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White blue-collar voters 

And my cousin Paul

There's been so much talk lately about white, blue-collar voters, I decided to get the lowdown from my second cousin Paul. You've heard the media pundits' contradictory remarks about the role of the white working class in the Presidential election: blue-collar whites won't support Obama; wait a minute, maybe they will; they're racists; no, they're not; wait, never mind, they're mostly Republicans anyhow. Baffled by the B.S., I turned off the TV talking heads and visited Paul (he asked that we not use his real name) to get the inside scoop.

Paul and I come from an extended family of old-line Roosevelt Democrats, but we're both independent thinkers, so I wanted his thoughts on race and politics in this extraordinary election year. We hadn't spoken face-to-face in a couple of years, but were glad to see each other.

My cousin left our hometown in his early 20s for another South Carolina burg, and by the age of 25, had opened an auto repair business. It's been very successful and has allowed him to live pretty well and put two kids through college. At the end of a warm day, he sat next to a window AC unit in his small office, looking through a clean window to the garage work area, sweat dripping off his neck and into his shirt, looking like a poster boy for the white, working-class voters the media thinks it knows. We talked about politics for over an hour before getting down to the stuff that really matters, like prospects for this year's S.C. peach crop and what our kids are doing now. I've edited our rambling talk for space and clarity.

I asked Paul if he had voted in the primary.

"Yeah, I voted for John Edwards. I liked him, but he lost, so that was that."

"Are you going to vote for Obama in November?"

Paul paused, looked up, shrugged a shoulder, and said, "Yeah. I can't say I'm crazy about him, but I'll vote for him. McCain's sure not showing me much, just the same old same old. Plus, he's too damn old to be President ... You sure you want to talk about this? You know, race and all that?"

"Only if you're comfortable talking about it," I answered, "but that is why I told you I was driving down here."

"Fine with me," he said. "Look, you remember how it was growing up. We never heard much of anything good about blacks. Then all of that changed. It took years, but it changed ... but you know as well as I do that a lot of folks didn't learn all that much from those days [of racial change]. I've had customers come in here, and they talk shit about Obama all the time, most of them because he's black. I don't agree with them, but I just keep my mouth shut; I don't talk politics with customers. Bad for business. And then, [pointing to a Toyota in the service area], we get white people with Obama stickers on their car. It makes you wonder who whites are gonna support in November."

"That's what I was hoping you could tell me," I replied.

"What the hell do I know?" laughed Paul. "... I doubt that Obama knows much about 'the white working class,' as you call it. But that doesn't mean he can't get people around him who do -- come to think of it, that's probably what he'll have to do to get elected ... Here's what strikes me, though -- when have we ever really had anybody in there that does much for working people, black, white or purple? Clinton was OK, but he let jobs start leaving the country. Bush sure as hell doesn't care about me, or anybody like me, and McCain tries to come on like Mr. All-American regular guy, but you can tell it's just a show. I'm just not crazy about any of them, really.

"I'm a registered Democrat," said Paul, "but I've voted a couple of times for Republicans -- Reagan's second term, and Bush's first term. I voted for Kerry last time, though. Bush turned out to be such a fool, I wasn't about to vote for him to get back in. But he did, and look where we are. Gas at four a gallon, roads and bridges going to hell, jobs going overseas, buncha people out of work, bin Laden still around."

"Do your friends and customers support the war in Iraq?" I asked.

"Well, maybe they used to, but you don't hear many of them carrying on about it now." Paul shook his head. "[The Iraq war] is the biggest screw-up I've ever heard of. They took their eye off the ball and let bin Laden get away, and now look at the mess we're in. The economy's going to shit, all these boys getting killed or coming home crippled. It's a sorry shame is what it is."

Paul paused, took a deep breath, and continued, "I've had about all I can stand of the Republicans running the country. What kind of choice have we really got? It's either more of Bush, or the new guy. I'll take the new guy, black, white or purple."

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