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November 19, 2004

Self-loathing Democrats

Some Democrats embarrass me. I'm sick of hearing privileged "liberals" cynically opining (in public, no less!) about which or our core constituencies we can cut loose in order to curry favor with the Red States. Gays? Women? Unions? Immigrants? You know, the people whose petty concerns will probably pale beside the Real values of the Democratic party. I say "probably" because the pundits tell me that we don't actually have a Vision yet--but the Marketing Team will be getting back to us soon.

Jonathan Chait is a case in point:

Democrats spent about a week desperately casting about for some social issue to chuck overboard so they could get right with middle America. Alas, after running through the usual list, they decided that they weren't prepared to abandon abortion or gay rights and had all but given up on gun control anyway, so there wasn't much they could do.

Well, even though the search was called off early, I have a late entry: Abolish the National Endowment for the Arts.

The NEA is a major stick in the eye to the, um, culturally traditional. (I was going to write "guys named Jethro who own pickup trucks" but I'm trying not to inflame cultural sensitivities here.)
[LA Times; via Kevin Drum]

Some people seem determined to live up to the right wing slander. When right accuses us of being unprincipled snobs, they leap up to validate the stereotype: "Why yessir, Mr. Limbaugh. Guilty as charged, sir. Might I flay an interpretive dancer for your listening pleasure and that of your mouth-breathing Jeebofascist drone army?"


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» Solution: Dump the NEA? from Don's Political Blog
Sometimes I think that you folks on both coasts have your heads so far up you asses I don't know how you breath. The people who support abolishing the NEA wouldn't vote for a D if you held a gun to their head. As Majikthise correctly points out, our ... [Read More]

» This majik moment... from Upper Left
...comes courtesy of James Wolcott, who offers a pointer to Majikthise (aka Lindsay Beyerstein), who not only gets a coveted slot on the Wolcott blogroll, but looks to be about 30 years younger and 100% hipper than I'll ever be. But am I jealous? [Read More]

» Futility of Cultural Centrism from Bradford Plumer
I'll have more on this later, but Lindsey Beyerstein's absolutely right. This whole idea of offending core constituencies all for the sake of building our centrist bonafides is abysmal. Simply abysmal. The whole notion of "pulling a Sister Souljah" i... [Read More]


I think you're being partly unfair (though only partly). I haven't been hearing any Democrats talk about compromising our core constituencies, and that includes Chait. Just the opposite. What I've been reading is people saying we can't and shouldn't compromise our core beliefs, but that maybe there's other stuff on the margins we can do to keep from losing the red state vote so badly.

However, I agree that Chait deserves a bit of bashing, primarily for his final line: "...arts subsidies go to a constituency that Democrats can afford to — no, make that desperately need to — offend."

It's one thing to suggest we shouldn't fund NEA, it's quite another to suggest we should defund it in order to poke a stick in the eye of artists. I'm not quite sure why Chait thinks we "desperately" need to offend these guys.

I think Kevin posted stats showing that Kerry didn't lose because of the values vote.

But even if he did I don't understand why the Red State values we're supposed to adopt to get right with America are the values of the South and the most southern-like parts of the Midwest.

Our biggest gains were made in the southwest and the Rocky Mountains and that's where we stand the best chance of grabbing more votes in the future. Why would getting rid of the NEA or supporting more censorship or any of that stuff play well with the libertarian types out there?

I think a number of bloggers have addressed the idea that our "values" appeal should be based on the values of personal freedom, financial responsibility, and environmental stewardship.

Frankly, I'm sick of all the talk on our part of the values issue. I understand why the Republicans want to pretend that 55 million of us aren't real Americans and don't have any values. I don't understand why anybody on our side accepts the idea.

I think there's a framing issue here that needs to be addressed: the "NEA 4" is about as representative of NEA grant awardees as Lyndon LaRouche is of the contemporary left. If the NEA is gutted, what the nation will lose is a redistributive measure whereby (as with just about any national program) blue state taxes fund art programs throughout the nation. You can argue whether it's worthwhile to cancel that program. But to say that somehow Democrats can score cheap cultural points by abandoning challenging contemporary artists via cancelling the NEA is not the reality of the situation—it's not the elite art that will suffer.

"pretend that 55 million of us aren't real Americans and don't have any values. I don't understand why anybody on our side accepts the idea."

The is a two-edged sword they are using on us. Do not let the Right even define the inhabitants of the Red States for we Democrats, because that would abandoning an awful lot of rural people with a mix of values, some of which work in our favor. And some of those values are cultural and even artistic.

Good point, Bob. We shouldn't let them to the defining. Nor should we fall into the trap of letting our prejudices do the defining either.

In our anger, disappointment, and disbelief a lot of us have forgotten the 40 per cent of the people in red states who voted for Kerry. I've been guilty of it, treating the red states as one entity, and that entity populated entirely by characters out of Tobacco Road.

I forgot the most moving and inspiring moment at the Democratic Convention.

Barack Obama's speech.

"Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America—there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."

There's the link. I think I'm going to make it a weekly visit.

I read recently that none other than Bill Clinton himself, in the last weeks of the campaign, urged Kerry to sanction the anti gay marriage amendments in the red states, as a way of currying favor with those voters. That was a rude awakening for me.

Ev--yep. Clinton urged Kerry to *campaign* for those amendments. Thankfully Kerry refused.

I don't hate Bill Clinton, but every so often he does something that makes me want to smack him.

I say screw the Red States - let's have a divorce. The red states can go their way and the blue states can go theirs. I'd have to repatriate myself back home to Blue America and my red state wife and kid would have to immigrate, but despite the colder winters it'd be worth it just not to have to deal with the idiotic Bush Nazis.

The Democrats don't need to give up on anybody. They need to sharpen their message - and get somebody who can sell it more effectively than Kerry did. I voted for him and I think he would've made a good Prez, but the bottom line is it was his election to lose, and lose it he did.

"I say screw the Red states."

Take your ball and go home? Run away from home like an eight year old?

Yeah, I'd pick you guys to run the country.

Besides it just being not an option, cutting the Red States loose means cutting loose a great big chunk of people who voted for Kerry. Talk about abandoning the base!

Remember, the Red States include three states that barely went red---Iowa, New Mexico, and Nevada. And two states that elected Democratic governors---Colorado and Montana. Pluse Colorado just gave us a new Democratic Senator.

And the Blue States include two states that barely went blue---Michigan and Minnesota. I live in a blue county in a blue state but my town went red.

Like Obama says, we don't live in a red America and a blue America.

As for winning elections without the South, Kerry came close to doing it and if he had it would have been a disaster for him and us, because he'd have become president while losing the popular vote by nearly 4 million votes. Can you imagine how this Congress would have dealt with that?

We need red states. Not Mississippi and Alabama. But the Southwest and the Virginias. And we need to win Iowa back. We can do it, and I don't think we need to abandon our principles to get them either.

Anti gay laws passed in Michigan and Oregon, which means that people there voted for the laws and for Kerry who they knew was opposed to the laws. Bush won Ohio with 51 per cent of the vote there. The anti gay law passed with 62 per cent of the vote. 11 per cent of the people of Ohio voted for the law and for Kerry.

It wasn't our principles that lost Kerry the election. My guess is that it was simply the fact of Bush's incumbancy. A lot of people just love the president, whoever he is. That kind of patriotic blindness can easily account for 3 per cent of the vote.

Jethro lost his job, his commonlaw wife took a 10% paycut at her McJob, his cousin got shot in Iraq, but all three stood in line to re-elect the man who caused it.

We are never going to "win" the Jethros of the world, no matter what we claim to be. So stop sucking up to them, and start telling them the truth about their ignorant and selfish selves. Stick to principles: if we fail, then we at least fail honestly.

Excellent post.

Even if you support the idea of attempting to appease or accommodate cultural conservatives (and I don't), it's amazing how flat-footed and clumsy the proposals being batted around by the likes of Chait, Drum & Yglesias are. They're groping around for a gesture, in the form of some issue or "value" that can be conveniently jettisoned for political expediency. They never seem to address the fact that gestures like these are going to look to most people like, well, gestures, purely symbolic bids for "moderate" credibility. In other words, most people will see right through the profound cynicism at work here.

Yes, exactly. As I've written elsewhere, our first step needs to be to ostracize Democrats who internalize silly Republican spin points. Talking about Andres Serrano--in 2004!--is right up there with talking about John Kerry's windsurfing. I usually like Chait, but this is silly.

What's worse is that, aside from the merits, this is also terrible politics--where's the evidence? How many people do you think are still pissed off about 20-year old NEA grants? And of that small number, how many do you think would give the *Democrats* credit for cutting NEA funding? Jeez, lose the popular vote once in 12 years and people grasp at every straw, no matter how bad the policy or implausible the political argument...

And then there's the flip side to the self-loathers -- those who are too bitter to make their points without destructively condescending embellishments. See, for example, the>Urban Archipelago. Actually, there are a fair number of good points in there. Just need to find a middle way between cringing obeisance to the current ruling party and pushing people away with caustic rhetoric.

I live in a county where 75% of voters are registered Democrats. We're also rural - really about as rural as you can get --- and right in the middle of a red state.

This year, the vote went Republican here --- thanks to two things: the 18-25 vote (yea right, rock the vote) and to alienated rural folk who just didn't vote. The people who didn't vote generally hate Bush but assume the Dems don't like them.

They could give a hoot about the NEA, though. Values? Bwahaha! Not their thing. In essence, they lean Libertarian and really don't think any of it is anyone's business.

I haven't quite put my finger on what turned the non-voters off to the Dems this year --- in general, they really HATE Bush. But I do know I heard repeatedly there really was no difference between Bush and Kerry.

Maybe the key is for Democrats to just be Democrats. That tact certainly worked in this county --- until this election.

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