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Obama’s Shaky Fan Club: White Working Class Men

Sarah Viets • Aug 07, 2008

Trying to forecast presidential elections as a political scientist is like being a server at a restaurant. Am I going to run around and wait on four different 8-top tables having appetizers, main courses and desserts? Or am I going to sit in the back and eat the latest three layer chocolate cake with two scoops of vanilla ice cream. Personally, I prefer busy nights, just like I prefer heated presidential races. It obviously means each presidential candidate has something to offer. It means each candidate has something to say, unlike some lame duck hopefuls I’d rather not mention.

Human behavior isn’t easy to predict. I’m willing to bet a person’s mood on any given day is determined the moment someone opens his or her eyes; it’s that simple.

Yet, when it comes to politics, political analysts love to box my mood into some fancy color-coded pie chart. But not just anyone, political pundits love to dissect the most widely watched demographic group determined to swing presidential elections. In 2000 and 2004, the suburban soccer moms were the group of the day; today it’s the white working class. But not just any white working class person, this years guinea pig is white working class men – not women.

So who are these white working class men?

They’re the folks who actually make stuff. They’re not sitting behind a desk and ordering people around. They’re the people who probably built your car, your house; picked the fruit and vegetables you cook for your kids, or killed that cow so you could eat that big fat juicy cheeseburger with extra cheese.

So why are political analysts obsessed with white working class men?

Political analysts wonder if white working class men will vote for Barack Obama. Political geeks wonder if white working class men will vote for a Black man. They’re curious to see if white working class men truly believe black people are equal to white folks. They’re interested to see if white working class men subconsciously believe black people are not as smart as whites, which gives a white man a sense of purpose in life (to protect white people – particularly white women – from someone breaking into his house) and makes him feel better about himself.

But just like I’d try to figure out if I’d be busy on a Tuesday night, white working class men aren’t that easy to predict.

There could be another reason why white working class men aren’t hyped about the new kid on the block. Working class folks like straight shooters. They want someone who speaks in their language, and I’m not talking about a southern drawl or an ethnic accent. I’m talking about everyday language that breaks down complex problems and solutions in everyday terms in less than five minutes. And if neither candidate can’t, I’d rather take a nap.

But just like there are two reasons why white working class men won’t join the Obama fan club, their two reasons also define what it means to be American.

If white working class men subconsciously rally behind John McCain because the “other” candidate is Black, white working class men are also using their white race to define their American identity. They’re saying bigotry is as American as apple pie. They’re saying hard work and deep love for the United States doesn’t make someone American. They’re saying white skin color makes a person American, and that’s it.

But if white working class men vote for the best man for the job – whoever that may be – then white working class men will have remembered what it means to be American. White working class men will have admitted America’s ugly mistakes and moved forward to help re-build America’s ideals.

White working class men will have protected and preserved what it means to be American, they will have protected and preserved human dignity.

(Image gratefully borrowed from “Transplanted Mountaineer” on photostream at flickr.com/creativecommons)

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