[FONT=verdana,sans-serif]By PATRICK McILHERAN
June 6, 2008[/FONT]
's victory speech this week, delivered in friendly Minnesota
surroundings, was full of "we" and "us" and unity. As he woos the neighboring swing states, listen for him slipping in a different message: some use of "them" and their comeuppance.
Minnesota is thought of as a battleground. That's why Mr. Obama picked St. Paul to declare himself winner over Senator Clinton
. That and the theatrics of using the very arena Republicans will convene in. But Mr. Obama is double-digits ahead of Senator McCain
in early Minnesota polls, and the Twin Cities are a liberal town. A local paper reported on the anguish of high-end homeowners tempted to rent their homes to Republican conventioneers but fear neighbors' reactions: "They think we are doing something evil because we are renting it to the Republicans," one, Steven Anderson, said.
Tuesday's audience wasn't the kind Mr. Obama had to convince.
He'll have to do a little more convincing in Iowa, where for now he leads easily, in Wisconsin, where he leads less, or in Michigan or Ohio, where it's a toss-up.
Compared to Minnesota, all those states have more of the blue collars that Mr. Obama lost to Mrs. Clinton. In each, about a quarter of adults have college degrees; in Minnesota, a third do, more like New York.
It's true that Mr. Obama beat Mrs. Clinton throughout Iowa and Wisconsin. That was before he got caught talking about bitter middle-American rubes clinging to guns and religion, before his mentor damned America
and before Mr. Obama said "we can't drive our SUVs" because the world objects.
Since then, on Tuesday, 4,000 people in Janesville, Wis., and Dayton, Ohio, learned that because Americans won't drive the SUVs their GM plants build, they'll be out of jobs. That may make some of them bitter, though if they're clinging to guns, it's to keep the rifle from falling out of the tree stand during deer season.
Suggesting such bitterness sets off their inner killers, Mr. Obama has shown a deep misunderstanding of people who often vote Democrat
Among them, his America-stinks narrative might not play well, especially when he's telling 75,000 Oregonians that America's stink emanates from the SUVs that Midwesterners had been making.
Then there's his long embrace of a throwback kind of leftism. In an adoring profile at the outset of his career, the Chicago Reader quoted him scorning "individual actions, individual dreams," faulting America for idolizing John Wayne. "We must unite in collective action, build collective institutions," he said, and his record since has shown no deviation from a desire to aggrandize government.
This resembles what put the adjective on "Reagan Democrats."
How, then, does Mr. Obama woo these voters?
He can't veep Hillary. He'd need to hire a food taster to last a term, and her baggage, who now jets around with billionaire skirt-chasers, would alienate many of Mr. Obama's disciples.
Instead, he must tell blue-collar, swing-state voters they're victims, in a subtle way. Yes, they can? Well, no, but government can, for them. He must imply blame, without naming anyone save Mr. McCain and President Bush lest he tarnish his sunny image.
On Tuesday, he tried this. In St. Paul, he soared, implying that everything will improve. His implications bore little link to reality. He said he'd "rally the world" against nuclear weapons as if ex-weasels France and Germany already weren't aboard regarding Iran sanctions. He spoke of conservation as if there weren't an ongoing boom in hybrids.
But nuance was unwelcome. The St. Paul crowd of 32,000 wasn't there for details. "We were just in line to be in line. This is a historic moment," said one woman who didn't make it into the arena. The St. Paul speech was about letting supporters self-identify as part of history, part of "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," as he put it. It was about feelings.
On Tuesday elsewhere, Mr. Obama addressed different feelings. For the GM shutdown in Janesville, he blamed Mr. Bush for not earlier mandating fuel efficiency. This would have doomed SUVs and the plant years ago, but so what? The point was to blame someone. He worked in Mr. McCain and imports, too, and fighting for manufacturing.
Left vague was who he'd fight or from whom he'd peel $150 billion to "invest" in "green" jobs. He simply managed to convey that things stink, he sympathizes, and someone is going to pay.
By skipping details, he avoids the reality that, judging from his past 20 years, he seems to think what stinks are the kind of people to whom he's offering sympathy. Some supporters aren't so inhibited.
One St. Paul rally-goer, white, professional, 34, and from an upscale Minneapolis suburb, told a reporter how a black president would make America better for her biracial daughter: "When she's out in, God knows where, some small town in rural America, they'll think, 'Oh, I know someone like you. Our president is like you. ... That just opens minds."
Yes, he's a gift from progressives to hicks. Now on guard, Mr. Obama will try not to hint at this in the hinterland, and he'll deny any knowledge of long-time class-warrior Chicago friends.
Listen for the tension though. To win the Clinton base in Midwestern swing states, Mr. Obama has to add a dour message to his hitherto sunny one. This is Mr. McCain's opportunity to show by contrast what real optimism looks like.