I think that an aspect of campaigns that often goes under-reported is how candidates define themselves in relation to their opponent. There is always a lot of ink spent and words uttered about a candidate branding themselves, defining who they are and what they’re about to the electorate. But I think what’s also important to note is how candidates make a conscious effort to contrast themselves with their opponents – not just on policy, because everyone knows that happens, but on who they are inside. Even if they have to make it up.
I think the phenomenon was most perfectly summed up in The Daily Show’s “America: The Book” with their caption underneath a picture of George W. Bush in jeans and a cowboy hat. It said something like “This East Coast, Yale-educated millionaire son of a former president ran as an outsider in the 2000 presidential election and won. Historians are still trying to figure out how the fuck he pulled that off.” Bush packaged himself this way not in a vacuum, but at least in part as a counterbalance to the more cerebral, urbane Gore.
I strongly suspect this dynamic is at work with Clinton’s mystifying appeal to the working class of this country despite her pedigree and prior idictment for snobbery. Stories about her childhood or not, she’s not grabbing Rust Belt voters because she has working class bona fides, but because these voters present a weakness of Barack Obama’s and therefore an opening for Clinton. For whatever the reason – his own Ivy League background, his exotic ethnicity and life story, his polished comportment, the arugala remark – Obama has shown an inability to connect with the blue-collar demographic with anywhere close to the same level of virtuosity he demonstrates with young or more educated voters. So Clinton, possessing a highly advantageous dearth of ethics and well-documented lack of compuntion with regards to lying, sees this as an opportunity to be for the working-class what Barack is not.
What’s basically happened is that Hillary Clinton has met a need. The professoriat turned her down for Obama, a new generation of voters came to the party with eyes only for Obama, African-Americans have thrown their lot in with Obama…but the white working class remained free agents, and free agents who were evidently underwhelmed by Obama’s story and oratory. And since politics abhors an uncaptured voting bloc the way nature does a vaccum, Hillary immediately struck a rhetorical posture optimized to appeal to the broad swath of voters across parts of the south plus the midwest and upper midwest that her campaign rightly identified as her last available redoubt. This strategy is perhaps no more evident than in her utterly stupid endorsement of the gas tax holiday…a populist bone thrown to harried people on strained budgets. She’s not capturing these votes with authenticity, she’s capturing them because in the casting call that is the 2008 presidential election, the role of “White Middle Class Mouthpiece” hadn’t been decided yet; unable to win on her own merits, she has fallen back on trying to win by being what Barack Obama is not for the people he has not been able to reach.
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