The (Not-So) New Civil War Among Whites
Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 10/8/2010, 2:36 p.m.
A recent Associated Press-GfK poll reconfirmed that whites are again at political war with each other. The war this time is not over slavery, secession, or Lincoln. The war is over President Obama.
However, the division is fueled by the same race, class, and governance issues that sparked the Civil War. The poll found these glaring contrasts.
White workers are older, less educated and staunchly conservative. They overwhelmingly loathe Obama's policies, and have a strong visceral dislike of him. Many openly and passionately say that Obama is shoving the country towards socialism.
All assail the federal government for giving the company store away to the poor. The poor in this case are blacks, and the alleged giveaway is at the expense of white workers.
A TV ad by Wisconsin House GOP candidate Sean Duffy rammed that point home. The ad shows a blue collar, hard-hat wearing worker getting dumped from a rolling log into the water. A grave voice intones the point and the punch line, "Our working folks have been tossed aside."
It's brash, bold, in your face, and crudely calculated to provoke the deepest fears among white workers that Obama, the Democrats and the federal government is one big free ATM machine giving the Treasury away to undeserving minorities. That race lurks sneakily just beneath the surface in the GOP and Tea Party-leaning candidate's appeals to white working class voters is beyond dispute.
The code words and imagery in the ads and in the campaign stump speeches is a sure-fire sell, because a majority of working-class whites never liked Obama anyway.
In the 2008 presidential primary, they backed Hillary Clinton by overwhelming margins in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and every southern State. This had less to do with her stance on the issues, than the fact that she was white, and the only ballot alternative to Obama. In the general election, they backed GOP presidential rival John McCain by a whopping 20 percent margin.
By contrast, Obama could not have won without the massive support from younger, college-educated, middle class whites. They gave him a double-digit lead in vote numbers over McCain. The Democrats' sole hope for staving off major losses in the House and possibly the Senate is to rekindle the fire among those white supporters.
The choice of the University of Wisconsin by Obama for a massive midterm election kick-off rally was the first attempt to rev up the Democrats' white support base. The crowd that turned out--overwhelming white, young, and college attending or educated--was the exact prototype of Obama's white support base.
The rally was also tacit recognition that the split between white voters across class, income, and age lines is potentially a make-or-break point for the Democrats. Their political fate in November rests squarely on how effectively they can exploit that division. The GOP already has its answer. The party has tailored its entire election strategy to exploiting the white voter division for its purposes.
It's not without precedent. Nixon stoked the fury of blue collar, white, rural voters by slamming Democrats for coddling criminals, welfare cheats, and fostering a culture of anything-goes permissiveness, and of course, big government Great Society pandering to the poor. The crude thinly disguised code words and racial cues worked. Nixon eked out a narrow victory over Democratic presidential opponent Hubert Humphrey.
The tag of law and order and permissiveness became a staple in the GOP attack play book for the next four decades. With tweaks and refinements, Reagan, Bush Sr. and George W. Bush used it to ease their paths to the White House.
In the mid-1990s, Newt Gingrich and ultra conservatives recycled the strategy to seize control of the Congress, and pound out an agenda that made big government, tax-and-spend Democrats, and soft-on-crime liberals the fall guys for everything wrong with America. It touched a familiar nerve with white males.
Hate groups, anti-Obama websites and bloggers, and radio talk jocks craft this as the prime reason for the anger and alienation that many white workers feel toward health care and, by extension, towards Obama while loudly denying that this has anything to do with race.
One GOP pollster said, "People who have been part of our majority coalition are looking to come back to us." That's a neat code phrase to say white workers are firmly back in the GOP fold again. It's the classic white versus white political battle with another election riding on the outcome.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson.