Thursday, May 15, 2008


Who'da Thunk This Would Be So Controversial?

Maybe I shoulda given how nobody seems to be able to answer the question:

Why don't working class African-Americans vote like working class white folks?

It's the lament of many a Reaganite culture warrior (and now, thanks to HRC's ability to play the GOP game -- maybe she could beat the GOP at their own game? or maybe she's just giving the GOP good ammunition to use against the Dems later -- the lament of many a Clintonite), but nobody seems to quite get why. Are "Reagan Democrat" types just bigots plain and simple? Are church going, socially conservative African-Americans secretly social liberals or afraid enough of the crypto-racist appeals to "Reagan Democrats" to vote conservatively? Or is something else going on?

At Ezra Klein's place (too lazy to link), I suggested it was cultural: it's easy to appeal to lower class resentments of fancy talking, over-educated rich folk when you are appealing to people who've barely had any direct interactions with someone who talks fancy or has more than an Associates' Degree. It's hard to appeal to lower class resentments of fancy talking, over-educated rich folk to people who themselves drop their 'r's as if they were Scarlet O'Hara or Rhett Butler and who listen to sermons given by a feller with a Ph.D. (or at least a D.Div. or an Ed.D.) every Sunday.

Venture an explanation involving racism and you're immediately labeled as a bigot yourself for thinking all working class white folks are racist. But venture an explanation involving some very real cultural differences (*) between working class whites and blacks -- and pointing out that the mores of rich slave-holders may have shaped the culture of the latter to have "rich values" -- and people will completely miss your point, accuse you of buying into the worst stereotypes about African-Americans, etc.

If we want to succeed politically, we should maybe understand why we fail to reach out to groups with whom we should be doing better (e.g. working class whites) and also why we are able to do so well amongst groups who you'd think would vote GOP (just as "Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans" -- of course, now you could say the same thing about some of those Episcopalians themselves ;) -- African-Americans pray like Southern Baptists and vote like secular humanists). However, we won't be able to understand the difference if all possible explanations just get shot down with ad hominem attacks and without proper consideration.

It's almost like too many Dems. are too comfortable loosing -- being the never winning but never defeated opposition, etc.

(*the so-called "lower class values/mindset" that got the late Sen. Moynihan all worked up in a tizzy are, in fact, not lower class values per se -- e.g. the values of poor white Southrons -- but rather the values of the pre-Victorian English gentry and their Southern planter heirs: c.f. commentary about us Jews, when we were mainly poor, still having "middle class values")

Re: poor white voters:

Bartels has nailed the numbers on this. Seems that among the poor, religion isn't a big swinger of votes from dems to pubs. Among the more affluent, religion is a huge swing factor.

Maybe: they can afford to concentrate on cultural rather than economic issues?

See Bartel's book, Unequal Democracy. Also a recent NYT OpEd that I'm too lazy to link discounting Obama's bitter analysis.
Maybe: they can afford to concentrate on cultural rather than economic issues?

That's a good point. Many of us, based on anecdotes provided by the MSM (you'd think we'd know enough not to trust them and that "the plural of anecdote is not data" -- but there is always a bit of a stool pigeon buried in every con man, as they say), believe that part of our problem reaching out to working class voters is that they feel our "social/cultural" liberalism is something they can't afford. Nu? It's only natural then that social conservatism should also be a "luxury" ideology: not only with liberalism (and I've seen many a cultural/social liberal indeed oozing privilege -- that's not just a GOP driven stereotype but it has roots in reality -- and not even seen it about themselves) but also with conservatism one must have a certain level of privilege before one can concentrate on social/cultural rather than economic issues?

Also, I tend to think we ought to make a distinction between "social" and "cultural" conservatism (although others who've made the distinction I'm going to make reverse the meanings of the two terms). Actually, there are probably more than two catergories here. I know conservatives who are "socially" conservative in that they want government to privilege "traditional morality" and who are "culturally" conservative in their Ralph Waldo Emerson/Jules Farber/David Brooks fauning over the culture of "real 'Murkins" but who, in terms of the "culture wars" are moderates if not liberals.

I guess my argument would be that socially conservative African-Americans tend to be culturally liberal (in either sense) and the social/cultural conservatism of the GOP's rhetoric is probably more cultural than social even if the main policy goals are social ... which does affect voting patterns even among African-Americans who are wealthy enough to have the luxury of being socially conservative.
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