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February 28, 2008

Obama's nemesis: Brendan Simms explains how The Deer Hunter and Hannah and Her Sisters hold the key to the US elections

Posted by Brendan Simms

The films The Deer Hunter and Hannah and Her Sisters hold the key to the US elections. Brendan Simms - Reader in the History of International Relations at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge and co-President of the Henry Jackson Society - explains why.

When Obama goes down to the woods in Pennsylvania to canvass he will be in for an unpleasant surprise. His nemesis are male, between thirty and seventy. They tend to be Catholic, though not always pious. They are "ethnic" - Irish, Croat, Italian, Polish, Russian - but not black. Most of them do not have more than secondary education. They are not well off, but mostly not on welfare; on the whole they are protectionists and trade unionists. They like to hunt, and they like their guns.

They are natural Democrats: most of them will vote Hillary in the primaries, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. But if Obama is the candidate, they will vote McCain come November. This is because above everything else, they believe in American national greatness, and in a strong defence. They either served in the military themselves, or their fathers did, or they feel they should have. They are the Deer Hunter classes, immortalised in Michael Cimino's 1978 film The Deer Hunter. They are not embarrassed about switching parties if the security or honour of their country are at stake.

In 1972, solidly Democratic hitherto the Deer Hunters abandoned the left-wing dove George McGovern for Richard Nixon en masse; they swung back to the Democrats under Carter in 1976, because Ford seemed insufficiently robust towards the Soviet Union; they voted Reagan in 1980 and 1984, even though he was economic poison to them; they came back to the Democrat fold after the end of the Cold War in 1989/1992, helping to deliver victory for Clinton.

Most of them stayed with Gore in the 2000 election, in which the Democrats actually won the popular vote; many shifted to Bush as the stronger man in the "War on Terror" in 2004, and more still will migrate to McCain. They will take exceptionally unkindly to Michelle Obama's suggestion that she only became really proud of her country when it began to think seriously about sending her husband to the White House; the Deer Hunter is always proud of his country, even though it has given him a raw deal. The Deer Hunter classes may be a dwindling demographic, but in certain key swing states, such as Ohio and especially Pennsylvania, they will decide the election.

A poll on the eve of the Wisconsin primary, which has a smaller Deer Hunter class, should have given Obama deep cause for concern. He won the primary handsomely, but just over one-quarter of Democrats polled said that they regarded Iraq as the main issue. Of those, 63 percent thought Obama the more persuasive while 33% went with Hillary. (Hillary did better on the economy).

Of course, we do not know exactly why people responded in this way: many of the minority might well be principled opponents of the Iraq war, who had forgiven her support of it, and though Mrs Clinton best qualified to extract them from the "quagmire". It stands to reason, however, that a substantial proportion of them and remember we are talking about c. 8% of loyal Democrats who think that Obama has got it wrong on Iraq - believe that removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do. If only half of them move to McCain in a large swing state, that could sink Obama.

The other threat to Obama is Hannah and Her Sisters. These Woody Allen voters are fervent supporters of Hillary Clinton's feminist challenge for the presidency. Hannah her sisters are to be found across the Union, but they are particularly numerous in Democratic strongholds such as New York and Connecticut.

Though socially liberal, they have diverse views on the economy and national security. Most oppose the Iraq war, but by no means all; and some are strong supporters of Israel. This group are worried by Newsweek headlines such as:

Good for the Jews? Hillary Clinton's surrogates are questioning Obama's commitment to US-Israeli relations.
Hannah and her sisters resent Obama as a brash freshman Senator, who has leapfrogged over a more experienced woman. They have seen it in their lives many times before. Every American woman who has been wronged by a man - and as wags say that means every American woman - will thus empathise with Hillary. Most of this group will go with Obama, especially the dovish majority among them. A not insubstantial number may well be too disillusioned to vote at all. A certain number, however, will plump for McCain, because Israel matters to them; or because they are among the 8% of Democrats who supported Hillary because she was right about Iraq; because they find him more credible on national security more generally; or because Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic Vice Presidential candidate in 2000 urges them to. They have nowhere else to go. If they see their favoured and well-qualified female character being overtaken by a male stripling they might as well opt for the male with more experience.

The author thanks Leigh Rawlins for research carried out in support of this article.

Dr Brendan Simms is Reader in the History of International Relations at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge and co-President of the Henry Jackson Society.


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i am beginning to believe that dr simms may be the most valuable thinker in britain today, for he seems so thoroughly and consistently wrong (which in its way is as useful a lodestar as being always right).

the vast proportion of america thinks that they were suckered into a losing war, only around 30 percent support it still, and dear dr simms is fixated on the tiny percentage of pro-war democrats. he has fallen for the neo-con schmaltz-mitt-schlag romanticising a lost blue collar america. the candidate most strongly supported by uniformed servicemen and women has been ron paul, the candidate most avowedly antiwar and anti big government.

Posted by: S MASTY at March 1, 2008 05:47 PM
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