CommunityPam's House Blend

White dog whistles no more

Last night in another thread, I commented again about how poorly Hillary Clinton has been served by her hired campaign guns. Of course, the senator has stuck her foot in her mouth on her own as well, but nothing compares to this. From a new USA Today interview, she manages to top any dog-whistle race-baiting that her husband put out on the campaign trail with this naked appeal.

“I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,” she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article “that found how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”

“There’s a pattern emerging here,” she said.

Wow. Just. Wow. That didn’t blow by without comment, even in the article.

Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Clinton’s comment was a “poorly worded” variation on the way analysts have been “slicing and dicing the vote in racial terms.”

Is that another variation on “misspoke”?

You see the problem and beauty of Senator Clinton’s statement is that it boldly embraces the undiscussed fear in this Reagan Democrat demographic, the people who do consider race a major factor — concern that white privilege is being threatened, that somehow Barack Obama as president would exact retribution against “hard working white Americans” for past or present institutionalized racism. You know, like this candid Kentucky voter:

I’ve talked to people-a woman who was chair of county elections last year, she said she wouldn’t vote for a black man.” Patrick said he wouldn’t vote for Obama either.

Why not?

Race. I really don’t want an African-American as President. Race.”

What about race?

I thought about it. I think he would put too many minorities in positions over the white race. That’s my opinion.”

The frame is specific — that’s why Clinton referred to hard working white Americans. What happened to “blue collar Americans?” Oh wait, there are a lot of hard working black and brown blue collar/working class Americans, and many of them they voted for Obama, so she had to slice that demo down to the bottom line. Dog whistles no more.

I want to believe that it wasn’t a purposeful slip of the tongue because it’s too painful to contemplate that the black vote is now perceived as a “problem” because it skews to Obama, and because there are more white voters who have a problem with him based on his race, we have to nail that demo. Remember, the black vote has been the most reliable Democratic vote, not the Reagan Democrats. Black voters don’t turn out for Obama solely because he is black. I’ve blogged before about this bizarre train of thought — if the affinity vote is so powerful we would have seen a bum rush for Alan Keyes. What Clinton is saying is not inaccurate (polls slice and dice this way), but its use here is inappropriate and inflammatory. It’s because the last core demo left for her to appeal to is resistant to Obama for reasons that have little to do with policy differences, or 3 AM readiness. She’s brought the microtarget out into the light and it’s one many of us don’t want to face talking about, with a different name — scared white people.

She is naming her remaining trump card, and considering our country’s pitiful history of not frankly dealing with or discussing race — aside from painful, fumbling defensive fits and starts — we’re left to deal with the fallout of a “poorly worded” statement, lacking a sufficiently stocked toolbox to deal with the ramifications of courting a vote with implicit and explicit biases.

The question never explored is why are these people scared more about a black president (regardless of political viewpoint) than the prospect of a McCain presidency and four more years of failed economic policies that have left this very demographic high and dry? What do we want to do about this as Americans? Apparently nothing, that’s a third rail topic and there’s an election to win.

Naming it means acknowledging problems we haven’t dealt with, and exploding the myth of a post-racial America. Barack Obama may be the first post-racial candidate because of his personal heritage, but the United States of America is nowhere near “post-racial” when it comes to politics.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding