Too Much Color, Not Enough Culture
Clarence Page argues that Barack Obama’s failure to connect with white “working class” voters has more to do with culture than color.
Democratic nominees have not won a majority of working-class white males at the ballot box since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, when Obama was still a preschooler. Since then, Bill Clinton came closest in 1992 by connecting culturally, not just politically. When he said, “I feel your pain,” a lot of people believed him.
Ironically, despite Republican attempts to paint Obama as a liberal, he is in many ways a cultural conservative. The Democratic National Convention speech that launched his rapid rise on the national stage, you may recall, was grounded in values that made him the Democratic Party’s answer to Colin Powell and Bill Cosby.
People from across the political spectrum hoped Obama might transcend the nation’s racial divide. That effort that was brought rapidly down to earth by the inflammatory sound bites of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But Obama’s image as a unifier can rise again if he speaks to issues that connect with people’s daily lives beyond the narrow world of politics. One example has been embedded in his biography: The breakdown of the American family.
The rise of out-of-wedlock births is one the thorniest issues facing the black community today. But the issue reaches beyond race. Out-of-wedlock births have risen to almost 70 percent in black America, almost half of Hispanic births and more than a fourth of white births. In 1950, the rates for all three were about 10 percent. Add in the high rates of divorce and other parental break-ups, and you have large numbers of American children growing up in single-parent households. Some 24 million children live apart from their fathers, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative. As Roland Warren, the initiative’s director, has said, “Kids have a hole in their soul the shape of their dad.”
As Page notes, Obama knows that from personal experience but he hasn’t done much to take this issue on and that doing so would be an entree into a “national conversation” that could close the cultural gap.
The problem, however, is that Obama isn’t Powell or Cosby. His proposed solutions are very much out of the Great Society playbook. Raise the minimum wage. Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit. Expand paid sick days. Expand the Family and Medical Leave Act. Expand the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. And so forth and so on. These are all Big Government wealth transfer solutions, putting the burden on society and private businesses rather than individuals.
That’s not how Colin Powell, Bill Cosby — or, indeed, Barack Obama — got to where they are. Their common path? Parents stay together, providing a stable home life and role models for kids. Kids work hard in school and get a college education. Including, eventually, graduate degrees. Work hard and make something of yourself in a career. Marry and raise your own kids. Rinse and repeat.
There’s a huge cultural divide between these competing models.