Barack Obama

Father Obama and the Warrior Princess

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As the Clinton-Obama race tightens, it's a good time to dredge up this year-old column by Ronald Brownstein:

Obama's early support is following a pattern familiar from the campaigns of other brainy liberals with cool, detached personas and messages of political reform, from Eugene McCarthy in 1968 to Gary Hart in 1984 to Bill Bradley in 2000. Like those predecessors, Obama is running strong with well-educated voters but demonstrating much less support among those without college degrees….

Since the 1960s, Democratic nominating contests regularly have come down to a struggle between a candidate who draws support primarily from upscale, economically comfortable voters liberal on social and foreign policy issues, and a rival who relies mostly on downscale, financially strained voters drawn to populist economics and somewhat more conservative views on cultural and national security issues.

It's not much of an oversimplification to say that the blue-collar Democrats tend to see elections as an arena for defending their interests, and the upscale voters see them as an opportunity to affirm their values.

It's an interesting model. Obama does seem to fit that McCarthy/Hart/Bradley line of descent, though he can counteract that somewhat by pointing to his time as a community organizer. When I first read Brownstein's column last year, I had trouble picturing Hillary Clinton as a blue-collar hero, but exit polls from New Hampshire show her beating Obama (and Edwards) among union members and people without college degrees, while Obama took a (narrower) lead among college graduates. We'll see if that pattern holds in the primaries to come. (Obama recently picked up some major union endorsements in Nevada, which should eat into Clinton's working-class support in that state.)

More from Brownstein:

In modern times, the Democratic presidential race has usually pitted a warrior against a priest.

Warrior candidates stress their ability to deliver on kitchen table concerns and revel in political combat. They tout their experience and flout their scars. Their greatest strength is usually persistence, not eloquence; they don't so much inspire as reassure. Think of Harry Truman in 1948, Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and, in a somewhat more diluted fashion, Walter Mondale in 1984 and John Kerry in 2004.

The priests, whose lineage runs back through McCarthy to Adlai Stevenson, present a very different face. They write books and sometimes verse. They observe the campaign's hurly-burly through a filter of cool, witty detachment. Their campaigns become crusades, fueled as much by inchoate longing for a "new politics" as tangible demands for new policies.

That pattern doesn't look good for Obama, given that the only priest on Brownstein's list who actually won the nomination was Stevenson, and he was nominated before the modern primary system took hold. (I suppose George McGovern qualifies as a priest as well. I'm not sure how Brownstein would classify Jimmy Carter.) Then again, as Brownstein notes, Obama's support among blacks—much greater now than when the article originally appeared—changes the dynamics of the campaign. In the past, black voters have tended to reject the upscale priests.

Speaking of blacks, here's Brownstein's conclusion:

Since Obama entered the campaign, the question he's faced most often is whether he is "black enough" to win votes from African Americans. But the more relevant issue may be whether Obama is "blue enough" to increase his support among blue-collar whites.

Now that Obama is polling well among African Americans, people don't talk as much about whether he's "really" black. Am I the only person who thinks that issue always had more to do with his ability to attract white votes than black votes? The nuances in Obama's ethnic identity might put off some black Democrats, but I suspect they also make him seem less threatening to those whites who dislike the idea of racism but still carry prejudices.

This too fits a historical pattern. It's telling that the only other potential black president to receive cross-ideological white support—Colin Powell—comes from Afro-Carribean stock rather than a conventional African-American background. For that matter, before Jesse Jackson spent the '80s as the candidate of the black (and white) left, it was a left-wing Afro-Carribean, Rep. Shirley Chisholm, who made the first serious black bid for a major party's presidential nomination.

Obama is not merely half-white: His black father came from Africa, not the U.S., and Obama himself was partly raised abroad. In other words, he is not primarily a product of black American culture. I don't think that makes him less black, but it probably persuades many whites that he's more "safe." Except, of course, among those voters who believe he's secretly a Muslim. If it's not one anxiety, it's another.

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  1. Obama is black like Derek Jeter is black.
    I think (or I hope) it’s a non-issue, which would be a good thing.

  2. It would be a better thing if Obama was black like Reggie Jackson is black, and THAT was a non-issue.

    Anyway, while the analysis of historical patterns is quite insightful, Hillary’s gender and Obama’s charisma are probably big enough wildcards to swamp the factors Brownstein mentions.

    Leftist women who’ve spent four years howling about Warmonger Hillary are nonetheless finding themselves drawn to her, especially when she appears to be picked on. Blue-collar moderate women have always been in her corner. And Obama has the glittery, rock star Kennedy/Reagan/Clinton thing going on.

  3. White people like [Obama], because he makes Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X

  4. So you’re saying American black culture is a problem – would you like to contribute to my newsletter?

  5. I do like black people. It just took a white one to prove it to me.

  6. Wouldn’t Bill Clinton fit into the priest category as well?

  7. But Negrodamus, who do you think will pick Obama in the racial draft?

  8. Since I’m on the fence as to whether or not Ron Paul can recover from this smear campaign, I think our last hope in preserving liberty lies in Obama defeating Hillary. I know, I know, some of you are chuckling at the suggestion that Obama is more libertarian than Clinton, but look closely at all of her policies and who’s funding them. Clinton receives the MOST amount of money from military contractors–don’t look to her to scale down the MIC. She also gets the biggest money from HMO’s–her “universal” health care plan is likely going to be corporate welfarism. If a huge government is going to mug me and redistribute wealth at my expense, I’d rather it not go into the pockets a health care system that already tries to rip me off, mkaythx. Honestly, I think an Obama presidency would *reduce* the scope of government, simply because he takes far less money from lobbyists and would scale back the War On Terror. Not to mention he would restore many Civil Liberties.

  9. Wouldn’t Bill Clinton fit into the priest category as well?

    Brownstein argues that Clinton transcended the warrior/priest division.

  10. Brownstein argues that Clinton transcended the warrior/priest division.

    I didn’t realize Bill played WoW.

  11. Barack Obama is openly white. He just happens to be black.

  12. Actually, during his second-place speech in NH, I noted to myself that Obama’s vocal tone was starting to morph into a southern-preecher as the speech went on.

  13. We’ll never get anywhere in this country until we put to bed the “rule” that one drop of black blood makes you black. That “rule” is as racist as it gets. That’s why I mentioned Jeter. His father is black. His mother is white. But the public perception of him (my own anyway) is that he’s neither. He’s just a decent human. We judge him exactly as ML King would have wished us to. By the content of his character. That’s how we should be dealing with Obama, and so far we seem to be. So maybe we can be optimistic that race-baiting, tribalist haters like Jesse Jackson are finally behind us. We can only hope.

  14. Does Barack Obama need to choke a bitch?

  15. It would be a better thing if Obama was black like Reggie Jackson is black, and THAT was a non-issue.

    True enough. Except Reggie’s mom isn’t white.

    Which brings up a question, does Obama get to pick his race? Or is he, by definition, a black man?

  16. Brownstein argues that Clinton transcended the warrior/priest division.

    In Oblivion that would make him a battle mage.

  17. “I don’t think that makes him less black, but it probably persuades many whites that he’s more ‘safe.'”

    Probably not the whites who subscribed to Ron Paul’s newsletter, though.

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  18. Commentator | January 10, 2008, 11:17am | #

    But Negrodamus, who do you think will pick Obama in the racial draft?

    The Mexicans. Having him as a spokesman would make them popular with both the whites and the blacks!

  19. In Oblivion that would make him a battle mage.

    I had a warrior-priest (runepriest) in Runequest once. He kicked total ass.

  20. ed,

    Barack Obama calls himself black. Think he’s made Kleagle yet?

  21. Obama recently picked up a major union endorsement in Nevada, which should eat into Clinton’s working-class support in that state.

    I suspect that The Culinary Workers Union and the Service Employees International Union, are real power brokers in Nevada Democratic politics. Thes folks will overwhemingly vote for any Democrat in the general election, so now is the time to flex their muscles.

    Except, of course, among those voters who believe he’s secretly a Muslim.

    Hats! Get your hats here! 100% genuine, union made, American tinfoil headgear!

  22. That pattern doesn’t look good for Obama, given that the only priest on Brownstein’s list who actually won the nomination was Stevenson, and he was nominated before the modern primary system took hold.

    Let’s not forget the most disastrous Democratic priest of all.

  23. “those voters who believe he’s secretly a Muslim”

    There does seem to be some evidence that he was listed as a Muslim when he was with his father and the he went to the mosque as a Muslim.

    This would make him an apostate, so I would think that it would create some difficulties in his relations with Muslims.

  24. In Oblivion that would make him a battle mage.

    Finally, something Bill Clinton and I have in common.

    Other, I am sure, than being sick and tired of being nagged by Hillary. But who isn’t?

  25. That pattern doesn’t look good for Obama, given that the only priest on Brownstein’s list who actually won the nomination was Stevenson, and he was nominated before the modern primary system took hold.

    The 800 lb. donkey in the room that dooms this analysis is JFK, who clearly fell into the “priest” category and won the election (with a little help from Mayor Daley). He, not Stevenson, has clearly been the archetype for most of the ‘priest’ candidates in the last 30 years.

    Carter probably transcends the warrior/priest division, but I would put him as slightly more “warrior”, since he campaigned heavily on economic issues and conservative values. He simply added in a nice dollop of claiming to be “Mr. Clean,” which was inevitable in the wake of Watergate.

  26. As for Obama’s race, I agree that the one-drop rule is an interesting holdover from the days of slavery, but I believe that Obama himself has written that he struggled with the issue of his identity early in life. He was not raised in the black community and apparently only self-identified that way once he went to college. In a way, Obama is lucky by not being a ‘traditional’ African-American, in that his lighter skin color could bring along all sorts of class issues within the black community–“high yellow”, and all that. Maybe that stuff is mostly anachronistic, now, I don’t know. I’m just an out-of-the-loop paleface.

  27. Maybe that stuff is mostly anachronistic, now, I don’t know. I’m just an out-of-the-loop paleface.

    It’s not.

    But it can be overcome, within the loop, by being “culturally black,” which Obama isn’t at all, except for whatever unspeakable flirtations with Islam he may have had.

    He’s decided to say he’s black. It doesn’t seem to mean anything to him but “so you have to vote for me.”

    And that shit only works on white people.

  28. Brownstein is quoted as saying “They tout their experience and flout their scars.” Actually, they FLAUNT their scars. I’ve seen ‘flaunt’ substituted for ‘flout,’ but never before the other way around.

  29. This would make him an apostate, so I would think that it would create some difficulties in his relations with Muslims.

    Only the crazy ones. The rest would be more relieved to see a face across the table who knows something of their traditions and culture, and could probably give a shit what the state of his immortal soul is.

    The technical penalty for apostasy in *many* religions is death, but only whackies take stuff like that seriously. i.e. People who might be moved to stone their kid to death for wearing two cloths of a different source or talking back to their mommy.

    If it were even true, which I doubt.

  30. Will Senator Obama use “The Barack” or “The Obama” when he speaks of himself in the third person. ? Either sounds way cool.

  31. Actually, during his second-place speech in NH, I noted to myself that Obama’s vocal tone was starting to morph into a southern-preecher as the speech went on.

    That was particularly off-putting for me. I had much more respect for him when he was being “above race” than when he tried to paint himself as the next MLK.

    Either way, though, if the democrats are smart enough to reject Hillary (who can be beat by the GOP), I believe Obama will be the next president. None of the sorry crop of republicans would stand a chance against him in the general election.

  32. There is no “one drop rule.”

    If a guy who looks like Jimmy Carter has a black grandfather but calls himself white, nobody in American going to say “Nuh-uh!”

    Except perhaps a shred of a fringe, who don’t matter.

    It doesn’t seem to mean anything to him but “so you have to vote for me.” Oh, I guess you didn’t hear – he goes to one of those scary Black Churches.

  33. “Mo | January 10, 2008, 11:16am | #

    Wouldn’t Bill Clinton fit into the priest category as well?”

    No, he fits in BOTH categories. Hence his electoral success. He’s Bubba who’s also a Rhodes Scholar.

  34. I know we have Hillary haters here. I know we have Islmophobes here. Do any self professed libertarians think that Edwards would be better than either? If Huckabee nanny state hick preacher), Romney (inveterate liar) or Giuliani (there’s too much wrong there to fit into a sound bite) get’s the GOP nod, and Hillary, or Obama take the democratic nomination, I’ll be voting for a democrat for president the first time in my life. Since that is a very real possibility, I care about the Dems race and wish Barack Obama the best. Of the 5 I mentioned, the rankings –

    1. Obama
    2. Clinton
    3. Romney
    4. Huckabee
    27. Giuliani.

  35. Since Obama entered the campaign, the question he’s faced most often is whether he is “black enough” to win votes from African Americans.

    Because, clearly, that’s all African-Americans care about: the color of the man’s skin.

  36. Do any self professed libertarians think that Edwards would be better than either?

    Deirdre McCloskey, apparently.

  37. There should be a /sarcasm tag in my last post. The intertubes (and my meager writing skills) don’t convey tone of voice very well.

  38. Since Obama entered the campaign, the question he’s faced most often is whether he is “black enough” to win votes from African Americans.

    Too half black. Too half strong. Too half black. Too half strong.

  39. There is no “one drop rule.”

    If a guy who looks like Jimmy Carter has a black grandfather but calls himself white, nobody in American going to say “Nuh-uh!”

    But what about someone who had a single black ancestor in 1870 calling themselves “black”? It does have legal and professional significance in this country, what with affirmative action and all that.

    Personally, I hope for the day when no one in the USA calls themselves black or white or whatever. And I think we are slowly moving in that direction. But it’s many generations off yet.

  40. Yee-ah, boy-ee!

  41. ChrisO,

    I don’t think that would fly. I think he would be tossed out of the admissions office on his ear for lying on his application. I think his claim would be deliberately dishonest. I think that such a person would never, ever, actually consider himself black.

    Do you disagree?

    Once again: no One Drop Rule. One Drop does not make you black – not to yourself, not to your neighbors, and not to the government.

    So the obvious follow-up is, “OK, so what does make someone black.”

    Which, in the sense of…your shoes are untied!

  42. ChrisO,

    Do you wish I didn’t consider myself an Irish American and Italian American?

    I think my life has been immesurable enriched by that.

  43. Do you wish I didn’t consider myself an Irish American and Italian American?

    You’re barely even human, Mick-WOP.

  44. “1. Obama
    2. Clinton
    3. Romney
    4. Huckabee
    27. Giuliani.”

    You didn’t mention McCain, J Sub D. He could very well be the Republican nominee.

  45. One of these day, I’m going to get a footstool and punch you right in the gut, Episiarch!

  46. “Wouldn’t Bill Clinton fit into the priest category as well?”

    “No, he fits in BOTH categories. Hence his electoral success. He’s Bubba who’s also a Rhodes Scholar.”

    No, the reason for his success is Ross Perot.

  47. You’re barely even human, Mick-WOP.

    joe,

    Did you grow up on an island where this man was in charge?

  48. It would be a better thing if Obama was black like Reggie Jackson is black, and THAT was a non-issue.

    If Obama was that black, it would be a non-issue, he wouldn’t be a viable candidate. Apparently, for some people, too much melanin makes one incapable of running the executive branch.

  49. “Actually, during his second-place speech in NH, I noted to myself that Obama’s vocal tone was starting to morph into a southern-preecher as the speech went on.”

    He’s practicing for South Carolina.

  50. Since I’m on the fence as to whether or not Ron Paul can recover from this smear campaign, I think our last hope in preserving liberty slowing the descent into tyranny lies in Obama defeating Hillary.

    Fixed.

  51. So the obvious follow-up is, “OK, so what does make someone black.”

    And the even more obvious follow-up. Why do we legally preserve a simple binary distinction? The reality is obviously more complicated–and interesting. The USA is almost alone among longtime racially mixed societies in doing so.

    Oh, and joe, I’m truly a libertarian on race/ethnicity matters and couldn’t give a fuck less what you call yourself. Just as long as you don’t use it as a pretext to raid my wallet.

    Out of curiousity, have you spent time in either Ireland or Italy? When I was young, I used to take a shine to my German-American status. That was, until I spent some time in Germany and discovered how really non-German I am. Nothing against the Germans (good beer and all), but I got an appreciation of just why old JohannesO left the old country in the first place.

  52. “Since I’m on the fence as to whether or not Ron Paul can recover from this smear campaign, I think our last hope in preserving liberty slowing the descent into tyranny lies in Obama defeating Hillary.”

    If Ron Paul is out of the race in March, I’ll vote for Obama (or should I say I will vote against the broom rider?)

  53. J sub D — I’m leaning toward this ordering:

    1. Ron Paul (flaws and all)
    2. Whatever blue-skinned person wins the LP nomination
    5. Mitt Romney
    10. A huge clusterf*** of badly flawed candidates.
    30. Clinton
    100. Edwards
    1000. The Green Party candidate.

  54. You didn’t mention McCain, J Sub D. He could very well be the Republican nominee.

    You noticed. He could get my vote in the general election. But next week I’ll be casting my primary vote for Ron Paul.

  55. Do blue-skinned people fall under the one-drop rule? That first dose of colloidal silver changes *everything.”

  56. If Obama was that black, it would be a non-issue, he wouldn’t be a viable candidate.

    Sad, but likely true. 🙁

    Chris O,

    Why do we legally preserve a simple binary distinction? Because while the biologial reality is different, the social and poltical reality isn’t. Being black is pretty much about phenotype and culture, and is thought of in a binary designation.

    The USA is almost alone among longtime racially mixed societies in doing so. Yes, but let’s not assume this is a bad thing. They had more categories in the segregated South and in South Africa, too.

    Oh, and joe, I’m truly a libertarian on race/ethnicity matters and couldn’t give a fuck less what you call yourself. Yes you do. You just wrote up above that you wish people didn’t call themselves, and others, black and white.

    I’ve never been to Italy or Ireland, but I’ve lived my life in social and cultural envrionments in which Irishness and Italianness were important parts of how people thought of themselves, and how they lived, and which were noticeably distinct from families and neighborhoods which did not reflect those lineages.

    PS: Irish American, Italian American. Not Irish or Italian.

  57. When I was young, I used to take a shine to my German-American status. That was, until I spent some time in Germany and discovered how really non-German I am. Nothing against the Germans (good beer and all), but I got an appreciation of just why old JohannesO left the old country in the first place.

    Me too. While not having ever spent time in Germany, I have spent quite some time around Germans. I realized very quickly that I am 150% American. Same with the Italians (hi joe!) but they are all insane anyway.

  58. No no, it’s just our women.

    Not you, honey.

  59. Joe:

    Because while the biologial reality is different, the social and poltical reality isn’t. Being black is pretty much about phenotype and culture, and is thought of in a binary designation.

    Which is partly a result of the one-drop rule, no? Or at least the forces that created such a “rule.”

    They had more categories in the segregated South and in South Africa, too.

    True. Skin-deep classification of people rarely has any good justification, I suppose.

    You just wrote up above that you wish people didn’t call themselves, and others, black and white.

    Yeah, but that’s mostly a bunch of John Lennon-style naivete. 😉 In practice, I’m a selfish bastard who mostly worries about myself and my wallet.

    I’ve never been to Italy or Ireland, but I’ve lived my life in social and cultural envrionments in which Irishness and Italianness were important parts of how people thought of themselves, and how they lived, and which were noticeably distinct from families and neighborhoods which did not reflect those lineages.

    I get the distinction and what you’re talking about, but you might acquire a somewhat different view of this if you actually went to the Old Countries for a visit. Your communities retain a surprising amount of chauvinism for the Old Country, which would probably be dampened by actual experience.

    BTW, part of my evolving view of my “German-ness” was discovering that the hottest women in the parts of Europe I visited were actually in Italy. Mind you, I was 20 years old, so that was Issue No. 1 at the time. The most approachable women, on the other hand, were to be found in the former Yugoslavia. Offset by the worst booze on the planet, though.

  60. Once this primary is over, it will be great when we progressives can get back to real business–attacking wingnuts.

  61. Once this primary is over, it will be great when we progressives can get back to real business–attacking wingnuts.

    We need to do something about those damned typeface abusers, too.

  62. “The most approachable women, on the other hand, were to be found in the former Yugoslavia.”

    Probably because they wanted to hook up with an American and move here.

  63. We need to do something about those damned typeface abusers, too.

    Wait till MCW finds out you italicize and bold at the same time.

  64. Chris O,

    Which is partly a result of the one-drop rule, no? No, the one drop rule applied in South Africa, for example, but they didn’t have a binary system.

    Anyway, I don’t think a visit to Ireland would have the effect on me that you assume. I don’t think of “the old country” as being Ireland, so much Springfield, MA and the South Side of Mansfield, MA. That’s why I don’t put the hyphen in “Irish American”” and “Italian American,” if you catch my drift.

  65. I mean, I don’t think of myself as part Irish/Italian and part American. I think of myself as a variety of American.

    We’ve got variety in this country, and I think that’s a good thing. It’s part of what America is.

  66. You might just say it’s the spice of life.

  67. Kerry just endorsed Obama. I wonder if that will have any effect.

  68. 1000. The Green Party candidate.

    Cynthia McKinney, isn’t it?

  69. You know who made her 1000, right?

  70. Si, se?or joe.

  71. Who knows comments about Obama:

    This would make him an apostate, so I would think that it would create some difficulties in his relations with Muslims.

    Elemenope quickly apologizes:

    Only the crazy ones. The rest would be more relieved to see a face across the table who knows something of their traditions and culture, and could probably give a shit what the state of his immortal soul is.

    I think by “crazy” you actually mean devout but you’re too weak (or perhaps afraid) to write it. It’s undoubtedly true that devout muslims would have a big problem with an apostate. Devout muslims would want to kill the apostate, and that desire is halal under Shari’a because that command (“He who changes his religion, kill him”) came directly from the muslim prophet Muhammad, and the muslim prophet Muhammad is a “perfect model of conduct” for all muslims.

    It’s a simple fact that the more devout a muslim gets, the more crazy and bloodthirsty he becomes. I have no problem with lackluster, lazy muslims who don’t give a shit about their religion. It’s the ones who take their religion very seriously that I despise. This is because the problem isn’t muslims, the problem is Islam itself.

    Islam delenda est.

  72. …and he’s right to do so. 😛

  73. er, my previous comment was meant to respond to my last comment before that, not to the guy going on about Muslims or whatever.

  74. Yes, Obama is a priest and hillary is a warrior.

    I think Edwards is a rogue, he’s charming and sneaky.

    As for Kucinich, with all that mystical vegetarian stuff, he’s obviously a magic-user.

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