Washington Matters


Obama Blew It



Barack Obama may have it right that working class Americans are bitter, and now he has given them something else to be bitter about -- him. By casually crashing into two of the rawest nerves of American politics -- guns and religion -- and all but writing them off as crutches for disaffected Americans, Obama delivered a self-inflicted blow that could also cause considerable collateral damage to the Democratic Party.

It's not that Obama's comments were patently insulting, or even wrong. He has a point about the bitterness of  many Americans who have seen their job, health.retirement and economic security erode. The problem is that Obama risks running off the very voters -- low income, lesser educated whites -- that he most needs to win in the coming showdown in Pennsylvania and that Democrats need considerable support from to prevail in November. Perhaps worst of all, he may have reawakened suspicions those voters have about the Democratic Party.

Ethnic, working class white voters used to be a core constituency of the Democratic Party. But the Vietnam War, civil unrest and rising crime shattered that relationship in the late 1960s and early '70s. The Democrats and Republicans have been fighting over them ever since. And the two biggest battlegrounds have been over guns and religion. It wasn't that Democrats were seen simply as pro-gun control, it's that they were painted as being soft on criminals. It wasn't that Democrats were somehow godless  -- it was that they were seen as favoring the removal of God and religious values from public life and contributing to the cultural decline of the nation. Ronald Reagan became such a champion of causes popular with these voters that they have forever since been known as Reagan Democrats

Democrats have battled for years to change the way they are viewed on those issues and have steadily expanded the party's base ideologically and geographically by adding moderate to conservative pro-gun and  religious lawmakers to their ranks. Moreover, Obama launched his national career with a riveting speech at the 2004 Democratic convention that sought to both preach tolerance of differing viewpoints and shift the focus of modern campaigns.

Obama has succeeded in drawing a remarkably diverse corps of backers. His weakest spot has been poorer white voters, and he had been making inroads with them. All is not lost with this group. Obama still has a message that can appeal to white ethnic workers and address their hopes and fears. But first he will have to overcome their suspicions and regain their trust -- and bitter people don't award their trust easily.




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