Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Coffee Democrats

Washington Post on coffee as a David Brooks-style voting type:
In several primaries and caucuses, Obama has shown strength among white-collar professionals with a college degree -- the so-called "Starbucks Democrats" -- while Clinton has won support from blue-collar workers with a high school degree, dubbed "Dunkin' Donuts Democrats."
I'm a white-collar professional with a college degree who prefers Hillary Clinton and Dunkin Donuts. And I prefer DD on snobbish grounds - Starbucks tastes burnt to me. Though the past several months of reading liberal weblogs have certainly reinforced to me that I'm the odd man out.

Obama tends to be an intellectual candidate. Obama's appeal is aesthetic - you hear his rhetoric and feel inspired. It appeals to a cultured taste. Hillary pushes hard on bread and butter issues, policies to help people who actually need the help of those policies.

Obama's subject matter tends to the abstract. His rhetoric argues for loftier discourse. He acknowledges both sides of a debate and suggests transcendence. For example, in his most recent race speech, Obama talks about race relations and argues against familiar partisan bickering. And he doesn't throw Rev. Wright under the bus. He eschews modern political theater to argue for substance. On the Daily Show, Jon Stewart jokes that we're being spoken to like adults.

And Hillary, with her association with the Republican right-wing smear machine of the 90s, is a perfect foil to this sort of candidate. She is nothing but that political drama Obama wants to transcend.

Politics without conflict, though, is either impossible or really scary. Everybody has their own idea about the right way to govern, no two see eye to eye. When there's no conflict, something is really, really wrong. Consensus crowds out that diversity of thought and opinion. Now, anybody who follows public debate knows that it's very simplified and sometimes horribly wrong (like the coffee labels). But how do you differentiate wanting to transcend debate from shutting down discourse completely?

In its worst incarnation, that impulse to change the debate means oppression. But while I don't like Obama, I don't dislike him so much as to say that's his bag. I think it's more likely that Obama will sound to many people like he stands for little substantively, and he'll be bulldozed by opponents with clear language, opponents who draw clear lines around issues that people care about.


Scarlet Panda said...

Interesting. I agree that part of his appeal is that he transcends the sort of meaningless, surface-level, simplified "conflict" that doesn't appear to accomplish much. ("Your supporter said this! You're a racist sexist anti-Semite!"; "You changed your position slightly on that! You're a flip-flopper!" etc.)

It remains to be seen whether someone can transcend that type of conflict and not diminish his or her ability to engage in more meaningful conflict. Obama hasn't had much opportunity to do that in this campaign, in part because he isn't yet competing with anyone with whom he differs significantly on substance.

For what it's worth, I like Starbucks for its pleasant atmosphere; however, its overpriced, attractive-looking pastries cannot hold a candle to the awesomeness of a good old Dunkin' Donuts glazed chocolate cake donut. Analogize as you will.

factory123 said...

Where there is conflict, I think the approach is condescending. He says, "We all have arguments, let's rise above them to agree with me." If you disagree, aren't you caught up in the old style of politics?

Take the Philadelphia race speech. Obama asks us to move forward in discussions of race. But the context is that he's been dinged for his association with Wright.

So he's caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and then says "Can't we move past all this cookie business?"

It's like triangulation, only you don't cede anything to the other side. It's a great approach for liberals who already look down their noses at conservatives, but I do wonder how it will play in a debate with a true conservative.

And when he equates Geraldine Ferraro with Rev. Wright, I have my worries. Ferraro said that Obama was the beneficiary of a kind of reverse racism. Wright said "God damn America" and "United States of KKK". One of these sentiments plays a lot better in middle America.

Scarlet Panda said...

Do you think there is substance to the Wright thing? I had a debate last night where I took the side that there was (for the sake of argument), but in my heart of hearts, I actually don't think there is. I believe there are political horse-race type implications, but not really substantive ones.

On matters of substance, you may be right that Obama will not be as good at debating the conservatives as Clinton would, but I'm not sure that tells us enough.

One way that I sort of think about it: In a senator or legislator, I want a fighter and masterful negotiator--someone who can deal with adversaries and get stuff done, get legislation passed. In a president, on the other hand, I want a leader--someone who can use his or her position to frame the way the public thinks about things, motivate the public to believe that policies I believe in are in the their best interest, and leading the public to care and to alter their own behavior. That can have effects on its own; it can also lay the groundwork and create the political will that allows the legislators and political operatives fighting in the back rooms to get progressive legislation passed.

I like both Obama and Clinton. If I were voting for a senator, I'd probably vote for Clinton. And I think she'd be a fine president. But when we have the opportunity to inspire a national change in mindset toward progressivism, along the lines of what the conservatives were able to do decades ago. I think Obama has the potential to effect that, Clinton cannot. I don't want to waste the opportunity.

factory123 said...

It's not a real issue - it's inevitable that a black politician on the left is going to have some connection to a figure like Wright. Like McCain and Hagee, it's just the nature of things - politicians are affiliated with people who can afford to have wackier positions than the politicians themselves. The fact that it's such an issue has more to do with Obama being a prominent black politician than anything else.

With respect to the speech, Rasmussen found 56% of people very or somewhat concerned by Obama's affiliation, split 42 very/14 somewhat. That's a high "very" number. Same poll asked if the speech was unifying or divisive, found 30% unifying, 21% divisive, 37% neither. That's a low "unifying" number. 51%, though, found the speech either excellent or good. And he's done well in polls since then, so the speech probably did well by him.

I remain skeptical about his prospects in the general. Obama has some "blame America first"/liberal-type baggage that he's carrying. Things are only starting to heat up.

Obama's going to win having lost a bunch of big D states - California, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Florida (in which Obama alone ran television advertising), and likely Pennsylvania.

As to qualifications for the presidency, I would say that I differ simply in that I think that the wheeling and dealing is how a president gets things done. It's Kennedy and Johnson - Kennedy had the rhetoric and the awful record, Johnson had the skills and passed the bills.