WASHINGTON — Nash McCabe is the voter from Wednesday night's presidential debate who noted that Barack Obama doesn't usually wear a flag pin and asked, "I want to know if you believe in the American flag."
ABC, which hosted the debate, had tracked her down after she was quoted in a New York Times story about white voters in small-town Latrobe, Pa., revealing her as 52, out of work and against Obama.
But to understand why Obama rubs McCabe wrong is to go beyond the question of what a flag pin has to do with patriotism — it's not really about the flag pin, she said in a telephone interview Thursday — and consider McCabe's life. It's no Hawaiian prep school and Ivy League story, unlike Obama's. It's a slice of working-class Pennsylvania, the core of Hillary Clinton's support there.
McCabe met her husband, Lloyd, in April 1983 at a dance. They married two months later. Six months after that, she says, he was injured in a coal mine accident. He hasn't worked since.
They never had children. He had back surgery. The muscle relaxers he took damaged his heart. He's had three bypasses, nine angioplasties, seven stents and a pacemaker. Three months ago doctors found a brain tumor. His choice: surgery that he may or may not survive, or life in a wheelchair.
Over 25 years of marriage, McCabe was the breadwinner. She said it took eight years to get her husband disability payments, during which time they racked up huge bills.
"I was a nurse's aide, a cashier," McCabe said. "From 1996 to 2000, I was a manager of a cleaning company. I started out as secretary and worked my way up to manager, and then the company decided to close. It took me almost two-and-a-half years to find a job that I got laid off from recently" as a clerk-typist. She has a high school diploma.
Sometimes the McCabes borrow money from her parents, who are in their 70s. She has a request in to the local food bank to see if she and her husband qualify.
"People who have sick spouses or children understand how hard it is," she said.
McCabe sympathizes with working-class people who got in over their heads during the housing boom. She opposes the Iraq war and thinks President Bush has hurt the country. She doesn't support Republican John McCain because he's too close to Bush.
On paper, her stances make her as likely to support Obama as Clinton.
But she sees a difference between the two. In Clinton, she sees someone who has struggled for years, just like her, and has earned the right to be president. In Obama, she sees someone who rose like a rocket, always has a smooth explanation for everything — whether it's about his former preacher or the flag pin — and who makes it all look too easy.
"That's what upsets me about Barack Obama," she says. "He takes everything so nonchalantly."
She admits that she's more likely to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt while looking for fault in Obama. For example, McCabe says that she once saw Obama on television and noticed that "he turned his back on the flag" before the Pledge of Allegiance ended. That irritated her to no end.
Lloyd McCabe's brain surgery is set for next week, two days after the Pennsylvania primary. Still, says his wife, "We're going to try to vote. I do not want to miss my vote."
McClatchy Newspapers 2008