The new ploy among ultra-conservatives, right wing talk show jocks, on their websites, and blogs is to claim that President Obama has written off white workers in his re-election bid. This notion has even crept into a few mainstream news outlets that’ve done a spate of stories on Obama’s supposed snub of white workers. Obama, as this line goes, is pandering to Hispanics, Gays, environmentalists, women, and left liberals with his push for comprehensive immigration reform, his inch toward open defense of gay marriage, the scrapping of the Keystone XL Pipe line, his picking a fight with the Catholic Church over contraceptives and abortion, and his relentless drive to tax the rich.
The problem with this silliness is that then Democratic presidential candidate, and after his election, President Obama has been careful to a fault to make sure that he took no stance on issues that did not have either majority or a broad consensus of public support; support that cut across ethnic and gender lines. The even bigger problem is that despite Obama’s caution, and care in hewing close to general public sentiment on policy issues, the majority of lower income, white blue collar workers, especially males, have never bought his policies or him. Polls have consistently shown that this racial gap has perennially been big and daunting for Obama.
The gap is especially perplexing given that Obama in endless forays to cities, workplaces, and outposts throughout the country has made it a point to meet and greet, and hold formal and informal discussions with legions of blue collar, and rural whites. He’s bent over backward to assure them at appearances at plant closings or openings, or jobs or home foreclosure townhalls that his administration is working in their interest.
Many photo shots show Obama with hands out stretched to blue collar workers on his stops. Yet, his unswerving race neutral, low-keyed, scrupulously non-confrontational, approach to presidential governance has done nothing to change the attitudes of many white voters. This is in part due to the ancient mix of racial suspicions and doubts about black competence, intelligence and ability, pure blind, naked bigotry, and despite his more than three years at the presidential helm, unease with an African-American holding the world’s most visible and important political power position.
The first warning sign that Obama’s white working class, male support was shaky and tenuous cropped up not in the campaign against GOP Presidential candidate John McCain in 2008 but in the war with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton during the Democratic presidential primaries. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, Clinton drubbed Obama with the white vote. Many white Democratic blue collar voters openly said that they would not vote for Obama not because of any great love for Clinton, but because he was black. It took a near holy crusade turnout by black voters in both states to seal Obama’s win in the two key states and ultimately the White House.
McCain played it close to the vest on race during the general election campaign and made it clear that race would not be an issue. He sternly warned that there would be no subtle racial pandering from anyone connected with his staff. But that wasn’t enough. Though Obama did better than Democratic presidential contenders Al Gore and John Kerry in 2000 and 2004 respectively with white blue collar voters, McCain got the majority of the white vote. That was enough to keep him relatively competitive. But McCain’s blind eye to race didn’t mean that race was permanently off the table in national politics or that it would be a non-factor in Obama’s 2012 re-election bid. The GOP front runners made light probes into the racial mine field with their quips about welfare and blacks (Rick Santorum), food stamp president (Newt Gingrich), and carping about entitlements (Mitt Romney).
A Quinnipiac Poll in February found that white males by a margin of nearly two to one voiced disapproval over the way Obama is handling the presidency. The continued high disapproval ratings among this group is even more glaring since it comes at the point where more Americans than in the past year say they approve of Obama’s performance. This does not include a majority of white males, let alone a majority of white blue collar males.
The GOP has played hard on the anger, frustration, and hatred that many males harbor toward government and their swoon over military toughness. And for four decades before Obama took office. This fury was the ace-in-the-hole for winning GOP presidents, and even in his loss as in it boosted McCain in 2008.
Despite deep doubts among voters about the competence, credibility, conservatism (Romney) and the warfare that the GOP presidential candidates have waged against each other, recent polls still show that either Romney or Santorum would be in a horse race with Obama. To say that Obama has brought this on himself by dissing white workers is ludicrous at best, and at worst a back door play of the race card against him.
Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.