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Ron Radosh

The Lessons of the Brown Victory: Will Obama Learn Them?

January 20th, 2010 - 11:08 am

I did not intend to blog today, since all the pundits you could check out have made their own analysis of what led to the gigantic Scott Brown victory last night. But having read many articles and analysis, I want to point the way for PJM readers to a few of what I consider the very best and the most insightful.

First, at TNR.com (Jennifer Rubin also links to this on Commentary’s Contentions website) is John B. Judis’ absolutely brilliant and essential analysis. Judis makes this point about the still important white working-class vote:

 Since the 1960s, when the Democratic Party split over race, and later over cultural issues as well, the white working class has been a key vote in elections. Their departure from the Democrats in the South helped account for the transformation of the Deep South from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican. And in the Northern states, and particularly in Midwestern states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, they have been the swing vote in state and presidential elections. It’s a fair measure to say that if a Democrat can get about 45 percent of the white working-class vote, he or she can carry Ohio–Obama got about 44 percent in 2008. But if he gets only 40 percent or less in these states, he will lose those states and lose national elections. The white working-class vote may not be as important in five or ten years, as the demography of America shifts, but it remains so now—an enduring legacy of the politics of the late ’60s.

He then makes the following point:

These two groups of voters have not viewed Obama’s presidency in a fundamentally different way from many other voters, but they, and particularly working-class whites, have been the prime source of a populist anger against the Obama administration. They have perceived Obama as robbing Peter to pay Paul–or more concretely, taking benefits from and imposing higher taxes on them in order to provide greater income and benefits to others. And we are talking here about perceptions.

He notes that what Obama has created is almost the impossible: his policies have united both right-wing and left-wing populists, because, as he writes,  the opposition to health-care “derived in part from the plan to tax ‘Cadillac’ health care plans (which are sometimes held by unionized middle class workers), penalize workers who don’t buy insurance,  and cut future Medicare spending, while providing new subscribers and profits for the insurance companies.”

Also at TNR.com is the analysis of Thomas B. Edsall, who throughout his career, has been always cognizant of the intersecting ways in which race and class effect the electorate.  Noting the anxiety of voters who fear that the health-care reform is based on the fear that “many voters consider the health care bill a multibillion-dollar transfer of taxpayer money to the uninsured, a population disproportionately, although by no means exclusively, made up of the poor, African Americans, Latinos, single parents, and the long-term unemployed,” Edsall writes that the white working-class “view themselves as only marginally better off than those they perceive as the recipients of new government benefits. They look at health care reform and worry that they have little or nothing to gain and much to lose. In the end, Democrats failed to tailor their salesmanship of health care reform to allay the qualms of these voters, of the white working class.”

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