Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"New Math for November"

Timothy Egan (NY Times, "Outpost" blog):
PORTLAND, Ore. — This state is known for many things — good wine, the imperial branding of the Nike swoosh, a political culture that produces contrarians of both parties — but ethnic diversity is not one of them. This state has an African-American population of less than 2 percent.
And yet on May 20, when voters here could finally end the Democratic presidential marathon by giving Senator Barack Obama an outright majority of pledged delegates, don’t expect to hear much about how a black man has broadened the playing field for his party by winning a heavily white state. Apparently, white people in Gore-Tex country don’t count as much as white people in Appalachia. Nor, if you look at Colorado, a Bush state that Obama won this year, do white people who sing “Rocky Mountain High” matter as much as white people who sing, “Almost heaven, West Virginia.”

It’s absurd, of course, to tout the implied superiority of “hard-working Americans, white Americans,” as Hillary Clinton said last week of her core supporters. And those other white Americans, in Iowa, Wisconsin, or here in Oregon — all heavy Obama supporters — are slackers? Not to mention black supporters.

In Oregon, in recent days, we’ve seen fresh themes for the general election presented by Obama and Senator John McCain — and they have very little to do with dated, tribal politics. The fruit trees in the Willamette Valley may be in full blossom, but in Oregon it’s November in May.

The map of counties that Hillary Clinton won big this year shows a broad swath of Appalachia and rural America, places where a Democrat is unlikely to prevail in the general election. The scab of racial animus can be thick in those counties, judging by exit polls of Clinton supporters who say they would never vote for a black man, and by anecdotal reporting.

The political math of the future lies with the new America — fast-growing communities in Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and elsewhere, where people are trying to step out of the cement shoes of race. Yes, race is still a factor there — it’s coded and complex — but not as raw as in other states. The transient nature of these places, where nearly everybody is from somewhere else, makes it difficult for old biases to harden.

McCain surely knows this, even if his party has yet to get the message. The speech that he gave here on climate change marked a big break with President Bush and the troglodyte wing of his party. Look for similar divorce announcements in coming months, even on race. In that speech, McCain envisioned a nightmare of runaway forest fires, heat waves stifling the cities, storms swamping the coasts, unless something is done. “The United States will lead,” he said, “and will lead with a different approach.” In every way, the speech was a slap at know-nothings like Rush Limbaugh, who tells his 20 million listeners almost every day that global warming is a massive hoax.

It is buried deep in the Republican family tree, but the environment used to be an issue that the party owned. And here in Oregon, the stunning ocean beaches are accessible to all, cities are livable and open space is plenty because of a sainted, long-ago Republican governor, Tom McCall.

Meanwhile, McCain’s party tried to hold onto a Republican Congressional seat in Mississippi this week by using racial scare-mongering from the Jim Crow era. There, a Democrat, Travis Childers, won a district that President Bush carried by 25 percentage points in 2004, the third red seat lost this year in special elections for the House. Republicans aimed for the deepest fears of white southerners by tying Childers to Obama’s nutty former preacher, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.

The preacher may be good ratings for Fox News. But as it happens, he’s not as much ballot box poison as is Bush. The president with the lowest approval ratings in 70 years is more damaging to McCain than Rev. Wright is to Obama, according to a recent Gallup poll. “By November,” said David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, “every voter will know McCain is offering a third Bush term.” That’s the election fight, in a nutshell.

Obama’s themes in Oregon were future-directed — new energy policy, new foreign policy, new thinking on race. It goes without saying that he needs to carry blue collar whites, as Democrats have usually done. But Obama can lose Ohio and West Virginia — both fell to Republicans in 2004 — and make up for it with Colorado and Virginia, a combined 22 electoral votes from Bush states now trending Democratic.

When Obama spoke in the central Oregon city of Bend, the crowd at Summit High School was nearly all-white, and as enthusiastic as any gathering of Beavers and Ducks on a Saturday afternoon. In the sea of white faces, there was one person who stood out — the woman who introduced Obama, Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of Medgar Evers, the civil rights leader who was shot in the back in Mississippi in 1963.

It turns out she lives in Bend, one of the tomorrow communities that will decide this year’s election. The county that includes Bend has grown by 30 percent since 2000. It is full of independents, an Oregonian trait, and people like Mrs. Evers-Williams, who see something here they never saw in the place they left behind.
Thanks and praise to Mr. Egan who helps to counter the chatter about "white voters" and Obama from some political gossip columnists.


Post a Comment

<< Home