The second in a hasty series about how people will vote their pocketbooks unless you convince them that being killed by terrorists is a more compelling fear. Part one, about taxes, is here.
After watching last night's Obama infomercial, I got a tweet from one of my favorite writers, the estimable literature journalist Edward Champion, which read: "I watched 10 minutes of the Obama infomercial. I now know what pisses me off about this election: the working poor are nowhere to be seen."
There's some truth to this, and I would add "Guantanamo" and "torture." But I think, while perceptive, it's just a bit off for reasons I didn't realize until last night. In short, one of the brilliant moves of the Obama campaign is to convince a not-trivial portion of the scare-quotes-middle-class that they are part of, or would become part of with some bad luck, the working poor, due to the imminent threat of layoffs or health-related disaster. [To add: i.e. that's where the working poor shows up; whether or not that's accurate or not unpleasantly manipulative is a different question]
That's the underlying message of last night's program. The vignettes of the struggling middle class were pretty moving--Sally Struthers-esque economic infotragedies, only about good hardworking Americans much like you and me. Basically, they were about people with decent American jobs or pensions from same who were forced into economic straits by layoffs or medical emergencies, trying to demonstrate that Americans are walking on thinner ice than they think. Given the economy and the demographics of the voting public, it's a brilliant move. (Although I am waiting for the campaigns to move from Heartland America industries like auto manufacturing and focus on the plight of journalists. Our industry sucks, too.)
FYI, if you hate Halloween parties as much as I do, a wholly unrelated option would be to see Obama himself tomorrow in nearby Highland, Indiana.
Update: Edward Champion goes into much more detail about his point here. I should add that I'm not really defending Obama's pitch that the current state of the middle class represents the truly great economic tragedy of America (although if you think it's the engine that drives the American economy and a rising tide lifts all boats etc, you might have a counter-argument). I do think it's really effective political strategy, for better or worse, quite possibly the latter, but Champion's post goes a long way to explaining why I was so interested in John Edwards's campaign during the primaries.
Update II: Also via Edward Champion's Twitter feed, there's a great article in the Washington Post arguing that while Obama has a lot of support among the working poor, there's still a lot of skepticism among that segment of the population as to whether his campaign would benefit them. The Post's series on low-income workers is worth browsing.