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May 21, 2008

"Why don't those hillbillies like Obama?"

Good analysis of Obama's problem with rural voters, in Salon of all places.

The legions of pseudonym-laden online posters who follow in political punditry's wake are less restrained in describing the shortcomings of Sen. Clinton's Appalachian supporters. They suggest it has to do with her voters being racist, toothless, shoeless, and prone to marrying their cousins. In short, they characterize these "special" Democrats in much the same terms they used in quieter times to describe Republicans.

Mountain people have long been considered exotic. The eminent British historian Sir Arnold Toynbee described the residents of Appalachia in 1947 as "the American counterparts of the latter-day white barbarians of the Old World -- Rifis, Albanians, Kurds, Pathans, and Hairy Ainus." They have also served as a sort of Rorschach test for the rest of America. When the country needs iconic war heroes like Alvin York or Jessica Lynch, mountaineers fill the bill. If, periodically, this rich nation needs people to pity, poverty-stricken hillbillies make excellent poster children. And if backers of the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee need to explain why their preferred candidate is not connecting with downscale, rural voters -- a demographic that was once key to Democratic electoral success -- Appalachia can again answer the call. Obama supporters and members of the media can place the blame for his poor fortunes not on the candidate or his message, but on the moral failings of those benighted mountain people.

However, the unnerving truth for the erstwhile party of Jefferson may be that Appalachia, for all its legend and lore, is not that different politically from the rest of the small-town and rural parts of the country where 60 million of us live. And that could mean trouble for the fall.


In 2004, Kerry lost the rural battleground by about 20 percent and with it a close election. The rural vote was particularly telling in the pivotal state of Ohio, where a massive Democratic get-out-the-vote effort in cities and suburbs was more than offset by increased Republican success with rural voters. Many of those rural voters were Appalachian and blue collar, people who back before the name-calling were reliable Democrats. They gave Bush a second term.

I've cut out the numbers because I was told there would be no math on this blog. So I focused on the name-calling and condescension.

This whole name-calling thing is so counterproductive for Democrats. Every time they lose they denigrate those who didn't vote for them as racist, stupid, and all the rest of it. Republicans name-call, too, of course -- we're not fond of the latte-chuggin' tree-huggin' electric-car-pluggin' Jesus-muggin' speech-code-thuggin' effete perverted condescending Eastern liberal establishment faux intellectual Pansy Class -- but Republicans don't need their votes (and never could get them anyway). But Democrats do need rural voters, and could get them, and once in a while do (or at least enough of them to win elections).

Plus, the insults are of a different character. Liberals may not appreciate being reduced to a socio-cultural stereotype, but the fact is they're proud to be all the things they're accused of being. They just don't like it when you say it in a bad way.

On the other hand, no one likes to be called stupid or racist or pathetic.

Or bitter. Or clingy.

Every election cycle the Democrats try the tactic of insulting would-be voters into voting for them, and more often than not, it doesn't work.

But they're the smart, tolerant party, remember.

Oh, One Number: The writer notes that Obama's deficit with rural voters in battleground states is the same nine-point gap John Kerry faced in his losing effort.

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posted by Ace at 01:20 PM

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