of the woodwork. ... I have no illusions that Obama is not a politician. That means that the people need to lead him forward, as well as apply pressure to keep him going in the right direction.

My emphasis. It always does come back to us.

1 comment:

Jane R said...

Precisely. Which is why today's piece by Howard Zinn is so apt. See three key paragraphs of it on my blog,and the whole article here.

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