Thursday, April 17, 2008


So, instead of emailing articles during my break between classes, I'm posting them all! This, by Matt Bai, who is always very perceptive, is interesting.

It resonates with the idea that is in the Times op/ed today - that it's Democrats and urbanites who care more about social issues than rural conservatives. In other words, being a pro-life Democrat can be more politically damaging than one might think.

Personally, this whole "bitter" and "clinging to guns and religion" business has made it difficult for me to write lectures this week. In explaining the rise of the New Right in the late '70s and early '80s, how do you NOT say that urban Catholics, blue-collar folk, and white southerners are turning right because they are bitter? It's more acceptable, I think, to talk about this during the 1950s Cold War. People were afraid and felt like they had little control over their destiny because it could all be erased with one bomb. In response, defending traditional gender roles and a certain social hierarchy becomes central to Americans' lives.

It seems a problem of social construction versus authenticity of belief. In other words, does using context to explain why certain beliefs wax and wane diminish the inherent validity of those beliefs? If you turn to faith because you've lost your job and feel like the Iraq War is a mess, does that make your faith less authentic? I don't think so. For example, I don't think of myself as a fickle Christian who uses church as an opiate, even if sometimes I'm more into church (usually because of external events) than at other times. Although I understand how some people might not interpret themselves in this way.

What if we switched it? Democrats cling to their pro-choice stance because they feel X. What do we put in for X?


Ann said...

the ghost of richard hofstadter?

here is what i think is the real crux of this issue. it's less the specific words that obama said (guns, immigrants, religion, bitterness) than the return of the c. late 1950s/early 1960s notion that people who did not share liberal, pluralist values were somehow mentally unsound, suffering from status anxiety...Hofstadter's psuedo-conservative//paranoid style. the underlying assumption of this so-called consensus school was that anticommunism or intense patriotism were entirely inorganic sentiments--only misplaced projections of some other sense of impotence or out-of-controlness. and, let's be frank, hofstadter, schlesinger et al. were absolutely elitist, and their views of liberalism and conservatism grew directly out of their sense that people who did not share their political orientation were deficient in some fundamental way. And Obama -- by suggesting that he, a well-off, Harvard-educated attorney, can explain the behaviors and deeply felt beliefs of other people -- tapped back into that thing that made people hate liberals (like Kennedy's best and the brightest, who thought that they, by virtue of their superior education and knowledge, could show developing nations how to be like the United States, etc).

If one were inclined to make this argument (which some historians have), one could NOT say that urban Catholics//southern Democrats turned right by saying that Reagan Democrats did not so much turn right as they stayed in the same place and liberals turned left. They were bitter toward the liberals who they perceived to have betrayed their best intersts -- but not necessarily just a nebulous, abstract bitterness at the world. Obama implied that the Pennsyl social conservatives were just sort of irrationally bitter at the changing world -- which, in a way, does deny that they can form political opinions based on ratioanlity and logic instead of reactionary emotion.

this is a little bit like "what's the matter with Kansas" argument. people always want to ask why Reagan Democrats want to vote for social issues and "against their economic interests." but those same pundits never ask why there are rich Democrats, who, arguably, are also voting against their economic interests -- and this boils down to elitism as i see it.

[this rather unfocused jumble of thoughts, by the way, officially marks my entry to the blogosphere...i believe this is the first posting i have ever made on a blog. thanks, gale, for dragging me kicking and screaming into the 21st C. now maybe one of these days i'll log onto facebook.]

gale said...

I was recently chastised by a certain Kansan that the Thomas Frank book is misinterpreted. Today (4/18), Paul Krugman acknowledges this in the Times, saying that Frank ends the book with a critique of the Democrats who only want to appeal to educated urbanites. (Hey, that's me!)

Krugman, who is very pro-Clinton, says that this is exactly what Obama is doing.

The irony is that Frank's book takes aim at the Clinton centrists . . . so, how far can Hillary hold herself above the fray?

It seems like educated (and often liberal) politicos do have a perpetual need to explain why other people don't see the world in the same way. Which in a way, isn't very liberal (if we take liberal to mean tolerant) at all.

And historians too - which might be why until very recently, so few US political historians took conservatism and conservatives seriously - instead focusing on the '60s radicals, the failures of liberalism, etc.

JeremyC said...

This is interesting, indeed. Actually, we (people with varying affiliations with the DNC that I know) generally accuse the Right/neo-cons as using the culture wars to polarize people to vote along emotional lines while ignoring the candidates' ability to do the job effectively. If I remember right, that essentially is the argument of the Frank essay (thought I only ever read the excerpt that was published in Harpers).

Essentially, and maybe this is your point, aren't the Democrats essentially doing the same thing? "Vote for us because we disagree with the hateful rhetoric of the GOP." That's analagous to "Vote for us because we will keep homosexuals and abortionists from destroying America."

As for your question, Gale, I'm not sure I can fill that X in, but I'll think about it. Maybe that's because my firm belief in reproductive rights underpins my worldview, much in the way that for someone else a belief that human rights begins at conception would color his or her own. (Speaking of, what's with Clinton saying that life might begin at conception? Was that really necessary? SO problematic...)

Sidebar: One of the nagging problems I have with the Democrats in general is that I essentially agree with some pundits from the Right is that all "the Democrat party" does at times is reject ideas, but rarely comes up with its own alternative innovations. I don't want to believe this is true, I certainly don't think it's essentially true, but I have little ammunition to defend against it. (That argument held more sway during the GOP-controlled Congress years, of course. Though now that control of the Hill has switched parties it doesn't seem much has changed - perhaps because the DNC capitulated a little too much in order to win control? Which is the lesser of the two evils?)

[Ann - I'm with you there. My post the other day was my official entry to the "blogosphere" (yes, i just used that word, Deity help me). It's high stress, and you feel a bit self-conscious about it no?]