Interesting discussion of the blue/red map of the 2008 election at Edge of the American West. I think the commentary is very much on the money that the areas which went more strongly to McCain this time than to Bush in 2004 are not the “Old South”, that the South as a voting bloc is now well and truly broken up into distinct entities. The red on the map is mostly Appalachia, and I think that raises some sharply important questions. Elsewhere in the country, even counties that are culturally or religiously conservative went more for Obama in 2008 than Kerry in 2004, even if McCain still won those counties. Meaning that even in some areas that are center-right, some constituencies will swing their votes either because they see the more conservative candidate as less able to deal with the current national situation, or because they prefer something about the character or image of the more liberal candidate.
Not in Appalachia. I think this has to be about economic circumstances, social class, and not just “even more culturally conservative”. E.g., there is something structural about poverty in that belt of red which is deeper and older than the accelerating economic crisis elsewhere which makes white voters in that region feel that a change in government policy is unlikely to change their circumstances. This is a pretty intense crystallization of an issue that American and European leftists have been troubled by for a long time, that some of the constituencies most afflicted by or excluded from capitalist economies are also the most reactionary and in some cases, the most inclined to have strongly felt racial biases.
Looking elsewhere on the map, I feel fairly vindicated about some of my arguments after the 2004 election, that the Democrats needed to peel away at least one significant social constituency in addition to mobilizing their existing base. I think both at the level of punditry and at the level of everyday social life, at least some suburban middle-class and upper middle-class voters made a pocketbook judgment that the incompetence and culture-war craziness of the Republican leadership under Bush was simply too costly in terms that they could touch and see in their own lives. When life was more or less in decent shape in the 1990s, despite whatever slow erosion was afflicting the status and well-being of the professional and middle-managerial classes, I think they were indifferent to a lot of the clownshow antics of the Gingrich era, and cared primarily about taxation and a smattering of social questions. When life really started to sour after Bush took office, that changed. 9/11 delayed that shift in consciousness and put fears about terrorism in the driver’s seat for a while.
The question will now be, “How much do you service this constituency in pursuing public policy?” Because getting them in your column was premised on making their lives more secure, and you won’t be able to do that just with a targeted tax cut or small adjustments to few minor entitlement programs.
If the economy was key to Obama’s victory, then the question, “Are things better today?” will be key in 2012. If the answer is very evidently no, it won’t help to say, “It was George Bush’s fault”, however true or not that might prove to be in 2012.
I think making life feel better is important. One part of that is damping down the nastiness of a lot of public debate. I know this is an old message from me, but I think we can all give it new force now.
It’s schadenfreudey fun to read the ongoing psychotic meltdowns at various far-right sites like the Corner, I agree. But there’s little need to take the really bad-faith conservatives seriously now. For the last eight years, we’ve had to take them somewhat seriously because they had access to political power. You had to listen to the hack complaints about academia from endlessly manipulative writers because it was perfectly plausible that whatever axe they were grinding was going to end up as a priority agenda item coming out of Margaret Spelling’s office or get incorporated into legislation by right-wing state legislators. You had to listen to and reply to even the most laughably incoherent, goalpost-moving, anti-reality-based neoconservative writer talking about Iraq or terrorism because there was an even-money chance that you were hearing actual sentiments going back and forth between Dick Cheney’s office and the Pentagon. You had to answer back to Jonah Goldberg not just because making that answer was arguably our responsibility as academics, but also because left alone, some of the aggressively bad-faith caricatures he and others served up had a reasonable chance to gain even further strength through incorporation into federal policy.
There are plenty of thoughtful, good-faith conservatives who need to be taken seriously. And the actual conservatism of many communities and constituencies (in Appalachia and elsewhere) remains, as always, a social fact that it would be perilous to ignore or dismiss.
There are plenty of criticisms of academia which retain their importance and gravity, or which will continue to inform policy-makers in an Obama Administration. Don’t expect pressure for accountability and assessment to go away, for example. It doesn’t matter that Chuck Grassley is a Republican: a lot of the muck he’s raking up deserves to be raked.
But I think we can all make things just ever so slightly better, make the air less poisonous, by pushing to the margins of our consciousness the crazy, bad, gutter-dwelling, two-faced, tendentious high-school debator kinds of voices out there in the public sphere, including and especially in blogs. Let them stew in their own juices, without the dignity of a reply, now that their pipelines to people with real political power have been significantly cut.