Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

A non-angry black man vs. a New Dealer

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Matt Yglesias writes that Obama

…almost certainly feels that he can’t come anywhere near the level of outrage at economic injustice in America that you see from a John Edwards, or give voice to the anger that many of us feel about George W. Bush’s malgovernment without losing his status as “one of the good ones.” To be the most mainstream progressive black political figure ever, he’s crafted a relentlessly upbeat, uplifting message. And it’s a good message, but it is a bit out of step with how a lot of us really feel about the state of things.

Yes, but you don’t have to be angry or shrill or militant to push for things like universal healthcare, or to defend the status quo on Social Security, or indeed to stand up for working families or the middle class in general. You can do it in a sunny and optimistic manner. Obama has simply chosen not to make this sort of economic pitch much of a focus of his campaign rhetoric — at least not the speeches picked up by the media. I think this is a major tactical error. Sure, if you go to his website you can find policies dealing with the economic anxiety issue — amidst the ones you find about civil rights, foreign policy, political reform, and Iraq. Contrast that with Hillary’s site, where the first “issues” button you see is “strengthening the middle class” and the second one you see is “affordable healthcare.”

I think Obama’s campaign has made a big mistake by hitherto so relentlessly stressing the kumbaya factor. There’s a lot of economic anxiety out there. Rightly or wrongly, people associate Hillary Clinton with a New Deal style of Democratic politics that focuses on the economy. Obama they associate with political reform, civil rights, the environment, and foreign affairs. Not surprisingly, downscale Democrats in New Hampshire closed ranks for Clinton. I think this is a big advantage for Hillary in the primaries as the country trudges through a winter of economic discontent. Obama had better have a chokehold on the votes of African Americans in the primaries, because, if anything, downscale voters will make up a larger chunk of the remainder of the primary electorate than they did in New Hampshire.


Written by Jasper

January 10, 2008 at 11:25 am

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