I’ve been a fan of Chris’ blogging for a while now. Maybe it’s because we both have an analytical bent, but after reading Bowers I almost always come away with something to think about. Occasionally I come away with something to write about).
Every once in a while, it seems like we’re thinking along the same lines. It’s happened before. And this morning I thought it happened again when I read Chris’ take on the wearing out of the “liberal elites” meme.
[I]f there is one point I have tried to make in my blogging over the past three years, it is that the changing demographics of the electorate are rendering these conservative attacks increasingly ineffective, and that Democrats need no longer fear them as a result. We have reached a point where conservative backlash narratives against people of color and “liberal elites” appeal to such a small segment of the electorate, that Democrats no longer need them in order to win.
Right away, I think I can see where Chris is going with this. Then he starts in with a bit of number crunching. (Significant number crunching, mind you, but it makes my eyes glaze over. I guess that’s were we part ways on the analytical tip. I’m an English Lit., major for crying out loud.)
They add up to something which has mystified me for some time now: the mindless Democratic pursuit of a demographic of voters — the mythical “values voters” have morphed into the monolithic “white working class” — who aren’t all that likely to support a Democratic party that acts like a Democratic party.
Thus, the timidity of Democrats when it comes to standing up for progressive values on issues related economic justice and social justice (like LGBT equality, etc.), lest they offend the coveted voter-demographic du jour. It’s a demographic that always seems to lean more conservative. Perhaps because nobody’s leading on progressive values.
Certainly not the Democratic Congress, which has shown a considerable lack of spine — unless there’s some other explanation for why it hard to think of much the Bush administration wanted but didn’t get from this congress (or, for that matter, anything they got but didn’t want.) The problem with Democrats acting as though a president with a 30% approval rating is still too popular to challenge safely (along with a Republican party that marched pretty much in lockstep with him.)
As I’ve pointed out before, this dogged pursuit of narrow margin of likely Bush/GOP voters holds one likely outcome for the Democratic party.
And then I remembered something I hear a certain A-list blogger (who honestly seems to care about these issues, and keeps asking how Dems should talk about them) say a while back: just getting Democrats elected is not sufficient. Certainly not if they’re going to put their constituents and the convictions in the closet in order to win. A party that believes it has to put its own values on the back burner in order to win must not believe that it can and should win based on its values. It becomes something else entirely, and will find it hard to go back if the trick should work.
LIke I said earlier, I get the message: the Democrats going to lead on our issues. When I bring up the shift that’s occurring in the party, and the unlikelihood that they will be able to return to their old values if new, more conservative constituents bring them back to power, the answer I get from the netroots is: “it’s your job to shift public opinion and give them cover to make it safe for them to take a stand on those issues.”
Well, I’ve been doing that job as an activist for about 20 years now. At this point, as a partnered gay dad, everything we do is an exercise in public education; from a trip to the grocery store to getting the mail. But I don’t think I’m the only one with a job to do. I think Democratic leadership still has a job to if they’re up to walking the (these days, coded and/or whispered-behind-the-hand) talk of their values. It’s called leading by example.
If Democrats really want to win over this demographic, they might have a better shot at it if they just go back to acting like Democrats.
This theory of white working-class alienation from the Democratic Party derives from Thomas Frank’s compellingly argued 2004 book, What’s the Matter With Kansas? To Frank, the proletariat suffers from a form of “derangement” in believing that its woes derive from the decline of traditional values—patriotism, organized religion, self-reliance, the heterosexual two-parent nuclear family, etc.—when the true source of its troubles is a set of economic policies that favors the rich. Republicans have come to win blue-collar votes in elections by portraying Democratic tolerance of racial and cultural diversity as depravity—”abortion, amnesty, and acid,” in the famous slogan used against George McGovern in 1972. (This is not a new trick.) GOP officeholders typically set their conservative cultural agenda aside after the election is over to concentrate on cutting taxes, reducing regulation, busting unions, and so forth. But the white working class continues to fall for the bait-and-switch because the demoralized Democratic Party lacks the courage to lure it back with a muscular appeal based on economic justice.
In other words, the Democrats might just need to say to these voters something like the words that caused people to “wake up” in the past
“You’ve been hoodwinked. You’ve been had. You’ve been took. You’ve been led astray, led amok. You’ve been bamboozled.”
I’d like to suggest a very simple strategy for American liberals: Get mean. Stop policing the language and start using it to hurt our enemies. American liberals are so busy purging their speech of any words that might offend anyone that they have no notion of using language to cause some salutary pain.
Why, for example, not popularize slogans that mock the Bush loyalists as “suckers”? Something like, “There are two kinds of Republicans: millionaires and suckers.” Put that on a few bumper stickers and I guarantee a lot of “South Park Republicans” will quit the GOP. They just smirk when you tsk-tsk at them for being disrespectful. They want to be disrespectful; every normal young male wants to be.
…The minute we start calling them on their suckerdom, they’ll change sides — and we’ll finally have some decent troops on our side. But as long as liberals speak in the language of Beavis and Butthead’s Mister van Driessen, they’ll despise you, even when they know you’re right (which they do). We may not be the most systematically intellectual tribe on earth, but Americans are very verbally sensitive. They will not heed Mister van Driessen, even if he’s telling them to evacuate a burning classroom. They’d sooner die. You may find this irrational, but when I think back to the progressive mindset I became familiar with UC Berkeley, I understand this reaction very well. I don’t condone it, but damn! I sure do understand it.
Otherwise the party you get at the end of this road isn’t likely to be one you’d still recognize.
In hopes of gaining support for their other domestic priorities, the Democrats have voted to shovel money at the very people opposed to those parties. The logic there approaching Bush-like proportions.
And, thanks to all those who educated us on the necessity of electing “centrist” Dems for bringing us this moment. They have they’re cover, and the right will continue to get tax dollars to evangelize the world.
The day that Howard Dean sat down with Pat Robertson, I said that the ultimate victory of the Republican Revolution may turn out to be a more conservative Democratic party. I’m not convinced that we’re not headed that way. Especially now that the party has taken another step rightward.
Or, more succinctly, what Chris said.
If you change which voters Democrats believe they must attract in order to win elections, you change the Democratic Party irrevocably.
Great minds? Maybe. Thinking alike? Perhaps.
Or, maybe just seeing the same hand writing on the same wall.