April 25, 2008

This is an interesting column from the thoughtful Michael Lind with a solid understanding of what is happening as the Democrats manage to alienate that important group of "voters" out there and demonstrate their political tone-deafness/shoot themselves in the foot/shit the bed/screw the pooch/figure out a way to lose the 2008 EZ-lane-to-Victory election:

"The events of the past few days are additional evidence of a profound rift in the Democratic Party, one revealed in the differing constituencies of the two remaining candidates. One story, told by Obama backers and the mainstream media, holds that there is a white racist problem: The Democratic Party is deeply divided between anti-racists (that is, supporters of Barack Obama) and racists (Democratic primary voters who preferred Hillary Clinton or any candidate other than Barack Obama, particularly the working-class white men who are often described, in zoological terms, as "white males"). The other story, which has yet to be told, holds that the difference between the constituencies of Obama and Clinton has little to do with race and reflects instead long-familiar regional and cultural splits among whites in the Democratic electorate. The prospects of the Democratic Party in the fall depend in part on whether these rifts can be healed.

In the act of rushing to Obama's defense, some prominent liberal bloggers reinforced the stereotype of elite liberal snobbery. On Friday, regular DailyKos diarist RKA argued, "This quote and the resulting feeding frenzy are a huge opportunity for Obama to get the attention of low-information small-town voters who are skeptical of him and convince some of them to vote their pocketbooks instead of their culture." On TPM Cafe, Todd Gitlin wrote that "Obama spoke artlessly, forgetting that the first law of American politics is: Flatter the rubes."

Now there's a campaign slogan. Hey, rubes -- I mean low-information voters -- Vote Your Pocketbook, Not Your Culture!

Should anyone doubt that dissing rather than flattering the "rubes" is an aberration, examples of liberal snobbery are not hard to find in progressive publications. Sometimes it's genteel, sometimes it's raw. In an essay titled "The Urban Archipelago" a few years ago, the editors of Seattle's alt-weekly the Stranger wrote: "It's time to state something that we've felt for a long time but have been too polite to say out loud: Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion -- New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and on and on ... And we are the real Americans. They -- rural, red-state voters, the denizens of the exurbs -- are not real Americans. They are rubes, fools, and hate-mongers ... We can secede emotionally ... by turning our backs on the heartland ... We're everywhere any sane person wants to be. Let them have the shitholes, the Oklahomas, Wyomings, and Alabamas. We'll take Manhattan."

A similarly grotesque and repellent caricature of America is found in the 80-something billionaire John Sperling's self-published book "The Great Divide," in which he argues that "Metro America" should turn its back on "Retro America." As Sperling's coauthor Samuel George explained, "Think of it this way. They have Wal-Mart, we have Neiman Marcus." And a few years back, many liberal bloggers were delighted with a chart, soon exposed as a hoax, that purported to show that IQs were higher in blue states than in red states.

Now consider the disturbing way that mainstream progressive thinkers and strategists discuss working-class white voters in terms of demeaning stereotypes. Working-class Catholic voters in the industrial states used to be "hardhats." Now they are "Archie Bunker voters," or "Joe Lunchbucket," or "the beer track voters." Even worse are the terms used for the Southern white working class. It's composed of "rednecks" or "Bubbas" or -- more recently -- "NASCAR man" or even "white trash."

The key factor in regional support for Obama among whites is not the number of blacks in a state but the number of Yankee pioneers in the 19th century. As Josh Patashnik in the New Republic (quoting a 2004 essay of mine in the American Prospect) has pointed out, Obama finds his greatest white support in what the historian David Hackett Fischer calls "Greater New England" -- the vast region from New England and the Great Lakes to the upper Plains and Pacific Northwest settled by New England Yankees in the 19th century along with culturally similar Germans and Scandinavians. Another historian, Daniel J. Elazar, identifies this Northern band as the home of the "moralistic" political culture, distinct from the "individualist" political culture of the mid-Atlantic and the "traditionalist" political culture of the South. The political culture of this region, influenced by New England Puritanism and Nordic social democracy, has long been antiwar and pro-education, hostile to big business and in favor of civil rights. The moralists of Greater New England have a deep aversion to political conflict and favor consensus, bipartisanship and harmony. This region was the home, after all, in the early 20th century, of the Nonpartisan League. In the early 21st century, if you throw in a few blue college towns in the red states, it overlaps neatly with the Stranger's "Urban Archipelago."

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