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Earl Ofari Hutchinson Headshot

The New Civil War Among Whites

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The recent AP-Gfk poll reconfirmed that whites again are at political war with each other. The war this is time is not over slavery, secession, or Lincoln. The war is over President Obama. The division is fueled by the same race, class, and governance issues that sparked the Civil War. The poll found these glaring contrasts. White workers are older, less educated and staunchly conservative. They overwhelming loathe Obama's policies, and have a strong visceral dislike of him. Many openly and passionately say that Obama is shoving the country to socialism. All assail the federal government for giving the company store away to the poor. The poor in this case are blacks, and all at the expense of white workers. A TV ad by Wisconsin House GOP candidate Sean Duffey rammed that point home.

The ad shows a blue-collar, hardhat worker getting dumped from a rolling log into the drink. A grave voice intones the point and the punchline, "Our working folks have been tossed aside." It's brash, bold, in your face, and crudely calculated to prick the deepest fears among white workers that Obama, the Democrats and the federal government is one big ATM machine giving free everything to undeserving minorities which equals money snatched from the pockets of hardworking whites. That race lurks sneakily just beneath the surface in the GOP and Tea-Party-leaning candidates' appeals to white, working-class voters is beyond dispute. The code word drips appeal and imagery in the ads and the campaign stump shouts from the candidates is a surefire sell for a bitter reason.

They never liked Obama anyway. In the 2008 presidential primary they backed Hillary Clinton by overwhelming margins in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and every Southern state. This had less to do with any rapture with Hillary, or of her stance on the issues, but simply she was the white, and the only ballot alternative to Obama. In the general election, they backed GOP presidential rival John McCain by a whopping twenty percent bulge over Obama. By contrast, Obama could not have won without the massive support from younger, college-educated, middle-class whites. They gave him a double-digit bulge in vote numbers over McCain. The bulge carries over to GOP candidates in general. They give current GOP congressional candidates a double-digit vote margin over the support they gave GOP congressional candidates in 2006 and 2008. The Democrats sole hope for staving off major losses in the House and possibly Senate is to rekindle the fire among white supporters that proved the margin of victory in 2008. The choice of a massive rally kick off rally at the University of Wisconsin was the first attempt to rev up the Democrat's white support base. The crowd that turned out -- overwhelming white, young, and college attending or educated -- was the exact prototype of Obama's white support base.

The rally was also tacit recognition that the split between white voters across class, income, and age, lines is real and potentially a make-or-break point for the Democrats. Their political fate in November rests squarely on how effectively they can exploit that division. The GOP already has their answer, and they have tailored their entire election strategy to exploiting the white division for their purposes. It's hardly the first time for that.

Nixon stoked the fury of blue-collar, white, ethnic, rural voters with his slam of the Democrats for coddling criminals, welfare cheats, and fostering a culture of anything-goes permissiveness, and of course, big government Great Society pandering to the poor. The crude, thinly disguised code words and racial cues worked. Nixon eked out a narrow victory over Democratic presidential opponent Hubert Humphrey. The tag of law and order and permissiveness became a staple in the GOP attack playbook for the next four decades. With tweaks and refinements, Reagan, Bush Sr. and George W. Bush used it to ease their path to the White House. In the mid 1990s, Newt Gingrich and ultraconservatives recycled the strategy to seize Congress, and pound out an agenda that made big government, tax and spend Democrats, and soft on crime liberals the fall guys for everything wrong with America. It touched the familiar nerve with white males.

Hate groups, anti-Obama Web sites and bloggers, and radio talk jocks can craft this as the prime reason for the anger and alienation that many white males feel toward health care and, by extension, Obama, while loudly denying that this has nothing to do with race.

GOP strategists are again giddy at the prospect, as one GOP pollster put it: "People who have been part of our majority coalition are looking to come back to us." That's a neat phrase to say white workers are firmly back in the GOP fold again. It's the classic white versus white political battle with an election again riding on the outcome.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.
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