The Closet Moderate: Do you think you're better than me?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Do you think you're better than me?

I've seen some thoughts percolating around these internets about the reasons people vote the way they do. It's certainly not a new question. Plenty of political works, such as V.O.Key's Southern Politics and, more recently Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas, have addressed the question from some angle or other.

What got me thinking about it was this post on Megan McArdle's blog. For those of you who fear to click on the links, I'll excerpt the important bits:

I'm surprised--though I shouldn't be, of course--that any number of liberals who are (presumably) comfortable with concepts like unconscious discrimination and privilege when it comes to race, have not even stopped to consider that the same sort of thing might be operating here.

Let's be honest, coastal folks: when you meet someone with a thick southern accent who likes NASCAR and attends a bible church, do you think, "hey, maybe this is a cool person"? And when you encounter someone who went to Eastern Iowa State, do you accord them the same respect you give your friends from Williams? It's okay--there's no one here but us chickens. You don't.

Maybe you don't know you're doing it. But I have quite brilliant friends who grew up in rural areas and went to state schools--not Michigan or UT, but ordinary state schools--who say that, indeed, when they mention where they went to school, there's often a droop in the eyelids, a certain forced quality to the smile. Oh, Arizona State. Great weather out there. Don't I need a drink or something? This person couldn't possibly interest me.

This rang true to me, and to the many, many commenters on her blog. Then, I came across this, which was linked in a New York Times blog. Jonathan Haidt, a professor of psychology, approached the question from an angle that was almost anthropological; studying Republicans the way people study jungle tribes with inscrutable value systems. I think he hits closer to the truth than most. You should really click through to the article, but here's the gist of it:

In several large internet surveys,[the authors] have found that people who call themselves strongly liberal endorse statements related to the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations, and they largely reject statements related to ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. People who call themselves strongly conservative, in contrast, endorse statements related to all five foundations more or less equally. We think of the moral mind as being like an audio equalizer, with five slider switches for different parts of the moral spectrum. Democrats generally use a much smaller part of the spectrum than do Republicans. The resulting music may sound beautiful to other Democrats, but it sounds thin and incomplete to many of the swing voters that left the party in the 1980s, and whom the Democrats must recapture if they want to produce a lasting political realignment.

If it ever seemed like you were talking past each other when you argued with a partisan of the opposite party, that's probably accurate. And denying that the other side's foundations have value (or even make sense) doesn't really advance the argument. It just makes your own side seem more wrong. The Democrats have had this problem since they nominated that egghead, Stevenson, as this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Lady Lynn de Rothschild points out.

What neither of these essays propose is a solution. I think one exists, but the Dems aren't going to like it. The answer is: nominate more white trash. I know, you folks are hung up on the idea that only the smartest, best educated, most reasonable people should be President. Well, take a look at the only Democrat to win since the 70s: Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton is smart and well-educated, but it never seemed like he was throwing it in your face. He may have gone to Georgetown, Yale, and Oxford, but he was never a dick about it. Most of all, he never gave anyone reason to ask "you think you're better than me?" I grew up with a lot of Democrats who loved that guy, but they thought Al Gore was an asshole and Kerry was a stiff. They're not too crazy about Obama, either.

So there's the answer, Democrats. If you want to win, nominate someone who keeps it real, 'cause America likes her candidates a little on the trashy side.

1 comment:

Statler said...
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