Michael Barone: Obama Appeals to Academics and Clinton Appeals to Jacksonians

Roundup: Media's Take

In reviewing the maps of the Democratic primary results, in Dave Leip's electoral atlas, I was struck by the narrow geographic base of Barack Obama's candidacy. In state after state, he has carried only a few counties—though, to be sure, in many cases counties with large populations. There are exceptions, particularly in the southern states with large numbers of black voters in both urban and rural counties. But overall, the geographic analysis has pointed up to me a divide between Democratic constituencies—a divide as stark as that between blacks and Latinos or the old and the young—which has not shown up in the exit polls. It's a division that helps to explain the quite different performances of Obama and Hillary Clinton in general election pairings against John McCain....

[L]ooking at these electoral data suggests to me that there's another tribal divide going on here, one that separates voters more profoundly than even race (well, maybe not more profoundly than race in Mississippi but in other states). That's the divide between academics and Jacksonians. In state after state, we have seen Obama do extraordinarily well in academic and state capital enclaves. In state after state, we have seen Clinton do extraordinarily well in enclaves dominated by Jacksonians.

Academics and public employees (and of course many, perhaps most, academics in the United States are public employees) love the arts of peace and hate the demands of war. Economically, defense spending competes for the public-sector dollars that academics and public employees think are rightfully their own. More important, I think, warriors are competitors for the honor that academics and public employees think rightfully belongs to them. Jacksonians, in contrast, place a high value on the virtues of the warrior and little value on the work of academics and public employees. They have, in historian David Hackett Fischer's phrase, a notion of natural liberty: People should be allowed to do what they want, subject to the demands of honor. If someone infringes on that liberty, beware: The Jacksonian attitude is, "If you attack my family or my country, I'll kill you." And he (or she) means it. If you want to hear an eloquent version, listen to

Sen. Zell Miller's speech endorsing George W. Bush at the 2004 Republican National Convention. The academic who hears the Rev. Jeremiah Wright declaiming, "God damn America," is not unnerved. He hears this sort of thing on campus all the time. The Jacksonian who watches the tape sees an enemy of everything he holds dear.

But the Reverend Wright doesn't account for the positive reaction to Obama from academics and the negative reaction from Jacksonians. The last primary, in Mississippi, was held on March 11, and the Wright tapes were given notoriety by ABC News on March 13. Academics' adulation of Obama and Jacksonians' disdain for him comes out vividly from the election data starting back in January. Why do academics love Obama while Jacksonians reject him? Probably for the same reasons. Because Obama is not at all a warrior and is something of an academic. He is all college campus and not at all boot camp. Indeed, his campaign has claimed he was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, while he was actually just a senior lecturer; but all the evidence is that he was very much at home there and indeed was offered a tenure-track professorship. He grew up in a state—Hawaii—with a large military presence, but like most men with his academic aptitude, he seems never to have seriously considered military service. He has campaigned consistently as an opponent of military action in Iraq (though, as Peter Wehner has shown, his record is rather more complicated than that). His standard campaign statements on Iraq seem to suggest that all honor should go to the opponents of the war and none to the brave men and women who have waged it. His latest statements about leaving a "strike force" in Iraq suggest a certain insouciance or even indifference about what happens in a theater in which 4,000 Americans have died. He clearly lacks the military expertise of John McCain or Hillary Clinton, both diligent members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Like another eloquent little-known Illinois politician who emerged suddenly as an attractive presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, he seems more comfortable with the language of diplomacy and negotiation than with the words of war.

Like Stevenson, he speaks fluently and often eloquently but does not exude a sense of command. He is an interlocutor, not a fighter. His habit of stating his opponents' arguments fairly and sometimes more persuasively than they do themselves has been a political asset among his peers and in the press but not among Jacksonians, who are more interested in defeating than in understanding their enemies. He has the body of a younger man—he is slim like a man of 31 rather than 46—and moves gracefully but without exuding the sense that you get from every movement of Colin Powell, that he is in charge. Ronald Reagan also had the gift of graceful maneuver, from the movies discipline of knowing the camera was always on him, but he also had the sense of command and an understanding that he must always be in charge: hence the moment, after he was shot and then walked out of the ambulance into George Washington University hospital, when he got out of the car, stood up and (for me, the greatest gesture) buttoned his suit coat, and walked into the building and then, when out of camera range, collapsed on the floor. Would Obama be capable of doing that, while in great pain and in mortal danger? Maybe. The academic doesn't think about it. The Jacksonian thinks it's very unlikely.

In contrast to Obama, Clinton has given herself the image of a fighter. And it's not entirely inauthentic. Against very unfavorable odds, she is continuing to campaign and to insist—and for Jacksonians, this is among the most admirable of qualities—that she is not a quitter. She is fighting fair and foul—think about her lies about being under fire in Bosnia—but she is still fighting, and Jacksonians may not hold her lies heavily against her. We have seen her rebound from humiliations professional (healthcare) and personal (Monica Lewinsky) and keep fighting. This is off-putting to academics but admirable, or something close to that, to Jacksonians.

When I first noticed Obama's weak showings among Appalachians, I chalked them up, as many in the press will be inclined to do, to an antipathy to blacks. But that simply doesn't hold up. Go back to 1995, and look at the polls that showed that most Americans would support Colin Powell for president. I don't think you'll find any evidence of resistance by Jacksonian voters to the Powell candidacy. Rather the contrary, I suspect. He was a warrior, after all, and always exudes a sense of command. Or go back and look at the election returns in 1989 in which Douglas Wilder became the first black governor in our history, in Virginia. Jacksonians in southwest Virginia showed no aversion to Wilder; rather the contrary. Take Buchanan County, which runs along both West Virginia and Kentucky, and which voted 90 percent to 9 percent for Clinton over Obama on February 12. In 1989, it voted 59 percent to 41 percent for Wilder over Republican Marshall Coleman. Overall, Wilder lost what is now the Ninth Congressional District (long known as the Fighting Ninth) by a 53 percent-to-47 percent margin. But that is far less than the 59 percent-to-39 percent margin by which George W. Bush beat John Kerry in the district in November 2004 or the 65 percent-to-33 percent margin by which Clinton beat Obama there in February 2008. Jacksonians may reject certain kinds of candidates, but not because they're black. A black candidate who will join them in fighting against attacks on their family or their country is all right with them.

Of course, the real Jacksonian in this race is John McCain. He is descended from Scots-Irish fighters who settled in Carroll County, Miss. Former Sen. Trent Lott, who once worked as a fundraiser for the University of Mississippi and therefore knew the folkways of elite types in his state very well, once told me that he had relatives who had known McCain's relatives in Mississippi. "They were fighters," he said, as best I can remember his words. "They would never stop fighting you. Those people would never stop fighting." Obama gives the impression, through his demeanor and through his statements on Iraq, that he would never start fighting. That appeals enormously to voters in the academia and public-employee enclaves of America, who want to deny honor to our warriors and arrogate it to themselves (think of those bumper stickers that call for spending Pentagon dollars on teachers). Clinton and, more convincingly, McCain give the impression that they will never stop fighting until they have achieved victory (Clinton in Denver, McCain in Iraq). I don't know which side of this argument you like, but as someone who is an academic by experience (degrees from Harvard and Yale) and a Jacksonian by inheritance (my paternal grandmother, whose West Virginian great-grandfather voted Republican as late as 1944 because the Confederates had burned his family's barn), I think I have some understanding of both sides.

Clinton's support from Jacksonians gives her, as I have argued, a chance to overtake Obama in the popular vote and an opportunity to argue to the superdelegates that she should be the Democratic nominee. They're a significant bloc of voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Kentucky (although I should note that this week's polls in Pennsylvania show her running behind my projections). The Democratic Party has seldom won a presidential election without their support: Jimmy Carter carried Jacksonian voters in 1976, and so did Bill Clinton in 1992 and, by a lesser margin, in 1996. If Al Gore had carried just West Virginia or Kentucky or Tennessee or Georgia or Arkansas—all states carried by Carter in 1976 and Clinton in 1992, all heavy with Jacksonians—he would have been elected president in 2000, and we wouldn't have spent 37 days arguing how to count the vote in Florida. This Democratic primary contest has become a bitter fight between blacks and Latinos, young and old, upscale and downscale—and academics and Jacksonians.
Read entire article at US News & World Report (Barone blog)

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R.R. Hamilton - 4/10/2008

If I recall correctly, Reagan joined the National Guard even before World War II and served in the Cavalry. His physical shortcomings were both bad eyesight and deafness in one ear (the result of a prank with a pistol on a movie set). Besides, by the time of Pearl Harbor, he was married and nearly 31 -- not like Bill Clinton, who was single and 21 at the time of the Tet Offensive.

William Hurd - 4/6/2008

A false dichotomy, laid to false causes, contrived in service of a ludicrous premise.

At least, that's my opinion as an Appalachian native and resident, who is neither an academic nor a Jacksonian, and who supports Barack Obama.

Vernon Clayson - 4/6/2008

But, Mr. Besch, Reagan was a "soldier", having served in the Army Air Corps during WWII, achieving the rank of captain. A physical condition, I believe it was his eyesight, precluded his serving in a combat unit but he did serve. Every "soldier" in the military serves one purpose or another, all do not fight in the trenches or in aircraft. You might also consider that he was on the front lines in the Cold War, his leadershop brought down the Berlin Wall and precipitated the breakup of the USSR. He was also shot, wounded, by a man with a sick mind and lived through it. Get over your narrow minded judgement, Reagan was a soldier in every sense of the word.

Randll Reese Besch - 4/5/2008

I found it iteresting to say the least. Considering Hillary may be more inclinded to carry on the senseless GWOT as McCain is but with a difference. When choosing between a poseur cum oppertunist and the real thing. It is the genuine article that will be selected overall.
I shall keep this in mind as a watch this slog of a campaign move on to November.
And remember that Reagan sounded Jacksonian but wasn't a soldier. He just played one in movies which can be enough.

Vernon Clayson - 4/5/2008

Mr. Chamberlain, if it didn't hinge on the lesser Clinton's military experience why did the author mention it, he seemed impressed with it. You, on the other hand, seem impressed with her personality while we, the great unwashed and unlearned, have not seen anything to indicate she has one that can be defined. In your opinion is it the one where she snarls at civil servants and swears at her husband in the manner of a nagging fishwife or is it the bright shining star she sees herself to be. The latter is in jest, the ugly know who they are - she knows and also knows she can't conceal it behind that slot machine joker's grin.

R.R. Hamilton - 4/5/2008

I agree, Mr. Chamberlain, that Barone's piece deserves more careful consideration than is found here. If you want to see more sophisticated reflections on his article, I invite you to scroll down to the 100 or so comments under his article at http://www.usnews.com/blogs/barone/2008/4/2/reviewing-the-primary-results-academics-versus-jacksonians.html?msg=1

Oscar Chamberlain - 4/5/2008

To bad none of you want to engage the argument. It's pretty interesting, and it really does not hinge on Clinton's military experience but on her personality as projected through the campaign.

As with all generalizations one can easily find some holes, but it strikes me as a potentially useful way to analyze the divisions in the primary.

Vernon Clayson - 4/5/2008

Sorry, Mr. Stepp, that incident slipped my mind, I should have thought before I dissed her. Such bravery and she even took her child into the jaws of death. Perhaps they will give her a medal posthumously like they did Teddy Roosevelt.

William J. Stepp - 4/4/2008

Do the modern day Jacksonians want to reprise Jackson's attack on the BUS by abolishing the Fed?
Just asking...

William J. Stepp - 4/4/2008

Hey, Hillary got her military expertise dodging bullets in Bosnia in 1996. Just like she got rich in cattle futures.

Vernon Clayson - 4/4/2008

Mr. Barone lost credence with me when he said Hillary Clinton had military expertise merely because she is a member Senate Armed Forces Committee. Members of that committee plan no battles or strategies, they meet to dole out finances to firms that produce the machines of war and to consider which branch will get that equipment, all with an eye to profit their states and firms that operate in them. They use their influence in this regard to maneuver their colleagues into agreement on other matters, even non-military matters. Hillary Clinton got on that committee to boost her chances for the presidency. She is a hateful manipulator, not an expert.

Michael Green - 4/4/2008

It is indeed rare to see an article so extensive on a historical subject miss the point and skim the surface so much.