It’s not much of an oversimplification to say that the blue-collar Democrats tend to see elections as an arena for defending their interests, and the upscale voters see them as an opportunity to affirm their values. ~Ron Brownstein
Via Ross Douthat
This would help explain why Obama, whose entire campaign platform as of right now is, “Hope is good,” apparently wins over a lot of the latter and few of the others. Upscale voters apparently like hope, while blue-collar voters are apparently not so astonishingly gullible. More basically, a politician who complains that politics is about power more than it is about principle, while nice to listen to, reveals himself to meat-and-potatoes, blue-collar voters to be well-meaning but hopeless as someone who will secure for them the spoils they expect. The quote in Brownstein’s article from the union rep was telling:
But familiarity alone may not solve Obama’s blue-collar challenge. Rick Gale, the president of the firefighters’ Wisconsin affiliate, was shaking his head after Obama’s reform-heavy message to the union convention. “In my view, that’s really not a message for our guys,” Gale said. “They’re really not afraid of politics.”
The high-minded reformer act comes across as someone who either a) thinks he is better than the people he is claiming to represent, which usually doesn’t win a lot of sympathy, or b) hasn’t got the grit and skill in delivering the goods. He laments that power is at the heart of politics, when his constituents instinctively understand that power is being contested and these contests determine whether they or some other group gets the appropriate share of that power. If your guy doesn’t win the contest for you and yours, what did you elect him to do? Talk about the virtues of bipartisanship? Not likely.
Amusingly, the Real Obama–the one who voted against CAFTA, allegedly against his better instincts, and the one who worked as a “community organizer” in Hyde Park–is possibly the sort of guy blue-collar Democrats probably would want to support despite Obama’s own thoroughly privileged background. However, through some bizarre contortion of reality two wealthy lawyers who have both been prior to 2006 New Democrat boosters of free trade, “education” and “empowerment” as the solution to everyone’s economic anxieties have become the tribunes of blue-collar Democrats. (Clinton basically remains on the New Democrat bandwagon even now.) Strangely, perhaps as part of the project to make Obama into a “viable” candidate, Obama has been a great one for talking about the virtue of education in ways that make progressives physically ill, while he has allowed Edwards to be the one to position himself as a supposed economic populist.
Update: Bradford Plumer at TNR gives a more detailed picture of just why Obamania is not contagious with organised labour, including this gem:
Clinton gets far and away the loudest applause line of the entire conference when she declares that she will soon introduce legislation to give “meaningful access to contractor payroll records.”
Are you feeling excited yet? Meanwhile, John Boehner also showed up at the same conference and managed to make himself unusually unpopular by recycling administration lies on Iraq. Good thinking, John! So that would probably be a good example of the GOP not developing anything that even hints at lower-middle reformism. This might just have some political consequences with these workers.