Anyone Who Wonders How Obama’s Speech Will Cut It With Working-Class Whites Out There Is Just Sandbagging Him

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Yesterday I was in a food line at the Israel Policy Forum event when an older guy heard me and Nation managing editor Roane Carey praising Obama’s speech. He shook his head. "I thought it was a great speech too. But I wonder if it is going to help him or hurt him. I think it could hurt him."

I have heard this line all over the media too, people hedging their bets, wondering how the speech is going to cut with the working-class and middle-class white voters out there.

These doubters make my hinder tired (as oldtimers used to say in Minnesota). Don’t project your doubts onto working class white people! If you don’t like Obama’s speech, say so yourself. If you don’t want to be pulled forward into an America that doesn’t care so much about racial and tribal divisions, fine, don’t be pulled forward. But don’t put it off on other people. I felt like the guy in line was an older Jewish guy who is a little afraid of Obama because of Israel, because of Ocean Hill-Brownsville. O.K., dude, own it.

My epiphany here owes something to Mike Huckabee. I love Huckabee, despite everything people say about the Christian right, and this morning on MSNBC, Huckabee spoke the simple truth when he said that Obama gave a great speech–and so what if Obama has some fiery friends:

As easy as it is for those of us who are white to look [at Rev. Wright calling the U.S. the U.S.-K.K.K.] and say,
"That’s a terrible statement," I grew up in a very segregated South,
and I think that you have to cut some slack. And I’m going to be
probably the only conservative in America who’s going to say something
like this, but I’m just telling you: We’ve got to cut some slack to
people who grew up being called names, being told, "You have to sit in
the balcony when you go to the movie. You have to go to the back door
to go into the restaurant. And you can’t sit out there with everyone
else. There’s a separate waiting room in the doctor’s office. Here’s
where you sit on the bus." And you know what? Sometimes people do have
a chip on their shoulder and resentment. And you have to just say, I
probably would too. I probably would too. In fact, I may have had a
more, more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me.

Eloquent guy, Huckabee. And don’t you see: he has responded to Obama’s leadership by adjusting his own thinking.

Turns out the most important step in getting past deep emotional currents of grievance in political life is to acknowledge the justice of those feelings…. To which I’d add: Let’s us in the U.S. memorialize the Nakba.

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