It’s embarrassing to me that Sean Wilentz teaches at Princeton University. It puts a stain on the entire town. Wilentz has spent this entire primary defending the Clintons against accusations that they have deliberately racialized the campaign. Now he comes out and argues that Obama does not appeal to white working class voters. Dishonest throughout, Wilentz makes no connection between the Clintons’ tactics and rhetoric and results like this:
Pike County, Kentucky
Hillary Clinton 12,915 91%
Barack Obama 936 7%
Undecided 196 1%
Rather than look at the results out of Appalachia for what they are, Wilentz launches an unmerciful attack at the new New Left:
Having attempted, with the aid of a complicit news media, to brand Hillary Clinton as a racist — by flinging charges that, as the historian Michael Lind has shown, belong “in black helicopter/grassy knoll territory,” Obama’s supporters now fiercely claim that Clinton’s white working class following is also essentially racist. Favoring the buzzword language of the academic left, tinged by persistent, discredited New Left and black nationalist theories about working-class “white skin privilege,” a vote against Obama has become, according to his fervent followers, “a vote for whiteness.”
Sen. Jim Webb, who is somewhat of a historian/anthropologist/member of the Appalachian culture, doesn’t like to hear people attribute the primary results to racism. His explanation is more nuanced:
“This isn’t Selma, 1965. This is a result of how affirmative action, which was basically a justifiable concept when it applied to African Americans, expanded to every single ethnic group in America that was not white, and these were the people who had not received benefits and were not getting anything out of it. And they’re basically saying let’s pay attention to what has happened to this cultural group in terms of opportunities.”
I like how Sen. Webb is responding to this issue from a political point of view, but he’s parsing beyond what the facts will allow. Pike County, Kentucky voted against Obama because he is black. It’s that simple. If you want to know why they don’t trust black people, that’s an interesting question and Webb’s answer is as good as any I’ve seen. But racism is what explains the results. Others can dissect the causes of racism. And Clinton fed right into this racism by telling the voters of Pike County that she was their candidate and the other guy was a big-city elitist with weird religious ideas.
Despite the fact the exit polls showed the 18% of white voters thought race was important and that 88% of them (state-wide) voted for Clinton, Wilentz says there is no evidence of racism.
In fact, all of the evidence demonstrates that white racism has not been a principal or even secondary motivation in any of this year’s Democratic primaries. Every poll shows that economics, health care, and national security are the leading issues for white working class voters – and for Latino working class voters as well. These constituencies have cast positive ballots for Hillary Clinton not because she is white, but because they regard her as better on these issues.
Selectively ignoring exit polls is no way to further an academic career. But Wilentz’s worst error is his analysis of what it takes to win the Electoral College. He goes into great detail to explain to us how important it has been historically to win certain states. None of that matters. All that matters is who gets more Electoral College votes. No one cares which states are in which column, we only care about who has 270 or more votes.
If Obama wins all Kerry states (and he currently leads in the polls in all Kerry states except New Hampshire) then simply winning Iowa, New Mexico, and Nevada