CNN's Glenn Beck, like the disgruntled Clinton supporter Emanuel Cleaver, is more or less convinced that if Barack Obama if successful, it will be on the back of "white guilt." To be sure, it is impossible to flatly, factually deny that this may be true - though 30 Rock's Tina Fey once joked that "white guilt" might be of limited effect in the voting booth, "I might tell everyone I'm voting for Obama and secretly vote for McCain." You know, John McCain? Who doesn't seem to shy away from reminding Americans of that time spent in a VC torture camp, while we lived comfortably at home? And then there's the other Democratic contender, Hillary Clinton, who's inspired some women to suggest that a vote against her is tantamount to gender betrayal? It all could play a part or it all could not. In other news, you expect rain in tomorrow's forecast, unless, of course, there is no rain.
But simply exposing Beck's tautological thinking is like fishing with a bazooka and an aquarium. What strikes me as amazing about Beck's recent exchange on the subject of "white guilt" (other than the fact that it exists in a parallel universe where Obama didn't give a speech that acknowledged the just cause of white resentment) is just how divorced he is from the motivations that govern voters:
BECK: I will tell you that I think that it`s just like a Prius is a token in some ways for this global warming movement. I mean, the No. 1 reason people buy a Prius, the No. 1 reason is because it says a lot about me.
I think there are a lot of Americans that are just that shallow that will say I want to be a part of history, or -- and they won`t look into any of his -- any of his real credentials.
That voters desire to be a part of history, or vote "because it says a lot about [them]" may be shallow, but these are the larger drivers of voter action. Successful candidates promote a message that activates the values of voters, that allow voters to imagine their place in history. That is why no election is never not "the most important election in our nation's history."
Bill Clinton had as few "credentials" as Barack Obama when he ran for president but won on the strength of a ringing and inspirational call for change (go back and listen to Clinton during his first debates, you'll see that "change" was hardly invented by Obama). He won re-election on a similarly inspirational call to "build a bridge to the 21st century," despite having no apparent credentials in the fields of civil engineering or time travel. And let's not pretend that George W. Bush made it to the White House on the back of impressive "credentials" - his resume wouldn't get you hired as a shift manager at the local Wash N' Go. Bush ran on "compassionate conservatism" and "restoring the tone" to a blue-dress sullied Oval Office. And he won re-election largely on the back of scaring the poo-poo out of us.
They have written whole books on this phenomenon of voter behavior: What's The Matter With Kansas? and Don't Think Of An Elephant are two that go to great lengths to demonstrate that values are the primary motivator of voters. And this truism is acknowledged on both sides of the aisle. In May of 2006, George Will wrote:
An aggressively annoying new phrase in America's political lexicon is "values voters." It is used proudly by social conservatives, and carelessly by the media to denote such conservatives.
This phrase diminishes our understanding of politics. It also is arrogant on the part of social conservatives and insulting to everyone else because it implies that only social conservatives vote to advance their values and everyone else votes to . . . well, it is unclear what they supposedly think they are doing with their ballots...
Will is right. If you take the time to see the electoral forest behind the "white guilt" tree, you're sure to see that Americans are heading to the polls with a diverse number of values blowing at their back, and you'll see three candidates making diverse appeals. Beck would do well to explore, just as an exercise, the values that fuel the so-called "Obamacans." I can all but assure him, it's not "white guilt!"