Jun 29, 2008

May 21, 2008: Bookends, We Rarely Speak with One Voice, The Class Ceiling

The primary election returns last night from Kentucky and Oregon were almost like looking at the returns from two different countries. Hillary crushed Obama in Kentucky, winning 65% of the vote to Obama’s mere 30%. With 459,000 votes to Obama’s 209,000, Clinton took every major demographic except the black vote. But the news out of Oregon was exactly opposite, with Obama besting Clinton 59-41% 361,000 to Hillary’s 252,000. On the night, Clinton outpolled Obama, but the Jedi inched ever closer to the finish line. Time is running out for the Clinton campaign.

Much has been made of the regional or sectional divides that make up the matrix of the American landscape. One of the interesting things about studying American politics and history is the rich panorama one confronts as the country slowly reveals itself. As a child, I remember those long journeys down highway 66 through Illinois on our way to Missouri then Arkansas. What struck me then, and still occasionally catches one off-guard, is how short a distance one needs to travel to hear the changes in local accent and dialect. But not far beneath the surface, other variations and divisions present themselves, differences over industry and trade, religion, politics. Occasionally these divisions have manifested themselves in deep sectional divides, producing, in time, conflict and even civil war. One is immediately impressed by the country’s many voices and a close study of our history reveals that however persuasive our leaders we rarely speak with one voice.

Last night, the two primary elections presented us with a set of bookends. Kentucky, a slave state that remained nominally in the Union during the Civil War, had, and still has, deep economic and cultural connections to the South. Oregon is part of the cluster of North Western states, like Washington with a very different historical experience, today trending much more toward high-tech industry and at the vanguard of environmental concerns. Reflecting the growing divide between the Clinton and Obama camps, as the Democratic Party threatens to split into its constituent parts, Kentucky — responding overwhelmingly to the ‘gas tax holiday’ scheme stolen by Hillary from John McCain and reflecting her strength among the less educated “white” voters - rallied overwhelmingly to Hillary’s cause. Oregon, like Obama, seeing the ‘gas tax holiday’ as a shell game and a sham, and more concerned with long-term environmental issues and the reduction of the use of fossil fuels rallied to the Jedi. The Obama-Clinton breakdown in Oregon also reflected a significant contrast from Kentucky.

Forty years ago Bobby Kennedy lost his only election to Gene McCarthy in Oregon, demonstrating that Oregon is not fertile ground for a tribune of the underclass. Oregonians are better educated and more upper-middle class. Here, along the shores of the Pacific, Hillary encountered the upper limits of her campaign; not a ‘glass’, but a ‘class’ ceiling.

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