Home/Daniel Larison/Seniority And The Desi Connection

Seniority And The Desi Connection

Under the provocative headline, “Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab)’s personal financial and political ties to India,” the three-page document attacks his leading opponent point-by-point for her allegedly too-cozy ties with businesses and business leaders who are profiting from the outsourcing of U.S. jobs to the Asian nation.

Critics called it “nativist” and “a racist, xenophobic hit,” and the chairman of the United States India Political Action Committee sent a letter to Obama’s headquarters in Chicago decrying the dissemination of “hurtful stereotypes.” ~Eric Zorn

In the case of Hillary v. Obama, experience turns out to be most useful as a proxy for the vast sociological chasm between the two camps. On the one hand, many of Hillary’s most loyal supporters lack college degrees and toil away at low-skilled jobs. Now if you happen to be a poorly educated worker who’s nonetheless eking out a decent living, no prospect is more alarming than the thought of losing out one day because someone a little younger, a little flashier, leapt ahead of you in line. There is a comforting order to the world you know. And that order demands that people pay their dues before getting promoted. The alternative is a bitter competition between you and your co-workers–and who knows how you’ll fare in that?

In the eyes of working-class Democrats, Hillary is someone who’s paid her dues–first in the White House, where she weathered a terrific, eight-year assault from conservatives, then as the scrupulously dependable senator from New York. If, after all this, Hillary doesn’t win the nomination, then the system they’ve bought into their entire working lives will have been turned upside down. ~Noam Scheiber

How does Obama’s anti-Hillary, Indian-bashing memo relate to what we might call the “seniority” question?  It’s pretty straightforward, actually.  It is classic “upper-middle” v. “lower-middle” politicking (over to you, Reihan).  Obama has something of a record of opposing free trade deals that Clinton’s base of supporters tends to dislike, but for the reasons laid out by Mr. Scheiber these people take a dim view of the relative youngster cutting to the front of the line.  Therefore, the social profile of his base of supporters matches up rather poorly with his policy views, which are actually more in line with the policies that tend to be preferred by the people w ho are more inclined, for entirely different reasons, to support Clinton. 

Clinton, meanwhile, has had a history of backing free trade deals and has apparently done very nicely for herself as well in the process.  The D-Punjab memo was aimed at highlighting Clinton’s hostility to the interests of her political base, while highlighting Obama’s slightly better record on opposing outsourcing and free trade.  Unfortunately, Obama keeps stumbling (in this case, offending Democratic desisall over America and making very negative headlines in India) because of the very inexperience and overeagerness that make him seem too green and too ambitious to the very people he is trying to reach.  In the end, he loses all around: he appears unduly hostile to foreigners and trade, which hurts him with his more globalist, Kumbaya-singing base, he sullies himself with the typical “old style” attack politics that he was supposedly going to transcend in his hyperean moral purity, he ends up having to back off of the attack so as to avoid completely losing supporters in the Indian-American community, and the attempt conveys an image of opportunism that doesn’t sit well with the voters he is trying to win over.  In the end, he did not even see the attack through to undermine Clinton with the targeted audience of lower middle class workers.  As this episode reveals, the question is not whether Obama is theoretically electable, but whether he is actually capable of running a national election campaign.  Never having run a really competitive campaign before on such a large scale, he is bound to make mistakes like this one. 

In the end, because he has boxed himself into the corner with his high-minded “transformative” message, attacks on other candidates will be even harder for him to do successfully, which means that there will be more of these errors or miscalculations in the meantime.  Obama’s original attack on Clinton makes good sense, but it is one he either has to stand by or outsource to an independent group.  Associating himself with the attack and then abandoning it make him appear indecisive and unready–the exact opposite of the image he has to project to be competitive.  Yet another reason why it was a mistake for him to run this time around.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment

Latest Articles