FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

What West Virginia Means

Before the West Virginia primary vote on Tuesday, it was a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton would sweep the state, perhaps by over 70 percent. In the event, she came close to that, with 68 percent of the vote. Now that the vote has happened, Clinton and a corporate media anxious to spin out the ratings-boosting contest as long as possible, are arguing that Obama is in trouble.

It is true that twenty percent of those voting for Clinton in this almost lily-white, low-income, low-education state said they voted for her on the basis of race, which is to say they wouldn’t vote for a black man. Theirs was a vote Clinton has actively pursued. Forty percent of her backers said they would not vote for Obama in the general election if he were the Democratic candidate.

What was not asked or reported, though, is what percentage of her voters would not vote for Clinton either, if she were to become the nominee. I’m guessing it’s a fair number. That is to say, I think that people were voting for Clinton not because they support her, but because they wanted to vote against a black candidate.

You read it here: Hillary Clinton clearly has no more chance to win West Virginia in a general election than does Barack Obama.

So let’s move on to a more salient question: Does Obama’s poor showing in West Virginia mean he is going to lose in other states where many of the voters are white, working class, and don’t have high school diplomas or college degrees?

No. Of course not.

West Virginia is not just Michigan without car companies and pasties. It’s Michigan without Motown and Rap music. It is, that is to say, an almost totally white, incredibly insular, racist state–the kind of place that if you’re a black person traveling through on the Interstate, you’d best stick to the highway rest stops to get your coffee. It has plenty of fine people living inside its boundaries, but it also has people who’d be just as at home in rural Mississippi–except that then they’d have to live–god forbid!–in the vicinity of “colored people” (West Virginia is only 3% African-American–you can walk around even a city like Wheeling all day and not see one).

Certainly Obama will have his work cut out for him winning over working class Americans. Hillary Clinton and her seemingly pump-headed husband Bill (see my April 28 column “Invasion of the Pumpheads”) have been hard at work turning them against him for months now, and Republican John McCain, who knows a thing or two about how racist some voters can be (Bush’s campaign during the 2000 South Carolina primary, successfully spread the vicious lie that McCain’s adopted Indian daughter was the “love child” of an adulterous relationship with a mythical black woman) can be expected to pick up where she left off, probably courtesy of surrogates and 526 campaign groups.

But the reality is that most of the American white working class is not racist. In most states, whites and blacks work together every day, share lunch and after-work beers, and get along fine. Most working-class people know that their real political enemies are the bosses who keep cutting their real wages, shipping their jobs overseas, busting their unions and financing the politicians who help them screw average Americans.

All Obama has to do is make it clear, during the general election campaign, that he understands all this, and is really going to take their side, by restoring labor law to some kind of at least impartiality, so that unions can start to organize the vast unorganized workforce whose members overwhelmingly want a union. All he has to do is say that he will call a halt to unfair trade agreements that encourage American firms to move overseas and sell their crap back to the US instead of making it here. All he has to do is say that he will start taxing the rich again, and corporations, and cut the tax burden on working people.

Racism thrives on irrational fear. Hillary Clinton has been playing to that fear with her evocation of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. McCain will play to that fear too. That’s why Obama’s “hope” campaign has made sense, but he needs to go further than just hope. He needs to start making concrete what he will be doing for those working people who are the targets of the insidious fear campaigns.

The voters of West Virginia are probably a lost cause. Too many of them, like the Germans of the early 1930s, have been convinced by the fear-mongers that their enemy is a group of “others”–in this case black people. There’s not much a candidate like Obama can do about that. But the toxin of racism has been in retreat, thankfully, for years, in most of the nation, and Obama’s excellent showings in states like Virginia, Missouri and Wisconsin are solid evidence of that.

The false calculus offered by the Clinton campaign, which argues that no Democratic presidential candidate can win the presidency without winning West Virginia, is based upon races that were won from the middle, leaving working class people with no real reason to vote–the kind of campaign Bill Clinton ran, and that Clinton could be expected to run, should she improbably win the nomination.

What Obama has demonstrated in his primary campaign, is that he can reach beyond the hard-core Democratic Party base, and attract the votes of independents (mostly white people) and even Republicans. He now needs to work to replicate his successes in states like Virginia, Wisconsin and Missouri, to expand his reach to those working class voters who have been leaning Republican or to Clinton.

To do that, he needs to make a much more populist case than he has to date.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Pennsylvania-based journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback edition). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail