This primary season has dragged on for so long, the 24-hour news-cycle purveyors are starting to get dizzy. On cable news and political web pages, they stumble from non-issue to non-issue, trying to stay interested in a race on the Democratic side that was been frozen for two months in an apparently insurmountable 150-delegate margin for Barack Obama. When they are not spending hours waxing quizzical about what Hillary Clinton could possibly be thinking of by staying in the race, they are scrutinizing the brow-furrows of her husband for signs of weakness or, at least, the Last Mistake.
Now, this week, everyone has something to say – repeatedly – about Obama’s "gaffe" when he discussed "bitter" working-class people finding cold comfort in guns, religion and anti-immigrant xenophobia. You could hear Democratic consultants tearing their collective hair out from San Francisco to Washington as they braced for the inevitable onslaught from the right-wing echo chamber, who, after having great success parsing 30 seconds from various Jeremiah Wright sermons now have 30 more seconds – this time from the candidate himself – to amuse themselves with. "Elitist!" scream the elitist wing-nuts from their government-licensed radio studios and Scaife-and-Bradley-funded "think tanks".
Unlike the hysterical Wright red herring, however, this one has even Obama sympathizers running for their pacifiers. Even the usually reliable Eugene Kane checks in this morning, lamenting that Obama was "talking down" to small-town voters. On Slate, Melinda Heneberger deconstructs the statement phrase-by-phrase, concluding that "connecting the two [guns ‘n god]" is "belittling in the extreme to the ‘average white person’". In the MSM and cable commentariat, the question isn’t whether the comment will prove damaging, but rather how much damage will be done by those who exacerbate the damage in direct relation to how long they talk about how much damage will be done.
The comment has been compared to images of John Kerry windsurfing, which was used by the Rove message machine to highlight the supposed "elitism" of the candidate in 2004. That the use of that image for that purpose was as ridiculous now as it was then is irrelevant because, it is now claimed, it worked. And who did it work with? Why, those bitter, frustrated, anti-immigrant and trade guns-‘n-god clingers, of course. And why are right-wingers spending all of their free radio time this week squawking about the exposure of Obama's supposed elitism? They know how well it plays with those bitter, frustrated...etc.
Obama’s astute assessment of the angry-white-male electorate actually comes fairly late in the day for the Democrats. Republican’s identified this group over 30 years ago, when manipulative paradigm-shifter Lee Atwater designed the win-at-all-costs scorched-earth campaign on behalf of Bush Senior against the supposedly "elitist" looks-funny-in-a-tank, Willie-Horton-loving Mike Dukakis. Karl Rove did nothing but exploit the bitter fear of these voters to put the incompetent Junior in the White House for eight years, with the willing help of the mainstream radio echo-chamber.
Those entities did nothing but encourage the base resentment of the working class backbone of the country, who saw their economic security pulled out from under them by the same elitist Republicans who now pretend to be their protector from "Democrat" designs on their guns, religion and racial purity. This was the message of Thomas Frank's seminal, now-historic What's the Matter with Kansas. The result of the relentless GOP campaign to disguise their economic thievery with irrelevant emotional "issues" like gay marriage, abortion and undocumented immigrants ("illegal aliens" to you, pal) has been more bitterness and more clinging to things that are not threatened by anybody.
Again, it was a little late, but Democratic consultants have been aware and strategized around the angry-white-male phenomenon for years. They just don’t want their clients out there blabbing about this kind of important but inside-baseball in public, where it can be mangled and manipulated for political advantage. If John McCain had praised the retreat of the disenfranchised working class to the phony safe harbor of, say, religion, he would be exalted by the MSM as keenly insightful. But Democrats are not allowed to celebrate the reciting of truth in this area. They still get defensive about just accurately discussing the lay of the land.
What Obama said just shows how smart he is about the political dynamics of America in a post-Rove world and the challenges that he would face in the general election and as president. He did not speak in disdain but, rather, in understanding. Republicans are shocked - shocked! - that anyone would think, much less say such a thing. But they have done nothing but exploit the angry-white-male reality for decades. And they are doing so with a vengance this week - unfortunately, with the help of too many Democrats, and that includes Hillary Clinton.