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Obama and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

March 5, 2008

Required reading: Hierarchy of Needs.

Obama’s appeal to the college educated among us is well taken. It’s well reflected in the primary results so far, as it isn’t the youth vote that helps Obama take college towns like Madison, Austin, and Berkley, it’s the higher income and higher educated White males that swing his way.

It isn’t the case that his down with dopes up with your hopes message resonates with this cohort because he speaks to them on some wavelength that only Ivy League graduates can hear. His inspirational, forward looking speeches appeal to the man who already has everything. These guys aren’t sweating the mortgage crunch, their jobs gots MAD health insurance. Their Priuses don’t use that much gas anyway. All their women are strong and their children are above average.

So when Sen. Clinton goes on a policy wonk rampage, speaking in generalities about what issues she will address (from DAY ONE), this lot isn’t all that interested. It’s great that someone is concerned about whether our housekeeper’s kids teachers will get better paid, but we want to be dazzled. Their deficiency needs (except for maybe the sex part) are well met. They want a candidate who will address their growth needs.

Of course, the rest of us, perhaps even us college educated types who are still working on that deficiency part, are interested in these issues and are signaling their concerns with their votes. It matters not that Clinton will probably get crushed by McCain in the general election in a political cycle where it isn’t all that great to be a Republican. Even in Ohio, where exit polling showed that a majority think Obama is more likely to beat McCain than is Clinton, Clinton won the support of 6 out of every 10 White men who voted in the Ohio primary, a state with a massive non-college educated labor force.

What this shows is a weakness in Obama’s general election game (Clinton still cannot win the primary without ripping the party apart and making history in a bad way). It’s a false perception that Obama is weak on substance or doesn’t talk about substance or is somehow just a Harvard lawyer’s skin filled with a sack of helium gas. However, the perception is there and is constantly repeated, either by soundbites from Clinton’s and McCain’s joint attacks or pundits’ armchair quarterbacking of the primary contest.

Now is a good time for Obama to start chipping away at this perception of himself. If he does this well enough, he has a good chance of taking Pennsylvania and ending the primary right there. More importantly, it will help him sustain the inroads he’s made with independents and Republicans and may well keep them from running back to the comfort of McCain’s straight talk express.

*props to my Political Psychoanalysis professor from days of yore, Alan Stern.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2008 9:21 pm

    See Maslow’s “Theory Z” and notice the Clinton-Obama split in terms of non-transcending SA (Y) and transcending SA (Z).
    I wish Ouchi would have been better read here.


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