Posted by: mutantpoodle | October 15, 2008

Obama and the Working Class

[Barack Obama leaving the Summit St. YMCA in Toledo, Ohio after an early morning workout.]

Matt Bai has a piece in this coming Sunday’s Times Magazine about Barack Obama’s struggle for the white working class vote. A lot of what Obama is doing to win this struggle is, in his words, just showing up.

Here’s an excerpt. I am, unabashedly, in the tank, but the guy doesn’t miss much:

I asked Obama if it was frustrating to have seen, throughout the campaign, so many polls that showed him trailing badly among white men with lower incomes or less education.

“It’s not frustrating,” Obama said, shaking his head. I found this believable; Obama seems almost impervious to frustration. “There are a couple of things at work here. No. 1, let’s face it — I’m not a familiar type.” He laughed. “Which means it would be easier for me to deliver this message if I was from one of these places, right? I’ve got to deliver that message as a black guy from Hawaii named Barack Obama. So, admittedly, it’s just unfamiliar.

“Which, by the way, is a different argument than race,” Obama continued, pausing to make sure I understood. “I’m not making an argument that the resistance is simply racial. It’s more just that I’m different in all kinds of ways. I’m different even for black people. I went through similar stuff when I ran against Bobby Rush on the all-black South Side of Chicago.” In that race, a Democratic primary for Congress in 2000, Rush, the black incumbent, handed Obama his first and only political defeat. “It’s like: ‘Who is this guy? Where’d he come from?’ So that’s part of it.

“The second part of it is that I’m trying to do this in an environment where the media narrative is already set up in a certain way. So it’s hard to not be dropped into a box.”

He reminded me that back in March, for instance, he accepted a spontaneous invitation from a voter in Altoona, Pa., to bowl a few frames, and it turned out Obama was basically a god-awful bowler. Some commentators gleefully used this deficiency to portray him as out of touch with the common man, in a John Kerry-windsurfing sort of way. (Joe Scarborough, on MSNBC, used the word “prissy.”) To Obama, this brought home the bleak reality that, as a Democratic nominee, he was going to be typecast, fairly or not.

“I am convinced that if there were no Fox News, I might be two or three points higher in the polls,” Obama told me. “If I were watching Fox News, I wouldn’t vote for me, right? Because the way I’m portrayed 24/7 is as a freak! I am the latte-sipping, New York Times-reading, Volvo-driving, no-gun-owning, effete, politically correct, arrogant liberal. Who wants somebody like that?

“I guess the point I’m making,” he went on, “is that there is an entire industry now, an entire apparatus, designed to perpetuate this cultural schism, and it’s powerful. People want to know that you’re fighting for them, that you get them. And I actually think I do. But you know, if people are just seeing me in sound bites, they’re not going to discover that. That’s why I say that some of that may have to happen after the election, when they get to know you.”

It’s a sobering thought – that Obama’s campaign will, of necessity, be never-ending.

Better, I suppose, than ending November 4th.

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