Voting Your Pocketbook

There’s an old adage in politics that say goes something like this:  “People vote their pocketbooks.”  However, since the ’80s, this adage has not demonstrated it’s accurate when it come the voting behavior of many Americans.  Cultural issues like abortion, “the culture of poverty,” race, and sexual orientation, have been powerful forces in political campaigns – and, alas, they usually speak to the devils in our nature rather than to our better angels. Plus, more and more people are losing ground (economically speaking) because they pay more attention to those devils.

As we head toward the endgame in this presidential election, there’s a lot of fretting about “The Bradley Effect” — where the race of a black candidate becomes a political liability on voting day.  The mass appeal of Barack Obama is something that many have found to be a puzzler in American politics.  In the Iowa caucuses, Obama was the clear winner, and it signaled that his ability to connect with voters across racial lines was something of a sea change moment in American politics in that, identity politics was waning, and with it, culture issues would be decreasing in significance, too.

But as we near voting day, it seems the press has discovered something shocking:  Obama is black. Okay, he’s bi-racial, but his black half is the half that’s getting all the attention these days. Obama’s campaign for the presidency has been going on for 21 months, but only now are we getting breathless reports that there are people in the U.S who won’t vote for him because of the color of his skin. Or consider the reappearance of so-called PUMA’s (i.e. “Party Unity My Ass”) who supported Hillary won’t vote for Obama because of the sexist way she was treated in the primary campaign.  There are more than a few rumblings that the combination of racists, and those for whom female gender is the most important factor in a candidate, are going to tip this election for McCain. In short, identity politics and racial politics are intersecting in disturbing ways that trump the issues Obama is trying very hard to keep in the spotlight — namely, the economy.

Alas, it’s all late-game cultural politics that’s attempting to derail and detract from:

1. An economic program that benefits the middle class.

2. Funding education from K through college.

3. Investing in nascent industries to solve the energy crisis and create jobs in those industries for those who are just scraping by.

In other words, while Obama is busy talking about pocketbook issues, others are chumming the waters with cultural issues that will give some voters a short term carthartic release, but won’t fundamentally change their economic condition if McCain/Palin win the election.

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