Democrats irrelevant again

My political science professor last quarter had to explain something to the class that I’ve seen before, and if you don’t believe us, try getting breakfast at a coffee shop in the Central Valley at a table next to farmers ridiculing the need for fish to have water. Or, try a drive over the Sierra to Nevada, and listen to people who hate people and claim to love nature, but whose way of connecting with nature is with a rifle and a fishing rod.

Tara Shively is clear.

“McCain,” says the 35-year-old mother of five, manager of the popular Brick Coffee House CafĂ© in downtown Marysville, where local politicians and business leaders are regulars.

“I find him honest, and he’s real,” Shively said. “I appreciate everything he’s been through in his life.

The Bay Area is a lot more liberal than other parts of the world. And we are convinced, as if he had already been elected, that Barack Obama is our next president. They’ve been selling George W. Bush countdown clocks at Bookshop Santa Cruz practically since he stole the presidency for the second time in 2004. Now they’re selling Obama Change clocks as well.

Thomas Friedman writes, “If John McCain can win this election race with a 50-pound ball called “George W. Bush” wrapped around one ankle and a 50-pound ball called “The U.S. Economy” wrapped around the other, then he deserves to represent America in the next Olympics in any race he wants — swimming, cycling or track — I don’t care how old he is.” But I’m starting to think that this just might happen.

Marianne Means writes of McCain’s vice presidential pick, “The Palin choice was a political success and all talk of reaching across the aisle and being bipartisan has disappeared. Nobody seems to miss it. This was a very partisan pick, and it is going over well not only with Republicans but independents as well.”

I don’t miss bipartisanship. That’s what shifted the Democrats, including Barack Obama, so far to the right that progressives have trouble telling them apart from the Republicans. It reduces Democrats to irrelevance. If you’re going to vote for a conservative, you might as well vote for the real thing.

Friedman writes, “Whoever slipped that Valium into Barack Obama’s coffee needs to be found and arrested by the Democrats because Obama has gone from cool to cold.” He misses that these are the same Democrats who have collaborated with the Bush administration on everything from support for the Iraq war to torture to immunity for big telecommunications corporations. And Obama is lately sounding like nearly every other Democrat out there. No wonder Obama’s base of young, enthusiastic progressives isn’t so enthusiastic anymore.

But Obama, with the Democratic nomination in hand, is now surrounded by people telling him he’s doing the right thing, not to worry about McCain’s post-convention “bounce.” But a quick search of my mail archives on Trig, Palin’s Down syndrome son, turns up a bunch of hits. Since one of his teenage sisters is pregnant, we’re supposed to keep families out of this campaign, but Trig shows up in his mother’s arms a lot, appealing to a lot of women who face the challenges of juggling motherhood and careers.

But a third and perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the Palin speech [at the Republican convention] was who and what she left out of her picture of Alaskan adventure and small-town values. Palin never mentioned health care, women’s economic issues like equal pay, or showed any empathy for the economic plight of millions who have done very poorly in George Bush’s America — particularly unmarried women, who, by virtue of their single status, tend to fare the worst in economic downturns.

At 26 percent of the voting-age population, single women are also the biggest single eligible voter demographic. And according to a survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, they are the most dependably progressive voters in the electorate. In the last two elections, unmarried women supported Democrats with 62 percent of their vote in 2004 and 65 percent in 2006.

With her speech, or rather with what was missing from it, Palin drew attention to the biggest fault line in the election: the huge chasm between mostly white, married women, and the less white, overall less affluent, but far more progressive unmarried women.

The dirty little secret in this election is that the gender gap — which may be as high as 10 percent for Obama — is dwarfed by the marriage gap. In a recent tracking survey by Gallup in mid-August, Obama led 49 percent to 39 percent among women, but trailed 49 percent to 40 percent among married women. Meanwhile, among unmarried women, Obama trounced McCain by 57 percent to 30 percent.

But there’s more to this story:

Although unmarried women are more likely to support Obama than McCain, getting them to the polls is another matter. Unmarried women are underrepresented in the electorate. In 2004, 20 million unmarried women did not vote. Compared to married women, single women are 9 percent less likely to register and 13 percent less likely to vote. To use one striking example, given that John Kerry won unmarried women by 62 percent to 37 percent, not getting unmarried women out effectively left 12 million progressive votes at home — and possibly cost Kerry the election.

Progressives are the very people whom Obama has been distancing himself from, the very people who provided all the energy for his campaign. A “change” vision, after all, is a progressive vision. Distancing oneself from progressives means distancing oneself from the hallmark of Obama’s campaign.

So Shively, a “middle-class mom,” sees Obama as “a good politician.”

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