Friday, February 01, 2008


Jonathan Raban (via Sullivan):
...there is one major social divide, almost as important in its way as race itself, that Obama has already proved he can bridge, though the significance of his success has gone largely unnoticed. To see it clearly, you have to look closely at the results of the Nevada caucuses, which Obama narrowly lost to Clinton because he failed to carry Clark County, site of Nevada's only big metropolitan city, Las Vegas, with its enormous population of Hispanic voters. But in more rural counties he beat Clinton decisively - 63% to her 37% in Elko, 51% to 34% in Humboldt, 50% to 40% in Washoe (the missing percentages belong to John Edwards). I've been to those counties, their miles of lonely roads where you can drive for half an hour before encountering another vehicle, their scattered ranches and isolated towns, their seasonal creeks marked by lines of spindly cottonwood trees, the overwhelmingly Caucasian cast of their people. Out there in the mountains, sagebrush and high desert, Obama carried the day by far greater margins than his overall loss of the popular vote to Clinton across the state, and came out of the caucuses with one more delegate than she did.

Remember that in 2004 every American city with a population over 500,000 voted Democrat, and the Republicans won by taking the countryside and the outer suburbs. The blue state/red state division is better expressed in terms of the persistent conflicts between the big cities and their rural hinterlands, over land use, water rights and environmental, class and cultural issues. Red states are simply those where the country can outvote the urban centres, while in blue states the opposite is true. The perception that America has liberal coasts and a conservative interior merely reflects the fact that the coastal states are home to the largest metropolitan areas with the most electoral muscle. Last time around, for instance, Bush easily won the heartland state of Missouri, but was as crushingly defeated by Kerry in St Louis as he was in the cities of New York, Boston, San Francisco and Seattle.

So Obama's victory over Clinton in rural Nevada says something important about his ability as the apostle of national reconciliation. To win against Clinton in Elko County (black population: 0.8%), he had to convert not only white Democrats, but a large number of independents and people who had voted Republican until caucus day; a feat he pulled off with dazzling facility. Any Democrat nominee who can do that, deep in Republican country, is likely to gain the presidency; and Obama has proved that he can. Clinton, laden with the moral, cultural and political baggage of the 1990s, is likely to fare as badly in Elko County as Kerry did in 2004, when he collected just 20% of the vote.

The entire article is great.

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