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Altered Landscape Imperils Obama

Clint Reilly

The ground under the presidential race is shifting, at great peril to Barack Obama in his primary contest against Hillary Clinton.

At the starting line, Clinton’s insider credentials and celebrity status were both a strength and a weakness. Obama’s lack of Washington experience and his outsider’s critique of a flawed government was a popular formula that attracted many followers.

Today, Obama’s message of transformational change seems less relevant as a credit crisis cuts through Middle America’s pocketbook like a tornado down Main Street.

Voters’ outrage about Washington lobbyists – whom Obama has demonized to great effect – has been replaced by the stark reality of the unemployment letter at work or the foreclosure notice in the mail box.

For middle- and working-class whites and Latinos who are not bound to Obama by the same racial kinship as African Americans, declining home values trump bipartisan political reform.

And finally, Obama’s legitimate assertion that he is more of a Washington outsider than Clinton is overshadowed by Clinton’s association with a sustained period of economic prosperity under Bill Clinton.

The central question now facing the remaining Democratic voters and superdelegates is simple: Does America most need an agent of political reform or an agent of economic reform?

The stranglehold over legislative policy by special interest money and lobbyists is a frequent Obama target. However, in key races in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Clinton has defeated Obama handily among white middle-class and working-class voters.


In short, Clinton has focused on the economic concerns of families and women who face declining savings, job loss, health care problems and home foreclosures.

In an earlier column endorsing Clinton I wrote:

“Obama blames partisanship, special interest money and turf wars for creating a system no longer capable of coherent domestic and international policies. Clinton believes our present government can deliver important change. Her bread and butter agenda is aimed at meeting the economic needs of Americans rather than critiquing the failures of democratic government.”

As Obama struggles to expand his base of support among the white working class, questions are mounting about his transformational message and messianic rhetoric. Where are the substantive programs which will make Obama’s rhetoric real?

More important, how relevant is Obama’s message to working class Americans facing an uncertain economic future?

In his April 25 column, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman made a compelling argument: “Maybe his transformational campaign isn’t winning over working class voters because transformation isn’t what they’re looking for.”

What are they looking for? Answers to a gathering economic tempest. Concrete solutions to a catastrophic loss of homes and savings. Protection from unseen forces that blindside jobs, wages and pensions. First aid in the form of an affordable health care system. Relief from high gas prices eating into fixed income.

History dictates the needs that leaders must address in order to gain and hold power. This year’s presidential campaign has changed course. The campaign began with Iraq and America’s image abroad as defining issues.

But as the U.S. economy faces trauma after trauma, unease is growing that an unprecedented recession looms. Globalization’s porcelain promises are beginning to show cracks.

As the issues change, voters are rewriting the job description of their next president. Ask yourself which candidate for President – John McCain, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton – can best do the following job: “Put the American economic engine back on track.”

The answer is the reason why Hillary Clinton is still very much alive in the race for President of the United States.

Comments (7)

  • Interesting column. Indeed, those that are being foreclosed upon and who lose their jobs, will mostly likely respond in knee-jerk fashion, and may even go for hillary’s latest band-aid of repealing the gas tax, or with latent racism. Regarding the race issue: most polls show that Barack Obama edges out Hillary Clinton amongst middle-class (and upper-class) whites, while Clinton trounces Obama with lower-class whites. Which essentially says that the typically less educated, less sophisticated lower-class whites are duped by the Clinton’s “say anything to get elected” propaganda.

    Posted by: Bob Lever | May 6th, 2008 at 6:36 am

  • Suggestions like those of Mr. Lever that you’re an ignorant racist if you vote for anyone other than BO demonstrate why the left will never be able to put one of its own in the White House. There are a host of reasons not to entrust the nation’s highest office to this untried freshman senator who to this point has demonstrated only that can give a speech that makes impressionable young ladies faint.

    Posted by: Jerry Carroll | May 6th, 2008 at 3:37 pm

  • i don’t believe that mr. lever was saying that in the least. he merely stated what the data has shown and expressed a theory of voting behavior based on that data. to diminish senator obama by likening him to an oratorical version of the early beatles does little to further the discussion, nor does it make a compelling case for hillary “populist-nonsense-idea-of-the-week” clinton. i don’t think lever said anything about racism in the first place – he said that obama actually does well among middle-class whites. i understood that the indictment was of less-educated, easily duped voters who think that repealing the gas tax and other populist BS is actually good policy.

    i’ll give you this – george w. bush is the most effective cautionary tale about putting an unqualified, untested person into the white house. but i’d ask this: what has hillary DONE? really? what has SHE done on her own, outside of her husband’s career? if you have trouble answering that question, then i’d think twice about giving her the vote based on “experience”. i’m sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to believe that this country can only come up with two families to occupy the white house over the course of 24 years. at best it’s nepotism. at worst, it’s a derangement of our democracy.

    nevertheless, if obama wants to “make his rhetoric real,” he’s going to need a legitimate roadmap for how he’s going to “change washington”. talking about it isn’t going to do a thing, and lofty promises aren’t going to deliver ohio and florida in november. he’s obviously a cerebral guy, so after locking up the nomination he should take some time off, grab a pen and a pad of paper, and get creative about how to deliver the goods he’s promising.

    Posted by: Rod Gallegos | May 6th, 2008 at 10:11 pm


    about: *”latent racism. Regarding the race issue: most polls show that Barack Obama edges out Hillary Clinton amongst middle-class (and upper-class) whites, while Clinton trounces Obama with lower-class whites. Which essentially says that the typically less educated, less sophisticated lower-class whites are duped by the Clinton’s “say anything to get elected” propaganda.”*

    This text is from so called USA made man “educated” screaming and jumping when an orator blow his nose… or need a brake to eat his breakfast…
    Bob, I am sure you did not get your PHD at Oxford and you are a “latent racism”.

    Posted by: D Adam | May 7th, 2008 at 4:18 pm

  • I think you may have misunderstood me. My main point, is that most polls show that Obama still has the edge amongst the white middle and upper class voters, while having difficulties with lower middle class. Why is this the case?

    What if you were running for office, would you be proud that the generally less educated favored you!?

    Hillary is only gaining ground with a well crafty campaign machine which draws heavily on demographic research. She said she ‘doesn’t trust economists’ in regions where the majority makes under 40k a year and never too a class in economics. She exploits the connection between Barack Obama and his “angry black preacher” in regions where latent racism still exists. She uses the “fear” pitch in regions where people still think Osama bin Laden is a threat to the U.S. Her message is what her polling tells her is the message to use.

    She does not have more experience than Barack Obama. He has 4 more years of legislative experience, and his record in the Illinois Senate and the U.S Senate outshines her. I appeal to you to do research again, compare the two. here is just one article on Barack Obama, but there are many more.

    The Clinton machine is formidable, and Hillary has proven she will do and say anything to get a vote. Which in the end means she is fueling the same divisive politics we had when her husband was in office. And no, the economy won’t get better, that was due to cheap oil, the internet, greenspan, and was pre-mass exodus of U.S. jobs (no thanks at all to Bill Clinton).

    Posted by: Bob Lever | May 8th, 2008 at 5:39 am

  • There is a whiff of fascism in Mr. Lever’s evident feeling that the votes of the better educated somehow should be given more weight than those of the “lower middle class,” by which he means the lower class or, as the English would say, the lower orders. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), age and citizenship are the only limits we place on the franchise. I agree it would be ever so much tidier to remove the great unwashed from the equation, but they might have some theoretical objections to this. So Hillary tailors her remarks and campaign according to her audience. What is new or wrong about this? Mr. Lever apparently prefers the high-flown, flowery and content-free rhetoric of BO. He’s welcome to his taste, but with the understanding it’s not for everyone. As for the Ragin’ Rev, why shouldn’t he be an issue? Because black racism and anti-Americanism should be ignored when it’s inconvenient, as BO and Mr. Lever now find it? I don’t kinow what lofty peak he lives on, but Mr. Lever ought to descend from time to time and rub shoulders with the common folk.

    Posted by: Jerry Carroll | May 8th, 2008 at 8:04 am

  • Let’s put this “whites don’t support Obama” thing to rest once and for all:

    Barack Obama’s current level of support among white voters in a head-to-head matchup against John McCain is no worse than John Kerry’s margin of support among whites against George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election. Ask Gallup:

    And these numbers are likely to expand after Hillary drops out and starts campaigning for Obama, boosting his numbers with women and white voters who have pulled for her recently.

    Posted by: Travis Ampi | May 8th, 2008 at 12:35 pm

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