Snarky Behavior

If this isn’t “straight talk,” then what is?

April 13, 2008 · 1 Comment

At a recent fund-raiser in San Francisco, Obama was asked the question about voters in Pennsylvania:  Why doesn’t his campaign resonate with working class white voters?

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

While his response may have included some poorly-chosen words, for which he has since taken substantial criticism, it was at least an honest appraisal.   Consider the following:

America is often recognized for its diversity, but too often we consider this diversity as a melting pot (with the New York urban-ideal as the cognitive model) than as a heterogeneous hodge-podge of cultural identities.  Obama succinctly made this point at the 2004 DNC in his now famous “Red State-Blue State” speech (”we worship an awesome God in the blue states, and yes we’ve even got some gay friends in the red states”, etc.).

So for a wealthy donor from Marin county to understand the voting tendencies of a “fellow Democrat” pension-deprived ex-steel worker of Allentown, he/she needs an accurate explanation, and a good deal of empathy.  These donors are (in large part) the ones funding Obama’s campaign, which means they provide money for polling, focus grouping, message development, etc., and they have a right to expect an explanation of the results of that research

Right now we have a political system where the campaigns engage in election “strategies,” which CNN and others than attempt to decipher and decode, without explaining the underlying assumptions of those strategies.  It is taken for granted that Clinton “appeals” to blue-collar voters, because that is the demographic she is targeting (and resonating with).

When Barack Obama lets these donors peek inside the key-hole of voter research, he may seem like a detached social scientist professor– the Ivory Tower paradigm.  But the truth is that he cannot be all things to all people.  He can only try to understand and capture the concerns of the majority of the voters in his party, and assuming he wins the nomination, in the country.

It is not Ivory Tower to try to understand a group of voters with whom a candidate has no shared background, if the candidate’s efforts are genuine, so that he/she may better represent those voters.

On the other hand, nobody likes to be categorized and have their behavior and motivations analyzed.  The thing is, this happens all the time, in market research, in commercial advertising, and certainly in elections.

Is it a poor strategy to let people peek behind the curtain instead of relying on a lazy media as a proxy to interpret campaign messaging?  Haven’t the last few years taught us that “reality” is the favored-model of communication?

If this isn’t “straight talk,” then what is?

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