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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Not "Real Americans"

I read this morning that now there's new audio of a Democratic presidential candidate at a fundraiser dissing an important voting constituency. This time it's HRC blaming the "activist base" of the Democratic party for her caucus losses:

"We have been less successful in caucuses because it brings out the activist base of the Democratic Party. MoveOn didn't even want us to go into Afghanistan. I mean, that's what we're dealing with. And you know they turn out in great numbers. And they are very driven by their view of our positions, and it's primarily national security and foreign policy that drives them. I don't agree with them. They know I don't agree with them. So they flood into these caucuses and dominate them and really intimidate people who actually show up to support me."

Throughout this whole nomination race, I've thought that HRC's vote for the Iraq War and (equally important) her refusal to disavow it were major factors in her inability to cement the nomination early on. It's not easy to show this sort of thing via polling data, because polls capture too many low-participation voters. But, clearly, Clinton herself sees her foreign policy stands as being at the root of her failure to win among activists. I think she's probably right. Her key missteps on the war opened a niche for Obama, and his amazing gifts allowed him to capture it and then build from there. Without that, my guess is that Obama would never have been able to get an initial foothold that could allow him to defeat the Clinton machine and name brand.

Equally interesting to me, of course, is that HRC saying this is not even newsworthy. If Obama (potentially) pisses off a constituency that barely even votes Democratic anymore (white working-class small-town religious gun owners), it's a huge news story that goes on for weeks. Every op-ed writer in the country feels the need to weigh in on "bitter-gate," and cable news goes wall-to-wall with it. If HRC specifically and deliberately disses a huge and engaged part of the base of the Democratic party, that's not news. She doesn't feel the need to apologize or "clarify." It's not even interesting. After all, antiwar Democrats aren't "real Americans," are they?


At 7:42 AM, Blogger fronesis said...

Nice post, Frances.

I'd also add a rather obvious point...whether or not Obama's comments were construed as negative with regard to said constituency, it was very clear that he was trying to relate to, to understand, and to get the votes of that constituency. HRC, on the other hand, is purely dismissing these folks.

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Number Three said...

I'll add that we sure are doing a bang-up job in Afghanistan, too.

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Frances said...

Thanks, Fro. And it's not just HRC who dismisses anti (Iraq) war Democrats, it's pretty much the entire commentariat. If this audio clip sparked any conversation on the nation's op-ed pages, what would you want to bet that commentators would sympathize more with HRC? They'd portray her as the victim of left wing extremism and (by implication at least) praise her for her profile in courage for voting for the Iraq War and standing up to the base of her own party.

(When, of course, we all know that voting for the Iraq War in 2003 was the easiest thing in the world for a politician to do.)

The bottom line is that some voters can be dissed with impunity in American politics, Iraq war opponents and the American left generally. But you better not say anything that could be construed as disrespectful of Nixon's "silent majority" (even though it's not a majority). For some reason, the latter are normative "salt of the earth" for American commentators. The former are the very definition of "fringe." Regardless of how many Americans fall into each group.


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