Why an Obama victory isn’t a win for America’s poor

Not everyone wins with Obama
Not everyone wins with Obama
Image: AP Photo / Jerome Delay
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Since almost the very beginning, the strategy in America has always been to divide the political allegiance of the poor and the working class between two parties. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s just what happens when a country chooses its leader for centuries in a ritual that forces a pair of candidates to maraud around for votes wherever they can get them.

In 2008, it was possible to believe that something new had happened: that a charismatic figure had rallied poor and working class and middle-class people—and rich people!—for “hope” and “change” for all.

Today, however, Obama’s easy victory—in the absence of any illusions that he is any different from all the rest—has merely been the proof that the switch has flipped again for the poor. Poor rural whites are back voting on the losing side again—probably for a very long time.

What changed? It has absolutely nothing to do with Obama. It’s Latin American immigrants doing for the south and southwest what European immigrants for so long did for the north. It’s a whole lot of yuppies moving southward and inward. And it’s a lot of young suburban southern whites growing up to reject a conservative culture that looks old and so uncool.

Why does it matter? For business interests and rich people, it means you won’t have to pander to a rural, conservative culture you find unfashionable. For poor people, it means nothing at all. Nothing is going to change. For rural whites, it means that the current trend of conspiracy theorizing is only going to get worse, and worse and worse.

For anyone wanting to build a real people’s movement in the US, it means that your potential audience has suddenly shifted white and rural. But is anyone going to go there? Probably not.

So what does this election signify? Just that America got a tiny bit safer for corporate profiteering than it already was. Congratulations.