the New York Times Magazine has a cover story this week about Barack Obama’s efforts to reach working-class voters. The headline writers did it no favors by tagging it “Will gun-toting, churchgoing white guys pull the lever for Obama?,” which makes it sound like the worst sort of demographic electoral college nonsense. The actual article, though, is much better than the title suggests.
It’s not perfect– it’s still got a lot of pundit-class chin-stroking about whether Obama is actually connecting with working-class whites, written in a manner that suggests that these elusive creatures are like ultra-massive black holes, able to be studied only from a great distance with powerful telescopes. Yeah, yeah, plural anecdotes aren’t data, but I can’t help thinking that somewhere between visits to well-connected Democratic politicians and their cousins, Matt Bai might’ve made time to talk to, you know, some voters.
Still, it avoids the most obvious trap of these pieces, which is the odd suggestion that Obama needs to “win” the working-class white demographic in order to win the election. He doesn’t, and most likely won’t (as the Ron Brownstein analysis piece referenced in the Matthew Yglesias link makes clear, even Clinton in 1996 only managed around 36% of that group). The article makes clear that that’s not the real point of his effort to reach out to them– it doesn’t hurt, but the real goal is to try to build a broad base from which to govern. It quotes Obama saying he doesn’t want to be a “50 + 1” president, supported by only half of the population, plus one vote.
That’s an audacious goal, and I have to give him credit for thinking big. It’s a nice break from the last eight years. This also makes it especially depressing to watch the McCain campaign go into this scorched-earth mode in which their strategy appears to be aimed not at winning, but at poisoning their base to the point where they’ll never accept Obama, if he wins, as the legitimate President.