Uncle Charlie stories

Three stories confirm that Obama should play price-tag politics with Iraq as much as possible.


Thomas Schaller
August 11, 2008 9:34PM (UTC)

Let me preface what I am about to do by saying that I am always skeptical whenever some pundit makes a point about the election by dropping what I call the "My Uncle Charlie" anecdote. You know what I'm talking about: A generic point is brought into high relief by invoking somebody's gruff but lovable moderate Republican uncle or their conservative Democratic former boss or some other such person who, to them, epitomizes the Ultimate Swing Voter. With that out of the way, let me do exactly what I just decried and relay the story of three longtime white male friends my age with whom I chatted about politics during the past week.

Let's call these three 40-ish white guys Dan, Tim and Jamie. One is married with three kids, one is straight but never married, and the third is divorced and childless. All three have college degrees, but not the sort of advanced degrees that tend to tip people from the Republican to Democratic column. All three work in the financial sector (pharma salesman, investment advisor, accountant) and are thus generally conservative on fiscal issues, yet liberal on social issues, and overall lean Republican in tossup situations. And all three surprised me a bit by saying they are seriously thinking about voting for Barack Obama, though none is head-over-heels crazy about the guy.

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The consistent complaint I heard from the three was frustration with the war, and more specifically the costs of the war, in troops and budget outlays. I mean no disrespect to them by reporting that none seemed worked up about ethnic violence in Iraq, or the refugee and orphans situation there, or the abuses of Abu Ghraib, or the potential emboldening of Iran. This is not the core of their opposition to George Bush and the war: They are mad because the war has been a costly failure and that monies wasted there could have been invested and spent here.

All of which confirms to me that Obama has to fiscalize the war whenever and wherever possible. A lot of Americans supported the war initially, and they do not want to be reminded of that initial support. The best way to avoid making them feel buyer's remorse for their original position and consider pulling the lever for Obama is to put the war into financial terms because it appeals to (white) voters from a range of economic circumstances. Nobody likes to waste money, after all.

OK, your turn: In an attempt to turn a series of otherwise isolated conversations into a more data-rich thread and a composite portrait of what the Uncle Charlies across America are talking about, I invite War Room readers to submit their own anecdotes from conversations with the swing voters they know.

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Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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