Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The view from a Go Big Red state

In a post whose title I greatly appreciate, Ezra links to stand-up comic John Rogers, who gives advice to our presidential candidates about the kind of style that will win in the South and Midwest. I think John and Ezra have it right, and I want to repost some interesting stuff that Nebraskan ex-roommate Justin Tiehen wrote shortly after the November elections:

Look, here's what I think that style really needs to address. Red-staters (myself included) have a serious inferiority complex with respect to people on the coasts. Whether easterners consider themselves elite or not is really besides the point. The fact is people in the Midwest (I don't know the South) suspect that easterners think we're just a bunch of ass backwards hicks, and we worry and worry about showing that (i) we're not, and (ii) we don't care what they think anyway. Part of the reason Bush goes over so well in the Midwest is that he's one of "us" -- yeah, yeah, he's privilleged, but he speaks naturally in religious terms, which counts for a lot. Voting for Bush is actually a sort of populist move for many red-staters: it's a way of saying fuck you to the elite easterners who think they know everything and put us down. I actually think the gay marriage results are partly (though certainly not entirely) a reflection of this sentiment.

Somehow, the Democrats have to cut off this push for the Republicans. Maybe the simple fact that Bush won't be running in 2008 will do it. If the Democrats put up any decent candidate, it would be amazing, utterly amazing, if Guiliani, for instance, could keep all the Bush states in 2008 (though he might win previously blue states).

Faithful readers will know who I'm thinking of.

Update: Justin's comment can be read here. And if it's not obvious, he's on our team.

7 comments:

Rousseau said...

His para seems to ignore that not only is this a specific strategy of the Republicans, hell, it's a specific srategy of any candidate. Southern Democrats have forgotten more about turning their poor voters against Coastal elites that any of us will ever learn.

These things usually come down to "you believe party X's stereotypes if you already want to disagree with party X".

Regardless, this is the sort of fuzzy punditry and cultural writing that's never backed up by data. We have complex exit polls of why people voted for Bush or didn't. Those may be lies, and not measure the people who didn't vote, but there would certainly be ways to pick up on the importance of cultural solidarity or whatnot.

Anyway, yes, linguistics and cultures are ways to signal, and rejection by the Other is one way to make it seem like you've made a sacrifice. But this is all fake narrative, and doesn't say much when none of you're guys are actually making the insults.

Lastly, over-reliance on the "southernness" of a candidate and nothing else to hold that region, is how the Democrats finally completely lost poor southerners. Once Big Dog was gone, southerners decided they had no reason to ever vote for a Dem.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Well, who did we nominate after Big Dog? Gore, who had spent his last 8 years being a policy wonk in DC, and Kerry, who was from Massafuckingchusetts. Bring in John Edwards, have the media sell it as the Democratic Party going South, and the anti-Coastal-elite vote will be appeased. If not fully appeased, appeased enough to chip off the votes we need.

I agree that exit polls can tell you a lot. But you don't get depth psychology out of exit polls, and for building speeches and styles that really convince people, a grasp of the psychological terrain is what you need.

Dennis said...

Respecting both of those views, it seems to me like John Rodgers' piece is the one to focus on -- I'm pretty enraptured by the idea of a standup talking seriously about politics and winning crowds, and his ideas make a lot of sense to me. Part of this is that the us vs. them psychology is better for explaining recent political events than anything I've yet seen (and yes, this is partly because it subsumes Lakoff), another part of it is polls (explaining the hate Bush's issues but love Bush dichotomy), but a lot of it is the Democrats-don't-like-politics critique, which rings far too true. I only like politics in the abstraction -- shaking hands with a billion people, making a billion incidental contacts couldn't be less interesting to me. And we have a lot of politicians who seem to feel like me (yes Neil, not Edwards).

Of course, it's also the case that the extend-the-us point is a lot like how I try to ingratiate myself to people inimical to everything I stand for. But yeah.

The biggest part, though, may just be the appeal of the sucky-performer narrative: looking at a politician who speaks badly must be as painful to this guy as a flat singer is to me. That alone makes me want to believe.

As to Edwards specifically, with the lowered political profile I'm not sure he's the best candidate, but he's certainly as good as anybody else I can see running (I may still have to be a Clark man).

Rousseau said...

This isn't presidential candidates only. If the Democratic party's only appeal in the South is the southerness of our candidate, that's not gonna help on public support for our policies, or help get congressmen elected. Not saying we need to piss off the south. Just that, the Dems already had this discussion, they nominated Clinton, and his southerness did absolutely nothing but buoy his electoral prospects.

And again, I'm so rational-choice-ist sometimes. "Us v them" psychology as something that can be done away with easy superficialities? Ha. Much of various "cultural signals" is what people choose to focus on, and if there wasn't that signal, they'd focus on something else.

But lastly, I'm really just not as pessimistic for Dem's prospects as most people and am not running around like a chicken with my head cut off. What do we need to do to win an election? Not run against the president of september 11th, in the middle of a war (ie, these were factors beyond our control). I think we can handle that.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Certainly, we can't win on Southernness alone. But as Thomas Frank will tell you, we've got some stuff that we can sell in the South -- namely, minimum wage increases and economic populism.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Sorry, misread one of your points above. But about the downticket stuff, I seem to remember congressional gains for the Democrats in '92. Were they all non-Southern?

Rousseau said...

Congressional gains were coattails, results of Census change, and more, have more to do with the individual candidates southernness than our top-ticket.

I don't know how well economic populism sells in the south. Oh, it should. But labor unions, communism, and lazy inner-city folk are demonized that it's hard for me to say what's "natural" to be sold.