On Election Day, It All Adds Up

By Becky O’Malley
Thursday June 05, 2008 - 10:06:00 AM

It’s all about the numbers today. Barack Obama—perhaps the first Democratic candidate in recent memory who can count—has finally put together the magic number of delegates, both elected and super, and he’s The Man of the Hour.  

The Woman of the electoral year, Hillary Clinton, as of this writing is still rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, trying to come up with a life raft for her sinking ship, but it’s not going to work. She—or her advisers—went for the big money and forgot about the small change. Take care of the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves, says the old English nursery homily which she forgot. It’s not just money, it’s votes, but in this United States at this point in time, money talks, and what money can say loud and clear is “vote for me.”  

Raising money from the rank-and-file has two advantages. One is the money itself, but the other is giving voters a chance to participate in the process. With the magic of the Internet, participation can be very easy and at any level the computer-using household can afford. Every major milestone in the impressive Obama trek to victory was followed up by an appeal for funds in our e-mail. From time to time, like everyone else, we pressed the magic little red “DONATE” buttons in the messages, and it adds up.  

Even more important, there’s at least the illusion that big donors aren’t able to call the shots quite as much as they usually do when a campaign is run this way. We haven’t checked the local fundraising statistics—we’ll leave that to the reporters. Anecdotally we did note a few straws in the wind, however. The recent push for Clinton by Esprit founder Susie Tompkins Buell, which funded some big ads with female emphasis, was a last gasp effort by a big-time Clinton organization donor about to lose a privileged insider’s position.  

The attempt by the Clinton group to fudge the primary vote numbers ended up being embarrassing, even pathetic. Old friends in Michigan, one of the two poster states for the revisionist attempt to ignore the agreed-upon rules, have told me that “nobody,” that is to say nobody who usually follows politics and cares about outcomes, voted in the illegal Michigan primary. The Clintons’ effort to have the votes of whoever happened to show up counted in her column was magic thinking at best, dishonest and disingenuous at worst.  

As this went to press, reports from Clinton’s D.C. campaign headquarters were that she was about to address her staff, and her mood was described by one observer as “maniacal.” Campaigns are an adrenaline high, hard to come down from, but it’s time now for her to sober up and get on with the important job of being a U.S. senator. Clinton could take as a role model Teddy Kennedy, whose attempt to get his party’s nomination was a failure, but whose ultimate senatorial career has been a triumph. Hillary Clinton has the opportunity to create the same kind of legacy for herself, if she chooses to accept it. 

What’s going to happen to the “white working class voters,” those phantasmagorical creatures beloved of the press corps sometimes called the Villagers (those who work inside the D.C. beltway and see voters outside simply as shadows on the wall)? These voters are believed by this segment of the press, absent much credible data, to be flirting with voting for McCain because—why?  

A bit of lingering racism could be part of the story. The nothing-better-to-do crowd who make the illiterate entries on web chats have started saying that Obama has “a big ego.” Translation, for those of you too young to remember old-school racism: he’s an “uppity n_______.” In other words, a black man who doesn’t “know his place.” Even among the uneducated this kind of stereotypical knee-jerk racism is dying out, thank goodness.  

Leaving arrant racism aside, the press’s amateurish attempt at class-based economic analysis ignores the enormous divisions which the current economy has produced in a once solid group of voters. The stereotypical working-class voter is the Left Behind Guy, the factory worker whose factory has moved away and whose union is now toothless. The percentage of these voters in the overall electorate is shrinking, however, since the decline of the Rust Belt is now an old story and the old guys are leaving the building. Some, though not all, of these voters are aware that part of the genesis of their plight was Bill Clinton’s support for NAFTA. This was big in the primaries, but is irrelevant in the Obama-McCain race. 

The younger left-out generation is very different. This is the group of workers, both men and women, who have never managed to get a job good enough to support a family as the old union jobs did in their parents’ heyday. They’re mainly working at low-paid service jobs, sometimes at more than one of them to make ends meet. With these voters, Obama’s relentless promise of change resonates simply because nothing they’ve seen in their lifetime has really worked for them economically. McCain has nothing special to offer them. 

And how about the older women who are supposedly disappointed that Hillary didn’t make it? Does anyone really think they should find McCain appealing? Why? 

In California, numbers are the story too, and the numbers are embarrassing. A very few insiders and a vanishingly small number of regular voters now control what happens in California primaries. In our gerrymandered districts, very few voters realize that these primaries are their only chance to participate in the decision of who will represent them for the next eight years or so.  

Randy Shaw at beyondchron.org, a Berkeley voter himself, accurately predicted the outcomes locally before anyone even went to the polls, as did many of us. Anyone who knows the cost of printing and mailing was aware even before the absentee ballots were mailed that Hancock and Skinner expected to have bushels of cash on hand, with a recycling-bin-full of new glossies arriving in every day’s mail at every house.  

The Port of Oakland billboard announcing Barbara Lee’s endorsement of Hancock was the cherry on top of a campaign marked by lavish expenditures on both sides. Evidently either Lee or Hancock had money to burn for that one. We should all keep that in mind next time either of them asks us to contribute to their war chests. 

The prize for the silliest use of excessive spare dollars, however, had to go to Dr. Phil Polakoff, who sent us a little plastic tube with a very trivial message on a little card inside. One of our letter writers in this issue skewers this ploy well, so we’ll leave it at that for now.