People from rural, poor communities have been virtually programmed for generations to listen not to their own reasoning, but to whoever speaks loudest and most authoritatively on any subject. They respond to simple, emotionally charged messages — even when the the issues that the messages involve are complex and nuanced. They resent, and therefore distrust, those Americans who had greater access to education, or who were taught to question as they were not; Bageant believes this is less about anti-intellectualism/anti-elitism than it is simple schadenfreude towards the more fortunate.
OK, we hicks are emotional intellectual cripples who don’t know what’s good for us. And we resent those people who do know what’s good for us. What’s that lead to?
As Bageant notes, poor rural and small-town whites have consistently voted against their own interests for several decades now. They’ve voted against measures that might’ve increased access to college for the poor; they’ve voted in favor of measures that gave credit card companies greater power to set exhorbitant rates and exploit the poor; they’ve voted against a welfare system that — despite Pat Buchanan’s implication — mostly benefitted them; they’ve voted against labor union-sponsored efforts that might’ve saved their jobs and/or salaries.
The logical flaws in the assumption that people were voting against their own interests because of racism and religion alone here are huge. Do certain blocks of Southern voters move that way? Of course. Do most? No. We don’t vote plebiscite on most issues in this country, and on no issues at the national level. We vote for representative government. Most of us hold our nose and vote for the least offensive candidate, but find them all distasteful. In general, white Southerners vote heavily Democratic at the local and state levels. Why the reverse in the national elections? Because despite the lack of good education, Southerners are a practical people with a lot of common sense.
I’ve discussed a few of the issues in that article with some of my relatives and friends with a decidedly darker shade of red under the collar than I have. Let’s take my conversation with a UAW member about minimum wage for example. His attitude was: “Why raise the minimum wage? All the hard working people I know make well more than the minimum already. If we make the teenager sweeping the floor too expensive for management to afford, they’ll just outsource all our jobs to India. If you’re making minimum past the age of 20, there’s something wrong with you.” My people understand the nuances of the issues you Yankee condescending liberal snots. They just don’t believe you when you claim to be working in their interests.
Let’s take another issue, the welfare system. Read “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Who was the only character on public assistance? Bob Ewell. I grew up around a lot of white trash Bob Ewells sucking on the public teat. When I see how short the term of unemployment insurance is offered to hard-working people, how my 40 years of manual labor blue-collar uncle with heart failure has to use up all his savings before he’s eligible for Medicaid, while people who haven’t worked a lick in their lives get on right away, well hell, I don’t believe that the systems liberals hold so dear were set up to reward hard working people. And I won’t vote for more of that.
It’s not the slogans of the loudest politicians who convince me to shift Republican, it’s my own observations. So no, even if some small benefit from them might accrue to me and mine, I’m not all that well disposed towards the greater harm I see most social welfare programs doing. And no politician wanting to expand those programs without addressing their flaws is going to get my vote, no matter how much you promise me and mine, because as Jim Wright said :"you ain’t getting’ the soda machine".
I noted in another post that most issues have complex roots. You need to build a mental model with a lot of terms and properly weight those terms in order to solve a problem. So here’s a word of advice for Democrats looking to woo swing voters like me: quit with the simplistic “you’re racist and stupid” stuff. We understand you. We truly do. Figure out all the things that move us and you might find some common ground.
Democrats, ask yourselves: why is your party dominated at the national level by rich old money like Pelosi and Kennedy? Why do they expect so much out of the middle class in terms of wealth distribution while giving so little of their own money away? Why do they support the death tax that hits middle class ranchers, farmers and small businessmen so hard? Because, as Duke said in the Doonsbury strip about him getting replaced as ambassador to China by Leonard Woodcock: “Of course they’re sensitive to the plight of the working class. That’s how they avoid belonging to it.” They’ve got their own money locked up in untouchable trusts and untaxable bonds (note how little Theresa Heinz paid in taxes because of the latter) and they want to guide all the wealth redistribution programs in such a way so that their money is never touched.
We poor Southerners don’t trust those people. We see Democrats in the mid ranks who genuinely want to help us at the local level, and we vote for them. Rich Yankees who call us stupid on the one hand and then tell us they want to help us? Can kiss our hairy, white...
And when they start spitting on the military that our sons and daughters serve in so disproportionately relative to upper class liberals? Well, we don’t forget or forgive young John Kerry’s distortions before Congress in 1971. So, you want to bring conservative Southerners into the fold? I can see a common ground. Quit playing to the wildly liberal fringe of your party. Quit demonizing us. Is there a component of racism in the way some folks down there vote? YOU BETCHA. But, as I said, make a mental model. Go down and talk to (not at) those people and you’ll find some very shrewd, if not so polished and articulate, minds. The racial component in my model of why Southern white democrats vote Republican on the national level is about 30%. The other stuff that makes up the rest of the 70% of the reasons can overcome the racial divide in most people. Are there some incorrigible racists down there? Again you betcha. But they are not the majority.
Now I see the same thing for the party I officially belong to. I make no bones about the fact that I’m a small “L” libertarian, but I vote Republican because I agree with them more on economics than I agree with the Democrats, and economics is the single most important issue for me.
But in order to get enough votes to swing elections, the Republicans cater to the religious right – the white religious right - and I don’t blame black people who look at that and say “no way am I voting for them”. That’s why I whack the YEC with a big ol’ rational stick whenever I find them on the political stage. I am a scientist. I am a child of the enlightenment. My Ph.D. can be traced in a direct line back to the lab of Antoine Lavoisier, and to allow people like the YEC to run amok in my own party just to win elections would make me a hypocrite. So I’ve got to beat on them to remain true to myself even if it’s seen as scoring points for the other side.
I see some, but not nearly enough of that willingness to whack on the fringe on my side of the aisle. There has to be more of us doing that before the Republicans can truly become a centrist party. I despair of it ever happening, but voting for the Ayn Rand fan club that constitutes the modern Libertarian Party is a) pissing my vote away and b) lying down with dogs that have a lot of fleas. So I hold my nose and cast my vote elsewhere. But here’s the thing – I see almost NO willingness on the Democratic side to pull their fringe element in line. Until I do, I’m not crossing the aisle again. But I did in the last election for one candidate. And I’ll do it again for him.
Want my vote? Treat me like my concerns are valid. Don’t promise my poorer family members goodies without talking about the consequences. Despite my distaste for the man’s moral character, you know who did treat me like my concerns were real? Bill Clinton. I don’t think a Republican could have pushed through the 1996 Welfare Reform bill, just as I don’t think a Republican or a Northern Democrat (and that includes JFK) could have pushed though the 1964 Civil Rights bill. But Bill and LBJ were true centrists Bill too much so, in that he moved whichever way the polls were blowing, but at least the man listened.
Southerners don’t vote the way they do because they’re brainwashed. The educational system in this country was not set up to brainwash people. Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence. You can not BS me on this issue. I lived in the USSR. I've seen a system that was designed to brainwash people up close and personal. I talked at great length with people who were products of that system. I lived in Japan and watched that educational system, which is the closest the free world comes to brainwashing. And the US system is not even close. It's not a great system, either, and I have plenty of complaints about it, but it's not a brainwashing system.
The US educational system was set up to cram facts down throats before kids dropped out in 8th grade. It evolved from that in the 50s with the push after Sputnik, but only slightly. In point of fact, the educational system has been dominated by liberal progressive thinkers since Thomas Dewey started preaching child-centered education and denigrating content knowledge back in 1916. Businesses have been calling for better educated workers for most of the 20th Century, and never more so than now. To claim that the Dewey-inspired system of today with its emphasis on self-esteem and lack of emphasis on content is designed by business to create docile factory workers flies in the face of evidence. In fact it’s a level of thinking akin to that of conspiracy theorists. We have a term where I’m from for people who create mental models based on stuff they read in books and never question with real observations: “educated beyond your intelligence”.