It's refreshing when someone makes the effort to advance the discussion of this year's election beyond debating a black/white divide. So when that someone is oft-mentioned potential Democratic running mate Jim Webb, it's worth taking note.
Webb appeared on Morning Joe today to speak about his newest book, A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America, and to dodge questions about whether he would accept a spot on Barack Obama's presidential ticket. But since the Kentucky primary had just provided pundits with fodder to discuss the ever-popular "Does Obama have a working whites problem?" Webb weighed in on the election results and his Scots-Irish heritage.
The Virginia senator suggested that race is indeed a factor in Obama's poor performance among white voters along the east of the country, saying, "we shouldn't be surprised by the way they're voting now." But he bristled at what he suggested is a simplistic interpretation of the issue. "When I hear people say this is racism, my back gets up a little bit, because that's my cultural group."
Webb sought to explain what motivates Scots-Irish Americans. First, says Webb, it's not a generic race or geographic label, but rather "a very powerful cultural group that's always underestimated, and it's not always in the Appalachian mountains." And the issue is not Obama himself, who Webb thinks is "saying a lot of good things that will appeal to this cultural group in time."
Rather, Webb -- whose previous book Born Fighting explores the effect of Scots-Irish culture on America's formation -- argued that Scots-Irish voters' unwillingness to support Obama is less about the candidate himself, than about a sense of injustice among the community manifested by the government assistance afforded to minorities in the post-Civil Rights Era:
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.
Webb even drew a parallel between this bloc and African Americans, suggesting that their grievances with and needs from the federal government are remarkably similar.
Black America and Scots-Irish America are like tortured siblings. They both have long history and they both missed the boat when it came to the larger benefits that a lot of other people were able to receive. There's a saying in the Appalachian mountains that they say to one another, and it's, "if you're poor and white, you're out of sight." ...
If this cultural group could get at the same table as black America you could rechange populist American politics. Because they have so much in common in terms of what they need out of government.
A powerful coalition indeed. If only there were two politicians who understood these cultures, and had the desire and capacity to unite them for a common cause...
[WATCH -- race discussion starts at 4:30]
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