Thursday, October 9, 2008


Sam Smith

Given the number of foreclosures, the size of the credit crunch and a market collapse unlike anything in almost three quarters of a century, Barack Obama continues to hold a turgid lead in the election. These are conditions meant to place Democrats at the right hand of God; instead they struggle along with an unmoving and mundane monologue unable to even rise above the petty and putrid babble of the McCain campaign. Thanks to the desperate conditions, the GOP responsibility for the same and the bumbling incompetence of their candidate, it still looks like Obama will win, but not out of hope for the future so much as from a growing discomfort over the recent past and distaste for the electoral alternative.

If you ask liberals why this is so, they will tell you with remarkable frequency that it reflects the racism of American voters. And in that response lies an important part of the problem. To tar an entire malleable constituency with such a phrase is like rejecting tons of voters at the polls for not having the proper psychological profile on their registration forms.

Further it reflects the passive-aggressive nature of today's liberalism - remarkably passive in policy and commitment thereto but deeply aggressive in contempt towards all seen as not on their side, particularly those unwilling to share their enthusiasm for whatever flawed icon with whatever fuzzy philosophy they happen to be pushing at the moment. This is the Move On mentality: millions for candidates but just loose change for real and good programs that might truly define these candidates. In short, American idols without American ideas.

So they come up with comfortable icon like Barack Obama and then wonder why he isn't doing better, to which their answer is that it's clearly someone else's fault. In 2000 it was Ralph Nader; today it's a bunch of racists.

Absent from passive-aggressive liberal judgment is the possibility that they might have some responsibility for what is happening and might even wish to alter their style, tactics and goals. How, for example, can you know that a particular constituency is racist if you've never tried to reach out to it?

In fact, voters who are uncomfortable with, or uncertain about, Obama fall into a number of categories:

- Republicans who tend to vote for Republicans

- People who disagree with him one of more issues or who find him ponderous, pompous, distant or abstract.

- The clearly racist who probably signed up long ago with McCain.

- Those, and they are many, who simply haven't had much contact with blacks and suffer the uncertainty and suspicions that all cultures have towards strangers. Scolding and accusations do absolutely nothing to change this; finding common ground, showing respect, and responding to their problems is what drops the barriers.

- Those who - like blacks, latinos and Jews - tend to prefer those who look and talk like themselves. You can call this racism if you want, but if that's your attitude you won't pick up many of their votes.

- Those who have prejudices but whose biases have markedly different levels in their personal hierarchy of concerns. At the moment, for example, many of these people may rank their job, their house or their pension far higher than the color of a candidate.

- Those who simply live in the wrong place - such as Appalachia - and get lumped together because of their ethnicity or locale, a practice which, if the targets were black instead of white, would be called racism by many liberals. But it's far more complex. For example, Harold Ford came within a few points of becoming the first black senator from southern Tennessee. Obama has been running 12 to 24 points behind. That's not racism; it's bad politics.

The contempt that passive-aggressive liberals have towards Americans not as urban, educated or elite as themselves is no secret and it naturally inspires resentment. And there are more subtle problems. For example, Richard Sennett, the sociologist who grew up in Chicago public housing, wrote the other day of Obama's difficulty in reaching people who haven't been as successful as himself. The description of one's triumph over difficulties, instead of being inspiring, can come across as a criticism of those who haven't been able to make it.

Sennett wrote a whole book about one of the most neglected topics in cultural relations: respect. In it he noted that "lack of respect, though less aggressive than an outright insult, can take an equally wounding form. No insult is offered another person, but neither is recognition extended; he or she is not seen - as a full human being whose presence matters."

There are huge constituencies of Americans who don't get much respect - such as people in rural areas and young single males, the socio-economic group that has fared least well in contemporary America. Many of these people are white and so therefore don't qualify for liberal sympathy or for their candidates' best efforts.

Of course, there are exceptions, such as the ten red states where, in the last election a Democrat was elected governor or senator or came within five points of it because the candidates knew how to talk Nevada, Montana or Missouri. There was Jesse Jackson's groundbreaking foray into white rural Iowa in 1988 and the little known fact that before the civil rights movement a white politician named Earl Long got 100,000 Louisiana blacks on the voting rolls. Successful cross cultural politics is one of the things that keeps America being America.

But too frequently passive-aggressive liberalism leaves the impression that less successful whites are, at best, not worth worrying about and, at worst, members of some racist cabal. The targets get the message. If liberals would just add non-elite whites in America to their list of those towards whom they should show caring, respect and friendship, they would be surprised how many new votes they could win.


At October 10, 2008 10:13 AM, Anonymous ol' arkansas boy said...

Could it be that some voters don't care at all about Obama's ethnicity, but are repulsed by his policies and backers. By backers I don't mean the legions of sincere supporters who hope the man will grow into the job, but those corporate globalist financiers who've driven farmers off the land here and around the world, whose ideas are really the same as McCain's funders because they are the same corruptors. If Obama were a character on South Park, his name would be Token. The Dems selected him for the same reasons the GOP selected Palin, that some voters would identify with the image and ignore their policies. The trouble with racists is that, using one criteria, they've made up their minds about someone they don't know. I guess Sam is correct in pointing out that lots of people have prejudged working class whites and their motives.

At October 10, 2008 11:08 AM, Blogger Redeye said...

I agree with you on a couple of points. One, that urban liberals have allowed the conservatives to capture rural America, and that's is exactly why we may lose yet another election. Progressive move to the city and don't look back.
We care about middle class people who are struggling, and we care about blue collar America, and while we have focused our efforts on multi-culturalism, revelling in our politically correct white guilt, we have failed to come up with a powerful response to the conservative wave that has engulfed the country in the last 30 years.
A democracy is only as good as the information that citizens get, and we've failed to understand or confront the growing influence of conservative media beginning with Christian talk radio, and vastly metatasized in the form of Fox news.
However, I am not willing to join up in bashing liberals and liberalism.
Yes, we do need to stop the armchair criticism!! We need to show America that we will not back down. The world, yes is full of bullies. We stood up to them in the cultural war for civil rights, we stood up to them for the rights of women and minorities. We risked being branded as unpatriot to protested the Iraq war. We are the ones now stand up for the rights of immigrants and against global warming.
What we have failed to do, is give a strong positive sense of our worldview to mainstream Americans.
So yes, we've been in reactive mode for a long time.
Now we need to be incredibly strong and focused and vocal.
And here's what we need to tell America. That we do have answer to this crisis, and it's about building a society that is SUSTAINABLE and SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE. Every citizen out there can ENACT their patriotism by putting their money in green energy. Not alternative energy, not nuclear power plants but SOLAR panels for every household in America, wind turbines for every community and plug in cars.
We need to support biofuels for the farmers, and keep the pressure on to make sure that the technology grows more ecologically sound.
And we ABSOLUTELY need to stand behind Barack Obama and keep progressive pressure on him.
We need NOT to start chewing on our own leg as you do here. We need to band together and present a united front. We need to do it for those young black men who suddenly see a new possibilities for themselves in Obama's discipline and intellectual achievement, we need to do it for thousands college kids who've been uplifted to work for political change by his message, for our kids who grew up in a multi-cultural society and are doing their best to carry on the movement. We need to do it for our friends in rural America who are waking up to the fact that trickle down economics were a big rip-off.
We have to be confident, positive, and BELIEVE. We have to project HOPE, CERTAINTY, and LOVE FOR OUR COUNTRY or we will lose this election. And that would be an unmitigated disaster.
If the Republicans win, there will be a stripping our resources like you have never seen.
If the Republicans win, you will see a conservative backlash that makes the current one seem tame.
We can't afford that. We have the best chance we've ever had to seize the public dialogue and start talking about things we've known for years.
That we have the means to build society that is sustainable and socially responsible. One that benefits everyone. That, as Paul Wellstone famously said, "we all do better when we all do better."
We need to get out our fading copies of Small is Beautiful and convince Americans that a collapse of our financial system is not so much a disaster but an opportunity to think differently about the world we want to create.

At October 10, 2008 12:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This column is another one of the dozens that make Sam Smith the sharpest observer of electoral politics in the US. And he's not too shabby on other topics, either.

Redeye, please lay off the liberal Kool-Aid. The US is far beyond redline in several particulars, and cheerleading won't plug the gaps.

At October 10, 2008 1:41 PM, Anonymous on my way to B.C. bud said...

From the MANITOBA HERALD, Canada (a very underground paper):

The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border
into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased
patrols to stop the illegal immigration.

The possibility of a McCain/Palin election is prompting the exodus among
left-leaning citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray, and
agree with Bill O'Reilly.

Canadian border farmers say it's not uncommon to see dozens of
sociology professors, animal rights activists and Unitarians crossing their
fields at night.

I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer
huddled in the barn," said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield, whose acreage
borders North Dakota .

The producer was cold, exhausted and hungry. "He asked me if I
could spare a latte and some free-range chicken.

When I said I didn't have any, he left. Didn't even get a chance to
show him my screenplay, eh?"

In an effort to stop the illegal aliens, Greenfield erected higher fences, but
the liberals scaled them. So he tried installing speakers that blare Rush
Limbaugh across the fields. "Not real effective," he said,
"The liberals still got through, and Rush annoyed the cows so much they
wouldn't give milk."

Officials are particularly concerned about smugglers who meet liberals near
the Canadian border, pack them into Volvo station wagons, drive them across the
border and leave them to fend for themselves.

"A lot of these people are not prepared for rugged conditions," an
Ontario border patrolman said. "I found one carload without a drop
of drinking water. "They did have a nice little Napa Valley cabernet,

When liberals are caught, they're sent back across the border,
often wailing loudly that they fear retribution from conservatives.
Rumors have been circulating about the McCain administration
establishing re-education camps in which liberals will be forced to shoot
wolves from airplanes, deny evolution, and act out drills preparing them for
the Rapture.

In recent days liberals have turned to sometimes-ingenious ways of crossing
the border. Some have taken to posing as senior citizens on bus trips to buy
cheap Canadian prescription drugs. After catching a half-dozen young vegans
disguised in powdered wigs, Canadian immigration authorities began stopping
buses and quizzing the supposed senior-citizen passengers on Perry Como and
Rosemary Clooney hits to prove they were alive in the '50s. "If they
can't identify the accordion player on The Lawrence Welk Show, we get
suspicious about their age," an official said.

Canadian citizens have complained that the illegal immigrants are creating
an organic-broccoli shortage and renting all the good Susan Sarandon movies.

"I feel sorry for American liberals, but the Canadian economy just
can't support them," an Ottawa resident said. "How many
art-history and English majors does one country need?"

At October 10, 2008 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At October 10, 2008 2:19 PM, Blogger Redeye said...

I don't usually read this blog, it was forwarded to me. I know Sam is highly respected by people I respect, and I haven't investigated the larger scope of Sam's arguments, which I hope are more astute than this particular post.

Yes, too many liberals are happy in the self-righteous victim mode, preaching to the choir, and congratulating themselves for being liberal and multicultural and anti everything because it's wrong and we're right.

But the fact is, we live in a country where you have to convince a majority of the people you have something to offer them. You can stand on some fine point where you excorciate Bush's policies and the liberals who support Obama, and find a tiny following of people (probably conservative) who agree with you.

Or you can seize the moment. And this is one such moment. Our financial system is in a meltdown. People's jobs, their retirement, their sense of security is at risk.

If we on the left don't articulate a positive agenda, if we can't find a way to inspire people to something greater than our individual fears of losing our pensions,
we are vulnerable to the Sarah Palins and Ann Coulters and the patent idea that some people love America because they hate taxes and support the troops and others, are traitors.

If all we do is criticize, we are impotent.

But that's a very safe place. A very very dangerous safe place.

At October 10, 2008 2:45 PM, Blogger Redeye said...

P.S. O Canada! We salute you. We stand on guard for evacuation to thee!

At October 10, 2008 8:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Redeye is full of shit. The quality of life conditions for the majority got WORSE under Clinton, just at a different rate as under Bush. Obama promises more of the same Clintonian neoliberalism with Rubin, the architect of this banking disaster, as his economic advisor.

I for one am not buying this fake unity crap which just serves as a cover for more repression. Nader all the way, the one who was right all along!

At October 10, 2008 8:58 PM, Anonymous robbie said...

"Liberal" was created in the time of the Gilded Age, when the moneymasters knew they needed a kinder, gentler face. Don't be fooled. Most "liberals" are not liberal.

At October 11, 2008 8:49 AM, Anonymous ALEXANDER COCKBURN said...

"Obama helped arm-twist recalcitrant Democrats, particularly in the Congressional Black Caucus, to vote for the Paulson bailout, in the national interest, the line urged on House members by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank.

In fact it wasn’t in the national interest , nor in the interest of the Democrats in Congress. Until Republicans in the House rebelled and , with the help of 95 Democratic mutineers, voted the Paulson bill down on September 29, polls showed that the prospects for the Democrats wining a substantial number of new seats in the House were good. Not any more. Voters really hate the Bailout and think well of those who tried to beat it back. The Republicans are now within striking distance of recapturing the House, or so some poll show"

At October 19, 2008 6:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, you gonna vote for corporate cocksucker A or corporate cocksucker B?

Spare me the lecture. They are both imperialists and warmongers, both working hand over fist to give trillions to their criminal sugar daddies...


Post a Comment

<< Home