Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Fighting Spirit

In recent Democratic primaries, observers have noted Hillary Clinton's success at winning the votes of white, working-class men and attributed this to everything from racism to patriotism. But a recent op-ed in the Times by Susan Faludi suggests that Clinton wins these men's votes because she has cast off the traditional women's role of referee and embraced the role of fighter. I think the argument is worth taking seriously, especially on the part of Barack Obama.

Faludi's colunmn, "The Fight Stuff," looks at the fighting senator and points out that

...while the commentators have been tut-tutting, Senator Clinton has been converting white males, assuring them that she’s come into their tavern not to smash the bottles, but to join the brawl.

Deep in the American grain, particularly in the grain of white male working-class voters, that is the more trusted archetype. Whether Senator Clinton’s pugilism has elevated the current race for the nomination is debatable. But the strategy has certainly remade the political world for future female politicians, who may now cast off the assumption that when the going gets tough, the tough girl will resort to unilateral rectitude. When a woman does ascend through the glass ceiling into the White House, it will be, in part, because of the race of 2008, when Hillary Clinton broke through the glass floor and got down with the boys.

Personally, I think Clinton has landed some low blows in recent rounds. At the same time, she has also broken new ground as a woman candidate.

For now, we'll need a lot more serious thinking about class (which Americans don't do very well) and race (which Americans do a lot of but not so well) before we figure out Obama's best strategy for winning the votes of white working men.

But at least this much seems clear: white working men, and I grew up in a world of them, admire a fighter. For Obama to win them over he needs to be, in the historical language of 1968, less a Gene McCarthy and more a Bobby Kennedy.


helfron said...
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helfron said...

As someone who lived in the midwest for some time and has talked to a number of voters there in recent months I can report that a number of people who I have talked to will not vote for Obama because he is black and because he is, in their (ideology making reality) view, a Muslim. All of the claims made by Obama haters floating under the radar of the mainstream press out there in mindspace and cyberspace are having their impact.

Anonymous said...

I'm a New Yorker who lived in the mid-west for 14 years, and I can say that racism is alive and well there. The Obama haters have been exposed, and there is little or nothing Senator Obama can do about it. As Clinton said, the crowd that votes for her is uneducated, and so it makes sense that they are dumb enough to think he is a Muslim. So if I were him, I wouldn't bother trying to convince them to vote for me; their minds were made up from the moment they saw him. Clinton should be glad he's running, he's helping her in a lot of ways, even though she doesn't appreciate it.