No Bucking the Buckeye State

Hillary Clinton may well win the March 4th Ohio Democratic primary. Ironically, that's because we are a deeply conservative state.

I don't mean we're predominantly Republican. Even here in Southwest Ohio that's hardly true anymore - look at the demographic and political shifts in Hamilton County. And certainly northern Ohio is deep-dyed Democratic. No, I'm talking about an Ohio mindset that permeates all parts of the state and runs counter to the message of Barack Obama: Change.

This is a hard truth to swallow. We've always winced over the old jibe attributed to Mark Twain that, "When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it's always ten years behind the times."

But Ohioans by and large resist change - often for good reason. Here in the area we know best, many folks more than a century ago opposed having railroads replace canals, fearing that our charming town would become Chicago. Especially in our west side German Catholic neighborhoods, Cincinnati prides itself on firmly established roots and traditions. We are an intensely loyal community. Just ask Pete Rose.

More northerly parts of the state belong to what's now derisively called the rust belt. Before they began moving overseas, lots of Ohio's industrial jobs shifted elsewhere in America, where there were fewer unions and cheap labor.

The state that was once a promised land for pioneers long ago stopped attracting a big influx of population. We are an aging community. And for all the attempts by Columbus to foster hi-tech research, we are not Silicon Valley.

Even much of Ohio's African American community holds fast to traditional leadership. It is often a church-based leadership, closely tied to historic civil rights groups like the NAACP.

Barack Obama is himself a historic figure, not because he is an African American running for President - Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Alan Keyes and Al Sharpton all beat him to that distinction - but because Obama is the first candidate who just happens to be black. True, were he a white contender with so slender a resume he probably would not have gotten out of the gate. And yes, Obama has ties to the black community that will be attacked by Republicans (and perhaps by the Clinton campaign) - for instance, membership in a controversial Chicago church.

But what makes Obama unique is his promise, however vague, to transcend identity politics. Indeed, he promises to transcend partisan politics and reach across the aisle.

George W. Bush made a similar promise and could point to a real record of having worked closely with Democrats, Hispanics and African Americans when he was governor of Texas. Bush tried the same approach in Washington, where he reached out to Ted Kennedy on a number of initiatives, most notably the No Child Left Behind Act that was signed in Hamilton over the objections of home rule conservatives.  And Bush certainly did not clamp down on pork-barrel spending, so dear to political hacks in both parties.  But Washington is not Austin, and Bush was quickly demonized by the mainstream media as a right-wing fanatic, especially after the Iraq War began to go south.

Obama, if he were elected, might not even need to reach across the aisle, since it looks like Democrats will keep control of both the House and the Senate. If anything, this might invite the kind of Democratic arrogance that led Republicans under Bill Clinton to retake the House for the first time in forty years -- thanks in large part to Hillary Clinton's disastrous attempt to nationalize health care.

Still, to the extent that Obama's campaign refuses to reassure the old Roosevelt coalition, it worries a lot of Ohio Democrats. Hillary Clinton is not promising change. Quite the contrary, she is promising to protect union jobs (although she has to explain why she supported NAFTA until the beginning of this campaign). She vows to preserve social welfare programs for retirees, particularly older white women who are her most loyal supporters (although she should be asked why the Clinton administration increased taxes for social security recipients). She is losing some old time civil rights leaders - along with 80-90% of black voters - both because Obama is gaining credibility and because the Clintons appear to be playing the race card to attract Hispanics. But many African American leaders in Ohio still back Senator Clinton (and she will no longer be asked why Bill Clinton finally signed the Republicans' welfare reform bill, because it has so clearly helped break a vicious cycle of dependency).

All of which is to say that, despite momentum and a push from the mainstream media, the Buckeye State may be a tough nut to crack for Barack Obama.

Jack would like to know your thoughts about the 2008 Election. You can email him at