The Passion of the Proletariat and the Privileged


Last week, David Brooks of the New York Times wrote about the divide between the privileged and the proletariat when it comes to Democratic support for Ms. Clinton and Mr. Obama.

It is an issue that has been discussed in the circles of political junkies and pollsters all year, but has encountered relatively little fanfare in popular media, particularly on the Web, and particularly on websites visited by the young and the educated, like Facebook.

What do we make of such a divide? And perhaps more importantly, what do we make of the fact that popular media portrays Mr. Obama’s candidacy as a “movement,” as a wave of Kennedy-esque domination sweeping America, while Mrs. Clinton’s campaign is portrayed as outdated, unintellectual, and uninspiring.

First, it is important to look to history for guidance on what Obama’s candidacy means. President Kennedy is viewed today through gilded lenses fogged by assassination and the pageantry of Camelot. We are led to believe that Kennedy was a leader who brought the nation together in great numbers to address the needs of all over the luxuries of the few. However, this image of Mr. Kennedy is not accurate. In 1960, Kennedy received about 2/3 of the delegates at the Democratic Convention that summer – far from the epic mandate history seems to suggest – and beat Richard Nixon in the popular vote by a mere 112,000 votes in an election in which 70 million votes were cast. The legacy of Cook County irregularities, which greatly aided Kennedy, has receded to the back of the American psyche, replaced by the tired cocktail party jokes about recounts and hanging chads. Ultimately, Kennedy did not have a mandate from a broad cross-section of the American public. He barely won.How does this relate to Mr. Obama? While the popular belief last year was that Ms. Clinton’s road to the nomination was without obstacles, from the Iowa Caucuses onward, the media has been equally ready to assert the Obama phenomenon as a triumphant political movement. Two days after the Iowa Caucus, Bob Herbert wrote, “America has never seen anything like the Barack Obama phenomenon . . . Shake hands with tomorrow. It’s here.” Caroline Kennedy stated that Obama had “built a movement that is changing the face of politics in this country.” And on Sunday, the Boston Globe reported that both Bob Schieffer and Chris Matthews teared up while watching Mr. Obama’s “Yes We Can” promotional video.

As a result of his victory in Iowa and the enormous media outpouring of awe over his success, Mr. Obama’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination soared to 80% in the wake of his victory there, according to the futures trading website However, despite the onslaught of coverage of Obama rallies and the commentary about how people lined up outside auditoriums just to hear him speak, Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire. And on Super Tuesday, the candidates in essence split the vote. Of the 14 million ballots cast by Democrats on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton won 48.7%, Barack Obama 48.4%.

Over the past week, Obama supporters have been vocal with their voices and their wallets, raising nearly 7 million dollars for his campaign. Ms. Clinton’s supporters have raised nearly 6 million, but their volume has been considerably lower. The answer to this conundrum lies in David Brooks’ piece about the poor/rich divide. The sad truth of American politics is that deep engagement with them requires sacrifice. To “get into” a campaign and take a day off to make phone calls or hold placards, you need transportation, money, and flexibility. The working poor of the United States lack all of these things. They cannot “get into” an election and write at length about their views – as I have done here. Indeed for many, even getting to the polls is a struggle. Their voice, their passion, the passion of the proletariat, is expressed at the ballot box, not in the blogosphere whose participants are nearly uniformly college-educated, wealthy, and white. As David Brooks writes, the wealthy desire “an uplifting experience so they can persuade themselves that they’re not engaging in a grubby self-interested transaction.” The poor do not have the luxury of voting on such grounds.

Now, Mr. Obama is not someone without ideas, experience, or the ability to contribute to his nation. He is far more than the brilliant stump speaker he is. But 7.5 million people affirmatively chose to vote against him on Super Tuesday, including a majority of people who self-identify as Democrats. If Ms. Clinton had received more votes from Independents and Republicans, the cry would be that those voters want her to win because that would enable a Republican victory in November. But the analysis for Obama was that he brought people together – that in “white” states like Idaho, people were driven to his message. No one knows for certain why the results turned out the way they did, but it is clear that the media portrayal of the results is not entirely objective.

What then, is the media’s interest in Obama’s candidacy? What is the motive that would lead columnists and pundits to pump Mr. Obama over Ms. Clinton? There are two. First, Mr. Obama is great theater. Simply put, people would rather watch and listen to Mr. Obama (in person, on TV, on radio) than Ms. Clinton. Second, the demographics of nightly news and especially newspapers are skewed in favor of the wealthy, and hence, better educated. Mr. Obama is the candidate of choice for these privileged Americans.

So as the primary season goes forward and the Democrats continue to be locked in a historical struggle for the nomination, remember that behind the Facebook notes supporting Senator Obama, the video footage of people lining up to see him speak, and the nightly news broadcasters heralding his ability to bring the nation together, stand over 7 million people who voiced their support for Hillary Clinton. Mr. Obama has climbed aboard the soap box and galvanized the nation. That much is certain. And he is to be celebrated for bringing people into politics who are traditionally apathetic. But while the privileged stand in awe of Mr. Obama’s resume and have the luxury of attending rallies, writing op-eds, and cajoling friends into voting for the “candidate of change,” working class Americans will continue to show their passion for Hillary Clinton at the ballot box. It is the only place where their vote, their voice, is worth the same as everyone else’s.

Andrew Kalloch is a 2L.

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