Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tuesday, Tuesday. Now what?

The NYTimes did an editoral about the choices facing the victorious Congressional Republicans, and what Democrats need to do now. My comment:

Neither this editorial nor the comments so far get to the heart of the matter: the Republican Party has reconstituted itself as a tribe.

Tribe trumps party. There's an Arab saying: "me against my brother; me and my brother against my neighbor; me and my neighbor against the stranger." Members of the Republican tribe see the Democratic Party, top to bottom, as "The Stranger." And they're willing to sacrifice to defeat The Stranger, and get their country back.

The GOP's campaign to turn this into a tribal conflict was aided greatly--though unwittingly--by the Democrats. Time after time after time, from the 1960s to now, the Democratic Party has demanded that white American blue collar workers atone for their ancestors' sins by giving everyone else special favors--in effect, letting them cut in line ahead of Joe Lunchbox.

Affirmative action, polylingual ballots, government employees enjoying vastly greater security and compensation than their private sector counterparts, bending over backwards to accommodate citizens of other countries residing here illegally, demanding that communities abandon traditional Anglo cultural markers like the Nativity scene in front of the courthouse--and of course, every single one of these things rubbed in Joe Lunchbox's face by Fox News, Rush, Savage et al, shouting imprecations on the radio 24x7 for decades now.

All the pundits agree that this election was about the economy. Nonsense. That's the reason people gave, but 80% of voters have jobs and homes they're not about to lose. Most people use their powers of reason to wrap plausible-sounding reasons around emotional decisions. "Why'd you buy that red Beemer convertible?" "Great resale value." Yeah, right.

The Republican Party is in bed with rich people who look like what Joe Lunchbox would like to be (and never will). The Democrats are in bed with every socioethnic minority who look and sound like what Joe Lunchbox doesn't want to be.

Every time Joe Lunchbox phones a business help line or a government help line and hears "Si quiere hablar en EspaƱol, empuje numero tres," he feels like a stranger in his own country. Every time he hits the Search button on his car radio and, if he's in the Southwest, a third of the stations don't broadcast in English, he feels like a stranger in his own country. Ditto when Fox News gleefully broadcasts the latest "Gay Pride Parade" footage, or photos of a publicly funded art exhibit featuring a crucifix dipped in a jar of urine.

I'm neither justifying nor criticizing either side of all these cultural debates. I am pointing out that the sense of cultural dislocation for about half of Americans is profound--and completely mystifying to most urbanites who, like me, live comfortably in highly multicultural surroundings. But I speak more than one language, have traveled in 17 countries, and have a degree in sociology. Joe Lunchbox may have never left the country--perhaps not even his state--and wasn't taught evolution in his high school (it isn't taught in rural America; did you know that?).

And every time he complains--even a little--about any of this stuff, all any Democratic pol or voter will say is to accuse him of being a "racist," a "know-nothing," a "hater," a "xenophobe," a "homophobe," and suchlike. Democrats do not acknowledge that he has any rights whatsoever to his own language and culture in his own country.

I voted for Obama and will again. But even I was appalled when, during his campaign for president, he said we have to "bring undocumented workers" "out of the shadows" because it would be too expensive and inhumane to try to find and deport them all.

That was a false choice argument, and he knew it. No one but a few wack jobs have even proposed such a thing. Most who oppose illegal immigration simply want E-Verify universally applied--to eliminate those shadows.

And the point here is that Joe Lunchbox, hearing Obama say that, smelled something fishy. He couldn't identity that as a false choice argument. But he could tell he was being lied to.

So yes, Joe Lunchbox will be ill-served by the Republicans he just voted into office. But if my fellow Democrats think it was just because of Republican dirty tricks (which were legion, admittedly) and the recession--then they are doomed to lose the next election as well.

The Democrats don't have to become socially regressive. But they do have to show a little respect for the people whose votes they need to survive outside their educated, urban enclaves. --to show that they understand how they've come to feel like strangers in their own land. And to adopt policies that show a little of the cultural sensitivity to Anglos that has been lavished on everyone else.

[This comment was highlighted by the NYT; it's #185 in the comments after the editorial.]


Tim Bowling said...

I read 100's of those comments after editorials on the NYT. Maybe even thousands. The one you wrote about Joe Lunchbox was probably the profoundly insightful one I've ever read. Had to come to your site to tell you that.

JimF said...

Excellently put. The tribal metaphor is great.

It's hard to have sympathy for a cultural group that has effectively had the deciding vote in Washington for a decade, and supported policies and politicians that badly damaged our country.

But the right-wing lower-middle class has a legitimate beef: Their cultural is under attack, and the left seemingly cares about everyone else, but them.

Anonymous said...

Good argument, but I have to partially disagree (I am a splitter).
Identity politic and cultural war are some of the issues causing Joe Lunchbox to vote for GOP, but concern about fiscal responsibility should not be dismissed as pure rationalizations.
BTW, your description of tribal politics reminded me the war nerd blog
We may try to discuss politics when I am driving next time, may be it will make me more agressive driver :-)

Ehkzu said...

Ilya, I consider it rationlization because every single time the Republicans have gotten into power since the late 1960s they've borrowed and spent us into the ditch. If any Republican pols actually acted fiscally responsibly I'd agree with you, but the few that were responsible have been driven out of politics after being denounced at RINOs--as Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln would be today if they were alive.

BTW for others' benefit--Ilya is a personal friend who I've criticized for driving very slowly (I learned to drive in LA, which is like a nonstop Destruction Derby on a figure 8 track).

And the splitter bit comes from me being a lumper and Ilya being a splitter--i.e., I see commonalities, he sees distinctions. Both are valid intellectual stances, but then lumpers would see that, while splitters generally see lumpers simply as defective splitters.

adam said...

Ehkzu, I liked your comment on the NYT article and your insights into Joe Lunchbox even though they are clearly patronizing (he's never traveled out of state or been taught evolution?) The examples you cite are all good reasons why white, blue collar males left the democratic party years ago. The mechanistic sociological model attempts to explain all things through the prism of race, class and gender differences. However, I don't believe a " sense of cultural dislocation" or your caricature of Joe Lunchbox as a racist xenophobe explains the 2010 election. Democrats are strange, but not "The Stranger."

The reason pundits insist this election was all about the economy is so they don't have to admit it was a massive rejection of progressive politics in general and the Obama project in particular. From the stimulus that wasn't to a government takeover of one-seventh of the economy (did they think we'd forget?) Joe Lunchbox was finally roused from his apolitical slumber.

Actually, if you think republicans have borrowed and spent this country into the ditch you must be absolutely livid with the Obama administration. Ronald Reagan increased the deficit with military spending but his fiscal policies created an incentive to invest and grew the economy by a million jobs in January, 1983 following his first mid-term elections. Obama has tripled the deficit of his predecessor but not even the "saved or created" faithful expect a million new jobs in January, 2011 (the number for October, 2010 was 151,000.) Instead of Stay The Course Joe Lunchbox voted to Undo The Change.

Ehkzu said...

It's only patronizing if it isn't true.

Fact: only 20% of Americans even have passports.

I have blue collar roots myself--my father dropped out of the 7th grade and apart from migrating from Georgia to California, traveled very little in his life. And I've got a passel of red-neck relatives, as well as having gone to blue-collar public schools until I got to college.

A college education can make huge differences in how someone thinks. When you learn a second language, you realize that you speak A language; when you spend time in other societies, you realize that your culture and values didn't just fly from God's mouth to your ears--you realize that your culture is A culture, and your values are not universal.

For example, Chinese tend to be value family more and others less, relative to us. This leads them to seeing us as immoral, because our priority stack of values is arranged differently. Conversely, when we get toxic toys from China because the toymaker saved money to use on his family, we see him as immoral.

Joe Lunchbox rarely has the benefit of such insights--he lives in a more black and white world, and because he uses associative thinking instead of analytic thinking, he's far more susceptible to propaganda--particularly, to propaganda that panders to feelings he already has.

None of this singles out left wingers or right wingers--you can have doctrinaire Joe Lunchboxes who are diehard Democrats as well as diehard Republicans.

As for not having been taught evolution, the NCSE (see my links list) has published valid surveys of high school bio teachers confirming this--and reputable polls of Americans show that only a minority accept evolution. So, to my own horror, I believe I'm correct about this.

But to the heart of the matter--I'm not denying that there's a powerful economic argument to be made. I am denying that it's the whole story, though, and focusing on it leads to thinking the situation is mediated more completely by cost/benefit analyses on the part of voters than is true.

My challenge to you is to ask how voters came to their conclusions. Do you honestly think they logged onto government websites, read all the bills that are germane, then logged onto and and the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) to make sure they understood what was going on, as well as reading, say, The Economist regularly, and getting the equivalent of a BA in economics?

Or do they listen to Rush on their way to work and let him fire them up on a diet of--well, what do you call factual misstatements that the speakers knows to be non-factual. There's a simple word for that, isn't there?

Voter opinions can only be assessed in the context of looking as what has been said to them, and by who, and how much.

Go anywhere in the country that has AM radio reception, do a little DXing, and you'll hear what they hear. Turn on any TV in rural America and you'll see what's being said and shown them. Then go to Politifact and FactCheck and see who's telling the truth.

I believe, unlike most, the the nation needs both conservatives and liberals. But it also needs the dialog to be factual.

Instead conservatives won this one through the telling of lies lubricated by at least $4B of money--much of it secretly contributed--and all of it carefully coordinated to defeat Democratic Congressmen.

It didn't work here in California, but that's the exception proving the rule.

And it's hard to take counterarguments seriously when they ignore this avalanche of money and marketing drowning out the relatively paltry union funds going the other way--and not a penny of that in secret BTW.

I'm not defending everything the Demos did. But I'm not avoiding the elephant in the back yard, and you are by pretending that public opinion is formed in a vacuum.

n1ck said...

"A college education can make huge differences in how someone thinks. When you learn a second language, you realize that you speak A language; when you spend time in other societies, you realize that your culture and values didn't just fly from God's mouth to your ears--you realize that your culture is A culture, and your values are not universal."

Exactly. I've never thought of it that way before, and that is pretty accurate.

I live in the Midwest, and you should hear the outrage about ATM machines having an option for Spanish. And oh boy, if the ATM actually requires you to pick English before moving on, get ready to hear an earful. How dare someone who doesn't speak English step foot in the region. This is uhMurica!

The kind of political messages that make their way in my region are often patently false. Other times, they are just misleading. Either way, it is pretty clear that there is a real disconnect between what is true, and what is believed.

St. Ronald Reagan is cast as some mythical president by the right, even though he tripled the national debt and set in motion our consistent deficits and debt. He also violated the law by selling arms to Iran and funding militias in central America. But this is all ignored, as they are on a permanent footing to get as many highways, schools, and airports named after Reagan as well as his likeness on US currency.

Obama is a Christian, Constitutional law professor, who is hinted at as a secret Kenyan Muslim who wants to enact Sharia law in the US.

This is the type of myth that is sold to Joe Lunchbox. Reagan, the B-Movie Actor loved America and should be remembered, always. Every Republican tries to brand him/her self as the next Reagan.

And they portray HUSSEIN OBAMA as an outsider. It's hinted that he was born in Kenya. That he is really a Muslim, or a Black Christian Extremist who hates America and "pals around with terrorists".

There is a narrative of what America is and isn't, and the Republican party controls it. The Democrats controlled it from the 30s until the 70s, but it has shifted back.

In this narrative, Americans speak English, practice Christianity, and are against gay marriage because gay marriage somehow attacks straight marriage. Americans know the truth about evolution and the environment even if the scientists and professors can prove the opposite. Americans also don't criticize the Government, unless a Democrat is in office, since we all know Democrats are secretly socialists and communists.

The truth is, the truth hardly has any part in a political campaign or an election. Whomever can shout the loudest and convince the most voters that they represent the voters' values usually wins. If what the candidate is saying is also the truth, then that is just a trivial convenience.