Long Answers To Stupid Questions

by digby

Question: Do I agree that Hillary Clinton is a racist and why haven't I disavowed, renounced and rebuked her?

Answer: No I do not think she is a racist and I haven't disavowed, renounced and rebuked her for the same reason I didn't disavow, deplore and rebuke Barack Obama for saying that white working class voters cling to God and guns because they are bitter.

Why? Because they are ridiculous, MSM-style trumped up controversies.

Candidates speak imprecisely from time to time, particularly during presidential campaigns which are superhuman, exhausting efforts. They are human beings and they get tired.

In those separate comments, both candidates were clumsily trying to explain the meaning and motivation of the two coalitions that have formed during the primary. I would imagine that both of them wish they hadn't said it, considering the blow back. But neither of them were trying to be dismissive or derisive toward the other candidate's coalition. After all, both of them are quite bright and knew that neither one of them could hope to win in the fall without it.

Bob Somerby points to a discussion of this topic on Reliable Sources this week-end:

We’ve discussed The Cult of the Offhand Comment before; its commandments shape much of our sad, sorry discourse. But as we noted on Friday, the hub-bub over Clinton’s remark illustrates another key point. Within the world of the mainstream press, pundits are allowed to discuss certain topics—but disfavored politicians will be trashed for doing the same. The press can discuss them; the pols need permission! And uh-oh! On Sunday’s Reliable Sources, Clarence Page expressed this rule rather perfectly. We call attention to his exchange with Howard Kurtz because it illustrates this key point so nicely:

KURTZ (5/12/08): Clarence Page, was this a terrible racial remark for Hillary Clinton to make about white voters?

PAGE: Well, it was not good political etiquette. I can't remember when I have ever heard a candidate speak so candidly. It's normally your operatives, your surrogates, your consultants who talk like that—or us, the pundits.

Or us, the pundits! In fact, the nation’s pundits had been “talking like that” non-stop, around the clock, for weeks. Aside from the clumsiness of her remark, why shouldn’t Clinton have done the same? Kurtz pursued things further:

KURTZ (continuing directly): But that's not to say that—But that's the point. It's not to say that it's not true. In fact, she is quoting an Associated Press article.

PAGE: Truth is only part of the game here, Howard. We're talking about politics, after all. And we're talking about a candidate who up front says, well, my opponent is weak with white voters. So I'm going to go out and get them.

You know, race is still too sensitive a topic in this country for you to just blindly say that as if we're talking about, say, Catholic voters, say, during the 1960 campaign with JFK.

Race is too sensitive a topic, Page said. For that reason, we are allowed to discuss it non-stop. But we’ll have to reserve the right to beat up on pols when they do.

Note one more part of Page’s remark. It’s OK to talk about Catholic voters in 1960; you just can’t talk about white voters now. Let’s expand that point just a bit:

As we noted months ago, pundits thought it was A-OK when Huckabee’s opponents noted that his Iowa win was driven by evangelical voters. That was OK—but a few weeks later, it wasn’t OK to say that Obama’s win in South Carolina was largely driven by black voters. Presumably, that’s because of the press corps’ finely-developed sensitivities about these very difficult matters. Either that, or these people have a set of rules which may not make perfect sense.

Again, do I think Clinton should have said what she said? Of course not. I'm sure she agrees. Neither do I think that Barack Obama was happy with himself for saying that voters he needs to win in the fall are bitter. Partisans on both sides may think each of these candidates are racists or snobs, but neither of them are stupid. Both Clinton and Obama were clumsily repeating observations they'd heard, oh --- a million times --- about"what the white working class voter really wants." It's a non-stop topic among the gasbags, an obsession among pollsters. Library shelves are lined with books on the subject.

Page says no politician should ever bring this up, and he is probably right. But you can hardly blame either one of them for slipping up in the middle of a grueling campaign when asked about it, considering that it's pretty much all the media have been talking about for weeks.

For those of you who are interested in whether this race really is racist, I would urge you to read the posts by Mark Blumenthal at Pollster.com. It's not exactly clear what all the motivating factors are, of course, but it's certainly more complicated than race --- or the latest craze, age:

Age or Education?

Amidst the personal craziness last week, I neglected to link to two columns from network pollsters that provide some valuable data from the exit polls on the Obama-Clinton race tabulated by race, education and income. Interest in this issue peaked last week after Barack Obama, said the following after his loss in the Pennsylvania primary:

I have to say if you look at and I know my staff has talked about this: If you look at the numbers, in fact, our problem has less to do with white working class voters. In fact, the problem is that, to the extent there is a problem, is that the older voters are very loyal to Senator Clinton.

ABC's polling director Gary Langer combined data from exit polls to look at support for the two candidates among white voters by age and income. "Age clearly is a factor," he concludes, "but it’s equally clear that socioeconomic status, as measured by the education and income alike, is independently a factor, and a big one."

I suspect this is simply because people of lesser means associate Clinton with better economic times and they are feeling the pinch of debt and insecurity. The working class is a group that always liked Bill and probably like Hill as a result. (Working class African Americans are probably paying closer attention to Barack's inspiring personal story, for obvious reasons, and are choosing him for affirmative, inspirational reasons, as are many upper class whites.) The MSM and blogospheric echo chamber's tantrums notwithstanding, I don't think it's too much more complicated than that.

No doubt there are racists among them, but I would guess that for every racist Democratic woman who voted for Clinton (I say a woman because racist males wouldn't be likely to have feminist leanings either) there is a sexist Democratic male who voted for Obama. I doubt that one is more prevalent than the other in the Party. What remains to be seen is whether there are enough racist independent voters out in the country to tip the election to McCain. I doubt that too. The country is sick of Republicans and their policies and unless we allow John McCain to pretend that he is something other than a standard issue Republican, he can't win.

Update: And for those of you who are still interested in how the media affect our politics, read that Reliable Sources transcript.

I'm not a primary partisan, but I certainly agree with this:

SIMON: ...I find that if you go into Hillary crowds, the anger you find on the part of her supporters, especially women supporters, is directed not against Barack Obama, but against the media.

There is a real deep hatred for how the media has treated Hillary Clinton. We've treated her unfairly, they say. We've been sexist. The debates of male-dominated media have beaten her up, have given her tougher questions. She complains she got the first question.

This actually makes it easier for Obama to unify the party. They're not angry at him. They're angry at the media.

KURTZ: And Kate Zernike, have you have found that as well? And do you think there is some justification among those who passionately support Hillary Clinton's candidacy that she just simply hasn't gotten a fair break from the press?

ZERNIKE: Yes. I mean, I think what people were reacting to this week wasn't so much the media declaring the race over, as it was this kind of "Ding dong the witch is dead" quality about that tone to the comments. And I do think people are angry.

And I think when you look at, you know, the percentages of Hillary Clinton supporters who say they won't support Obama, I think Roger is right. They're mad at -- they're mad at the media. They're not necessarily mad at Obama.

They talk about it like it was somebody else who did it instead of themselves.

They showed they can give Barack the treatment too during the Wright business and they'll be doing it with gusto going forward, I'm sure. But, the most amazing story of the media in this primary was its blatant sexism. They know it and they don't care.

Update: Joan Walsh is right about this: John "how do we beat the bitch" McCain is a hypocritical jackass. Obama should just keep doing what he's doing and he'll be fine.