Democrats, Language and the Modern Workforce

By Alan Stewart Carl | Related entries in Barack, Democrats, Jobs

Here’s a snip from Barack Obama’s acceptance speech Thursday night:

That’s why I stand here tonight. Because for 232 years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women — students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors — found the courage to keep it alive.

Have you ever noticed that when Democrats list out “ordinary” Americans it always sounds like the list above? I must have heard variations of that grouping from every speaker at the Democratic convention. I understand that the Democrats brand themselves as the working man-and-woman’s party. But, really, have not doctors and lawyers contributed to this country? Do not writers and accountants and computer programmers also have hardships? Are there no chefs or copyeditors or pharmaceutical reps or graphic artists who may need a helping hand?

Language matters. And I think the Democrats’ language reveals that the party has not fully moved into the 21st Century. That’s not to say Republicans have (that’s a whole other issue), just that our modern workforce is far more diverse and our problems far less universal than Democrats pretend. By routinely speaking about specific groups, the Democrats risk shutting the party off to the many, many Americans who may not have the problems of farmers and teachers and factory workers, but who certainly have problems.

Do the Democrats know that? Do they have a plan for the rest of us too?

I liked that Obama spent a portion of his speech speaking about complicated issues where common ground is possible. Now, I want him to open up his rhetoric to include all working Americans and not just the party’s core constituencies. Some may say such rhetorical decisions really don’t matter. But I think they do.

I guarantee there were plenty of doctors and lawyers and MBAs in the audience in Denver. Why were they not in Obama’s speech too?


This entry was posted on Saturday, August 30th, 2008 and is filed under Barack, Democrats, Jobs. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “Democrats, Language and the Modern Workforce”

  1. Avinash_Tyagi Says:

    They’d call him an arugala eating elitist or something if he mentioned the professions you are talking about, its about framing your words in the way that creates the biggest effect

  2. David Ortez Says:

    It it very simple Carl . . . read the statement in the context . . . ready? Let’s break it down:

    “Because for 232 years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women — students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors — found the courage to keep it alive.”

    When Obama refers to students, farmers, teachers et cetera, he is referring to how those people “found the courage to keep it (it being the promise) alive.” Now if you refer to history you will find historical events where those individuals “found the courage” to fight back. If you reflect upon it bit more you will realize what he was referring to in particular (Civil Rights Movement etc.)

    That is not to state that your original contention should be dismissed but under these circumstances they are irrelevant and that is why doctors and people with MBA’s per se were not included in the speech.

  3. Brian Says:

    “students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors”

    Demographic groups that are likely to both (1) appreciate the recognition and (2) be susceptible to populist rhetoric. Also, groups that tend towards formal organization (labor unions, trade organizations, etc); because of this, it’s a lot of bang for the buck when you mention them.

    “But, really, have not doctors and lawyers contributed to this country? Do not writers and accountants and computer programmers also have hardships? Are there no chefs or copyeditors or pharmaceutical reps or graphic artists who may need a helping hand?”

    Demographic groups that are generally self-satisfied and don’t need populist praise… and would see right through it anyway. Mentioning these groups doesn’t get you any street cred with the major swing vote demographics.

    Does that make me a classist?

  4. J. Harden Says:

    its about framing your words in the way that creates the biggest effect

    Avinash is correct — it is called “Class Warfare”

  5. Avinash_Tyagi Says:

    Class warfare arises when you have such a large income disparity, when even the middle class starts to fall behind, while the rich line their pockets, the Reps have only themselves to blame with their foolish adherence to voodoo economics.

  6. gerryf Says:

    Many would argue that the GOP declared warfare on the middle class years ago, and the middle class is finally waking up….kind of irrelevent to ASC’s original post, but then Harden prompted that.

    As for the original post, we shouldn’t constrain the entire message just because we are filtering the speech through our own perception.

    ASC, you seem to be separating out lawyers, doctors and MBAs from the people in careers explicitly mentioned–why? Are those people not “professions” in your mind, so they are somehow inferior? A nurse or teacher is educated…maybe not as wealthy as the ones you picked out, but a profession nonetheless.

    Because Obama said we ought to respect our gay brothers and sisters, does that mean every listener doesn’t? No, of course not.

    I understand your point–the placement at the beginning was certainly relevent, but you need to put it in context–what did Obama discuss directly after? He launched right into George Bush’s record….who was most adversely impacted by the last 8 years?

    Not the doctors, lawyers and MBAs….

    No speech is perfect, but Obama’s was one of the better ones in recent years…not Martin Luther King great, not JFK first inaugural great, not Ronald Reagan Inugural great–not even Jimmy Carter “Crisis of Confidence” great, but compared to the drivel we’ve been getting from W. and Bill Clinton before him, it was good stuff.

    Too bad the Palin announcement muted its emphasis–but then, that was the point, wasn’t it?

  7. Alan Stewart Carl Says:

    gerryf: agreed that it was a good speech. I’m sure you saw my other post on the speech as a whole.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that the groups Obama mentioned are inferior to other groups in any way. I just meant that the language was strangely exclusive of many, many Americans. I don’t expect him to ramble off job titles like he’s reading from the classifieds, but I didn’t like the implication that only certain types of “traditional” jobs are the ones that count within the Democratic mindset and collection of domestic solutions.

  8. avamcitizen Says:

    Obama simply chose his words in such a way as to make a point. He was talking about hope and the American dream and keeping it alive.
    He used working class professions that people readily recognize and identify with. The point he was trying to make is that this used to be a country where there was opportunity and a belief that hard work would lead to success. Now…the cost of living is rising faster than the family income. The cost of healthcare continues to rise dramatically, and many hard working Americans continue to be uninsured. The cost of higher education is going through the roof, and many average Americans may be unable to afford to send their kids to school when the time comes. And who knows if good jobs will even continue to be available in this country for college graduates..if the trend continues they will be shipped over seas where college graduates are willing to work for minimum wage. Social security may become a thing of the past if Congress doesn’t act responsibly. And on and on and on. Just ask any hard working family if they have more or less discretionary income today than a few years ago.

    It appears that the wealthy are getting weatlhier and the poor are getting poorer. The progress of this country was once measured by the heatlh and well being of the middle class..as rightly it should be..the health and well being of any country ought to be measured by the standard of living of its average citizen. Not a year should go by that there are not more middle class Americans, and as a general rule..the plight of middle class Americans should improve over time. Unfortunately, that is not what is happening in our country today.

    Obama’s words were rhetorical..they were intended to convey a timely and appropriate message. He was not intending to overlook the contributions of working class professionals. The question is..can you still come from humble beginnings and make a decent life for yourself in this country? And that is a question..that needs to be answered in the affirmative. Hopefully, Amercian’s will be thinking about these things when they vote this November.

  9. Donklephant » Blog Archive » The Generic Democratic Party Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech Says:

    [...] recently posted about the similarity of working group demographics often selected for inclusion in Democratic Party [...]

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