Many decades ago, in my days of recreational substance use we would always be suspucious of the person in our midst who wouldn’t partake. Narc. He’s working for the sheriff, and he’s taking everyone’s names down. He was always the first person we’d think of weeks later when we were called into the principal’s office or pulled over without cause.
We never considered that they might not want to treat their brains and bloodstreams like an industrial New Jersey river, or that if you’re driving around in a small town in a candy apple Volkwagen Bug with racing stripes, blasting Dokken through a residential zone, wearing flannel over a Dio tee-shirt, with bordello-red eyes, the odds are better than even that at some point that day you’d already done something illegal.
The point is, as I mentioned yesterday, people are tribal. They’re usually accepting of a strange person in their midst if that person doesn’t recoil at their customs. This is something Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama have never understood. “‘So what–y’all don’t eat cheesesteaks in Illinoise?” Bill Clinton understood this and got himself dirty with a lot of pizza and Big Macs and barbecue, and Hillary understands this, too, and that’s why she made the best move of her Hindenburg campaign on Saturday when she threw down with the locals in Indiana and knocked back a shot of Crown Royal and a mug of Old Style at “Bronko’s” in Northwestern Indiana, before sitting down to a greasy pepperoni pizza.
Love her or hate her–and I’ve had no shortage of hate for her the last few months–that was some smart campaigning Saturday night, and Barack would do good to take a page from that book. If he can fake it, that is. I appreciate his learning curve, but I think the Common Man line might be a little too much for him to climb at this point. Hillary’s done this before. She grew up in Scranton, and she’s likely had an adult lifetime of doing calming shots and beers at fundraisers trying to keep herself from committing battery on Bill or the 20-year-old campaign worker he’s been macking on.
Never mind that this is utterly counterfeit. Hillary hasn’t been a commoner in her adult lifetime. She and Bill have made $109 million since 2001, and haven’t personally seen a utility bill since the Ford Administration. Also never mind that a Harvard political scientist, Theda Skocpol, wrote in exasperation at Hillary’s populist outrage at Obama’s alleged condescension at Pennsylvania’s guns-and-God set that “I have been in meetings with the Clintons and their advisors where very clinical things were said in a very-detached tone about unwillingness of working class voters to trust government–and Bill Clinton–and about their unfortunate (from a Clinton perspective) proclivitiy to vote on life-style rather than economic issues. To see Hillary going absolutely over the top to smash Obama for making clearly more humanly sympathetic observations in this vein, is just amazing. Even more so to see her pretending to be a gun-toting non-elite.”
And there was this quote that came out this weekend. “The reason this works so well now is that you have all these economically insecure white people who are scared to death.” That wasn’t Barack Obama calling the little people of Central Pennsylvania bitter. That would have been Hillary’s husband to the Los Angeles Times in 1991. And once again the kettle has to gird itself against the pot’s aggression.
The point is that she knows she needs to do this. People only care that you’re a multimillionaire if you act like a multimillionaire. If you’re a multimillionaire who is willing to get a little grease on your collar and whiskey in your gut, then you can pass muster with the hoi polloi. It’s sad, and shallow, and wrong, and it’s a reality of American politics. I truly believe that Barack Obama has middle Americans’ best interests at heart, but it’s not enough to understand America, he has to get it, too. When I got tired of smoking weed, I was in a lot of situations where I took the pipe or the bong just to go along, and I fit in much better in the end. Knowing how to campaign on Main Street is an art very nearly as old as American electioneering itself.
This is all about perception. You have to go along to get along. Hillary knows this and Barack hasn’t figured it out yet, or at least how to do it without looking like John Kerry in hunting garb, and this could be to his peril. Americans want to know that you’re going to get them jobs, but they aren’t going to trust that you can do it if you’re not down with the chili dog and the mug of Old Style. Having grown up in an economically recessed small town, I know that most are not quick to trust anyone if they see them demur from a bacon cheeseburger.
It’s a quick, pandering detour from the real issues that matter in this campaign, but it’s a sincere gesture that puts the tribe at ease. “I’ve accepted your hospitality and eaten your kill, now let me tell you what I can do for you if you’ll support me.” That’s basic, visceral human exchange as old as the American community. So, that said, you want a beer back with that, Senator Obama?