By Dave Lindorff
I’m ready to call this election. It’s going to be a big win for Barack Obama.
I know this because of a story I heard from an employee of a major polling organization. He tells of a poll worker who was interviewing homeowners in a small town in central Pennsylvania, part of that “real” American hailed by Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The man knocked on the door, and when the woman of the house answered, told her he was a pollster and wanted to know how her household planned to vote in November.
The woman turned and yelled into the house, “Honey, how are we voting this year?”
From inside the house, a male voice yelled back, “I guess we’re voting for the n-word.”
The woman turned to the stunned pollster and, without a hint of embarrassment, said, “I guess we’re voting for Obama.”
Simply put, Obama has won the racist vote, a core Republican constituency since the late 1960s.
Indeed, it is likely that instead of the famed “Bradley Effect” (named after the Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles, who famously lost a race for California governor which the polls said he would win handily), according to which some white voters supposedly tell poll takers they are voting for the black candidate in a race for fear of appearing racist, while in fact they plan on voting for the white candidate, the opposite is going to occur. That is, there are probably many white racist voters like the one in this small Pennsylvania town, whether in some northern suburb or village, or in Southern states like Virginia, North Carolina or Georgia, who are fed up with the Bush years, want a change, and are planning to vote for Obama, but would not want their friends to know they were voting for a black man. Call it the “Obama Effect.”
If I’m right that this anecdote is reflective of a broader phenomenon, look for just the opposite of what we saw happen in the 2004 election, when the exit polls and the networks were calling the election for John Kerry, and in fact key states like Ohio, supposedly solidly in the Democratic column, went for Bush. (Sure there was voting machine chicanery, but there were also problems with the exit polls.) This year, if there are substantial numbers of white voters who vote for Obama but sheepishly tell exit pollsters that they voted for McCain, we may hear that races are close, or that states are going for McCain that will ultimately, when the actual votes are counted, go for Obama.
In a broader sense, even based upon the pre-election poll numbers we are seeing, with Obama ahead in Virginia and North Carolina and within the margin of error in Indiana, Georgia, North Dakota and Montana, what seems to be happening in this election is the collapse of the long-successful Republican strategy of using “social issues” and fear-mongering, particularly fear of African-Americans and immigrants, to convince white working class Americans to vote for a party whose interests were and are clearly against their own. Republican campaign ads and candidate speeches are larded with code words that seek to appeal to those fears: “pals around with terrorists,” “don’t know who he really is,” “anti-American preacher,” “wife not proud to be an American,” “community activist,” “socialist,” “not really born in America.” But they’re not working. Neither is the old Republican nostrum of cutting taxes for the rich on the pretense that it will lead to jobs for the poor. When McCain charges, as he has been doing frantically of late, that Obama has been outed by “Joe” (sic) the Plumber as a “socialist” and that he will be taxing the rich "to spread the wealth around,” most people today are probably thinking, “Hey, that idea of spreading some rich folks’ money around sounds pretty good to me!”
That is to say, Obama’s populist rhetoric, whether it is sincere or not, and particularly his promise to cut taxes for most Americans while raising taxes on the wealthy and on the large corporations, and to make college and health care affordable to all, is winning over a large number of Americans, including many who for decades have been responsive to Republican fear- and race-mongering and to Republican "free-market" ideology.
There are many people on the left who argue that Obama and the Democrats are a sham, and that they won’t really tackle taxing the rich and corporations in any serious way, or offering real help to struggling working class Americans. They may well be right. Certainly the flood of campaign contributions from Fortune 1000 corporations suggests that corporate America will have a big seat at the White House table in an Obama administration, as they do already in the Democratic Congress. At the same time though, the rhetoric of this campaign is setting up a major expectation among millions of ordinary voters for real progressive action on economic issues. This hope, given continued organized political pressure after November 4, could lead to real action.
I would argue that when the real “Joe’s” and “Jane’s” of America, the ones who have been suckered in for years by cynical Republican fear-mongering and race-baiting campaigns finally turn away and vote for hope—even if that hope is being over-sold--it creates the chance for a real movement for progressive change in the country.
At any rate, it certainly looks like my theory will be put to the test come Inauguration Day.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net