In a recent New Republic article Judis asks why Obama can’t connect with the working class. He writes:
Here is a fact: Barack Obama has trouble generating enthusiasm among white working class voters. That’s not because they are white. He would have had trouble winning support among black working class voters if they had been unable to identify with him because he was black. He has trouble with working class voters because he appears to them as coming from a different world, a different realm of experience, a different class, if you like. And that’s because he does.
This is one the best things I have read on Obama’s class problem. Judis gets it. I would argue with Judis that white working class voters are defined less by how much they make and more by the culture they share. Obama is clearly a member of the professional class. He may have worked as a community organizer but, as Judis notes, so do a lot of Ivy League graduates for a few years after they leave college. Without these kinds of budding professionals we would not have organizations like Teach for America. Working class people seldom work as community organizers.
A school teacher who makes 25,000 a year and comes home at night and listens to NPR or goes to the opera is a member of the professional class. A non-college educated general contractor who makes $150,000 a year and comes home and watches WWF Raw or listens to Toby Keith in his Ford F-250 is a member of the white working class. This does not mean that teachers do not watch Raw or listen to Toby Keith or that general contractors do not listen to NPR or go to the opera, but I think you get my point.
Judis sums it up well:
Race and income are important, of course, but so is function, which separates people who perform routine or menial or manual tasks from people who produce ideas and complex services. College professors do not always make more money than electricians; but they live in a different world. In census terms, it is the world of professionals compared to that of operatives, laborers, clerical workers, and technicians.