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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Fergit, Hell!

Like most Democrats, I’m in a pretty good mood today, and expecting a very good evening. But I did read something this morning that set my teeth on edge, which I might as well get out of my system before the inevitable reconciliatory post-election period sets in.
In an article laying out a variety of scenarios going forward, the venerable Carl Cannon includes this one:

The nation experiences another relatively close election, its fifth in a row if you factor out the muddying presence of Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996. In the end, Barack Obama wins a clear-cut victory. The Electoral College follows the popular vote, which most likely would mean that Obama wins in the neighborhood of 52-46, with Bob Barr and Ralph Nader picking up 2 percent between them, and with at least 350 Electoral College votes going to the Democratic ticket. In a gracious concession speech, McCain does not allege that media bias defeated him, and extends a hand of friendship to Obama. During the transition, President-elect Obama reciprocates by offering McCain a cabinet position. On Inauguration Day, Sarah Palin announces her 2012 presidential bid.

What bugs me isn’t the electoral forecast, or the Palin ’12 reference, but instead, the idea that Barack Obama should make the gracious gesture of offering John McCain a cabinet post. Perhaps as a Christian and a national unifier Obama should forgive the nasty and borderline-racist tone of the McCain-Palin campaign down the stretch, but none of us should forget it. I certainly won’t.
I know that some Democrats, many pundits, and most Republicans wouldn’t agree with my assessment of McCain’s campaign, particularly the attribution of race-baiting. Maybe I’m just a race-sensitive white southerner of a certain age who always hears echoes of George Wallace in a certain kind of Republican rhetoic. But by the very end of this campaign, the racial undertones were pretty hard to ignore.
Through early September, when McCain was refusing to run ads on Jeremiah Wright, I thought maybe he really was the decent guy I’d always thought him to be on subjects other than war and peace. But then, when the financial crisis broke out, he embraced the obnoxious right-wing conspiracy theory that the whole mess was the result of an unholy combination of Wall Streeters, congressional Democrats, Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, and ACORN, all under the aegis of the Community Reinvestment Act, who were determine to give shiftless poor and minority people mortgages they couldn’t or wouldn’t pay.
Turns out that was just an appetizer. The entire Joe the Plumber minidrama–sort of a campaign within the campaign–was linked to McCain’s attacks on Obama’s “socialist” and “redistributionist” tax plan, which McCain finally began describing as “welfare” because low-income working families without income tax liability (but with payroll tax liability) would benefit, echoing a favorite tirade of Tom DeLay.
Now some people, even some Democrats, don’t think that was race-baiting, but rather some sort of rational argument about the macroeconomic effects of marginal tax rates on small business people. If that’s all it was, then it certainly didn’t make any political sense, as Matt Yglesias has pointed out:

It’s fascinating to me how McCain, who spent so much of 1999-2005 at loggerheads with elements of the conservative base, keeps forgetting the distinction between things that make the base excited and things that help his campaign. Sarah Palin is the obvious example, but Joe is in some ways a deeper and truer example. The idea behind the Joe the Plumber saga is that Barack Obama would be bad for people like Joe, a small business owner who is (putatively) prosperous enough to be hit by Obama’s tax hikes on people with over $250,000 in annual income. Of course Joe doesn’t actually earn that much. But if he had, Joe would just be the very model of a hard-core Republican. Whites are more Republican than non-whites. Men are more Republican than women. Small business owners are more Republican than any other occupational group. High-income people are more Republican than are middle-class and poor people. And among white people, those with no college degree are more Republican than those with college degrees.

If, on the other hand, you think the Joe the Plumber gambit was not really about economics, but about race, it makes a lot of sense, as appealing to the ancient fear of a certain type of white (and usually male) working-class voter that Democrats want to tax them to give “welfare” to “those people.” At a time when virtually everyone figured McCain’s strategy was to peel off the kind of white working-class voter who famously spurned Obama in the Democratic primaries, with race clearly being a factor, it’s amazing to me that more observers didn’t make the obvious connection, particularly when McCain did the full monty of racial appeals by caterwauling about imaginary “voter fraud” threats.
Now maybe it’s all a coincidence, and John McCain happened to be simultaneously concerned about poor and minority people getting mortgages they didn’t deserve, poor and minority people getting “welfare” through the tax system, and poor and minority people stealing elections–all at the expense of the hard-working white man from the swing state of Ohio, Joe the Plumber. McCain never even mentioned race, after all. But for those of you old enough to remember the heydey of racial politics, that means nothing. George Wallace used to rant about “bureaucrats” forcing businesses to “hire a certain number of Chinese.” Everybody understood he wasn’t talking about Chinese.
So for my money, count me out on support of any immediate post-election love for John McCain, Sarah Palin (who went down this road before McCain, possibly encouraging him to follow), the McCain-Palin campaign staff, and the conservative commentators who encouraged the worst innuendoes of the Joe the Plumber theatrics. There are plenty of decent and honorable Republicans and conservatives in this country; let Obama and Democrats reach out to them first.

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