As a White liberal living in Philadelphia, who will vote in Pennsylvania's presidential primary election on April 22nd, I'm glad to have the choice of voting for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Both would bring more experience to the White House than did our current President. More significantly, they will bring to office a vastly superior understanding of the issues than did George W. Bush.
It was Bush, while campaigning for President, who smugly asserted: "I may not know where Kosovo is, but I know what I believe" And once in office, he launched an illegal, immoral, unprovoked invasion of Iraq because he "believed" that God supported it. When compared with astounding ignorance and indifference Bush brought to office, Senators Clinton and Obama are bona fide "policy wonks." Just listen to them (when they are not sniping at each other).
Thus, I'm not only convinced that Americans are eager to cast off their national embarrassment of a President, I'm also excited to think that enough Americans have sufficiently shed their gender and racial biases to actually elect America's first female or African-American President. Moreover, I'm confident that either candidate would be far better for the country, than the Republican's candidate -- who promises little more than a third term of George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich, export of jobs, and endless quagmire in Iraq.
Consequently, it doesn't bother me to know that women voters constitute a core constituency in Senator Clinton's campaign. I've heard (or read about) numerous mothers, who wait in anticipation, hoping to show their daughters that Clinton's election proves that the sky's the limit for women in America; that the most unbreakable of the country's glass ceilings has been shattered. And I would share in their elation.
But, neither does it concern me to know that African-Americans constitute a core constituency in Senator Obama's campaign. As a student of African-American history and a former Department of Defense official, who not only advocated Equal Employment Opportunity, but also fostered diversity in the workforce by serving as an EEO Special Emphasis Program Coordinator, I expect African-Americans to be as proud of Senator Obama's campaign as women are of Senator Clinton's. In fact, I'd be suspicious, if they were not.
My concerns about the lock-step fidelity of such voters might be more serious, were one of the candidates clearly superior to the other. But, that's not the case with Senators Obama and Clinton. Which is why I'm troubled by recent attempts by prominent figures in the Clinton campaign - former President Bill Clinton, Pennsylvania's Governor, Ed Rendell, and just recently, Geraldine Ferraro - to pigeonhole Senator Obama as merely the candidate of "blacks."
Tactfully (and, perhaps, tactically) Senator Clinton apologized for her husband's attempt to belittle Obama's victory in South Carolina and Ms. Ferraro's preposterous statements, which belittled Obama's message and character, as well as his very formidable intellectual, personal and organizational skills by subordinating them to his so-called "luck" to be a black presidential candidate at this moment in history. Intentionally or not, damage was done to Senator Obama's campaign.
What damage? In 1985, a study by Adam Przeworski and John Sprague "argued that voters, particularly working-class voters, respond to the class composition of support for parties. For example, if a traditionally working-class party gains votes from the middle classes, working-class voters may feel less identification with the party and become less likely to vote for it." In 1989, Robert Huckfeldt and Carol Weitzel Kohfeld "applied this idea to race, arguing that some white voters would turn against a party that received high levels of black support." [David Weakliem and Robert Biggert, "What's the Matter with the Middle Class? State Differences in the Effects of Education and Income on Party Choice," August 10, 2007]
According to Professor Ronald Walters, "Obama's strong support from blacks made it easier for some whites in Ohio and Texas to vote for Clinton." Walters specifically identified working-class whites -- those "who earn less than $50,000 a year and did not attend college" -- as a "racially sensitive group." Supporting Walters' view were the Ohio exit polls, revealing "eighteen percent of white Ohio voters said race was an important factor in their decision, and of that group, three in four voted for Clinton." ["Black support a 2-edged sword for Obama," Philadelphia Inquirer, March10, 2008]
"Racially sensitive group?" Let's dispense with the political correctness and call these people what they really are - "racists." Moreover, it's probable that these fine folks make up much of the 20 percent of Democrats predicted to vote for John McCain, if Barack Obama wins the Democratic Party's nomination. In a word, they would rather endure four more years of the Republican Party's economic assault on the lower 90 percent of the population, than vote for an African-American who's far more educated, wealthy, accomplished, thoughtful, broad-mined, inclusive and - arguably -- concerned about their economic problems than they are.
It's commonly thought that Pennsylvania shares many of the demographic characteristics found in Ohio, including its "racially sensitive" voters. Both have a median household income that is slightly below the national average. Ohio's 2006 population of 11,478, 006 includes some 21 percent who have earned a college degree, while Pennsylvania's population of 12,440,621 includes some 22.4 percent who own such a degree.
Why does a college degree matter? Because, as Professors David Weakliem and Robert Biggert concluded in their recent research paper, "What's the Matter with the Middle Class? State Differences in the Effects of Education and Income on Party Choice," for the 21 states they examined, "education is associated with more support for the Democrats in every state." But, as they note in the paper's abstract, "Variation in the effects of college education is related to the educational composition of the state: where college education is more common, it is more strongly associated with support for Democrats." Which is why, the pro-Democratic effect of a college education is smaller in both Ohio and Pennsylvania than in New York or California. [p. 12]
Beyond African-Americans and young voters, Barack Obama consistently has captured majorities among the college educated. The Clinton campaign knows this, which explains why they have employed the wink and a nod that pigeonholes Obama as merely a black candidate in marginally pro-Democratic Pennsylvania. If she can't prevail on the issues, perhaps a bit of subtle racial innuendo can put her over the top.
Unfortunately, controlling lower class whites by pandering to their "racial sensitivities" is a technique long practiced by upper class whites in America and dates at least as far back as Bacon's rebellion in 1676.
As Matt Wray has written, in his book, Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness," (Duke University Press, 2006), "Bacon's Rebellion marked a turning point in colonial policy toward the social control of the lower classes of poor whites, Native Americans, and the African slaves. After the rebellion, historians agree, the colonial elite took steps to divide blacks from whites, discouraging solidarity by introducing racially based legal and economic privileges that were intended to benefit even the poorest whites. As the seventeenth century gave way to the eighteenth, colonial society was becoming even more sharply divided along lines of both class and race, making for, from the elite point of view, a more stable social order." [Note 7, p. 151]
Although this tactic might gain the Clinton campaign a few more anti-Obama working-class votes in Pennsylvania, one might ask whether it will cost her in the long run; especially if Philadelphia's black population refuses to support her in large numbers against John McCain.