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Election 2008: Crossing The Archie Bunker Divide?

archiebunker.jpgBloomberg has an intriguing theory regarding the split in votes between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the OH and TX primaries — let’s call it "the Archie Bunker divide."

The white, blue-collar voters personified by the 1970s fictional television character cost Obama yesterday. His Democratic presidential rival, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, beat him 54 percent to 44 percent in industrial Ohio, and 58 percent to 40 percent in heavily Catholic Rhode Island.

In Ohio’s 10th district of Cuyahoga County, a suburban enclave on Cleveland’s west side that includes a large population of Polish-Americans, Clinton trounced Obama 61 percent to 37 percent, according to exit polls. In the state’s Belmont County, an economically depressed Appalachian border area that is predominantly white, she had a 50-point lead over Obama, the first black candidate to have a shot at the White House.

"Race played a significant factor in Ohio,” said Cuyahoga County Commissioner Timothy Hagan, who supported Obama. "These people are not necessarily bigots, but the image they see every day of black America is drugs, crime, guns and violence.”….

The challenges he faces with these groups are evident in his hometown of Chicago, where voters know him and he is popular. Still, he faces resistance in working-class, white ethnic neighborhoods.

“I can’t support him,” said Richard Dorsch, a 53-year-old paramedic fire chief from Chicago’s Edison Park. Dorsch, who said his kids liken him to Archie Bunker, voted for Clinton in the primary, though he plans to support Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona if Obama wins the nomination.

“When he talks to you, it’s like he’s talking down to you,” Dorsch said. “He doesn’t have the experience to talk like that.”

Dorsch’s 41st Ward, which gave Clinton, 60, a six- percentage-point advantage, is 90 percent white, dominated by German, Polish and Irish ethnic police officers, teachers and city workers.

Living as I do in the hills of WV, I have heard this sort of talk from a lot of folks — both about not feeling comfortable casting a vote for Obama or for Clinton, on race or gender grounds. But it isn’t limited to the Archie Bunkers of the world, because there are a whole lot of Ediths in the racial and gender discrimination closet as well. You can see from the "These people are not necessarily bigots, but the image they see every day of black America is drugs, crime, guns and violence.” that a lot more discussion and education on this is sorely needed. (No siree, no bigotry there. Sheesh.)

Pam Spaulding, who has been writing about this issue quite a bit this election cycle, provides a perfect example of an "Archie Bunker" that isn’t reachable. But he is illustrative of the sort of education and bigotry issues we will all face as we head toward November, whether Clinton or Obama is our nominee.

Where people have researched the candidates and can have a broader discussion about specifics, the gender and color questions fade in light of particular pet issues. At least, that’s proved true when I’ve talked about this with folks here. But I always get the feeling that, for a lot of them, there is still a bit of a comfort question and that the person who looks like a traditional presidential choice for them is…McCain.

No matter who the Dem nominee may be, we are going to have a lot of work to do.

Both Democratic candidates ought to stop flinging poo at each other via the surrogate blather networks, and start thinking about building up their own images instead. If these traditional blue collar democratic-leaning voters don’t have a solid feel for what the Democratic presidential nominee stands for, how hard the candidate is willing to fight to solve their problems, for the things that matter to their families, for the kitchen table worries and the fear of job loss and health problems and no insurance and rising energy costs and on and on that are hitting Americans square in the gut? Then the Archie Bunker problem is going to be a whole lot bigger than just this one segment of the electorate.

People want change. Absolutely. But they need to know what "change" means for them — what are we changing to? What are the goals toward which we all ought to work together? How do we get there? And how do we make it crystal clear that a vote for McCain is a vote for even more Bush/Cheney purgatory for all of us?

These issues are going to cut across voter groups larger than just the Archie Bunker segment of the population. And they need to be hit now…not later.

It doesn’t help that the racial and gender tensions of the Archie Bunkers of the world keep getting egged on and exacerbated by foot-in-mouth surrogates with both campaigns. Here’s an idea — how about we all start trying to lift one another upward and talk about the things we ought to be doing instead of just lobbing pies and insults back and forth? Both campaigns could start by taking a peek at this article from Kavita Ramdas in The Nation, and adding their voices to the conversation. It sure would be a helluva lot more constructive than "neener, neener, neener" or any number of other stupid things that have come oozing out lately.

Ah, well, a girl can dream…

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com