Thursday, March 18, 2004

We Are Not a Swing State

Bob pointed out these comments about my home state to me on TPM. The long and short of it is, the Bush campaign has already given up winning the state in 2004, although they will still raise money here.

Illinois politics have long been polarized. The city has been run by a Democratic machine since Anton Cermak was elected Mayor in 1931. Cermak died two years later, taking a bullet for FDR in an attempted assassination attempt on the President. Ed Kelly took over as mayor and the city has been run by Bridgeport Irish almost ever since. Chicago had 2.89 million resdents in the 2000 census, almost exactly one percent of the national population of 283 million. We are 37% black, 31% non-Latino white, 26% Latino, and a lotta "other" (Mostly Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Indo-Pak, Palestinian). The census undercounts a lot of illegals from Mexico and Poland. We are the most heavily Democratic voters in the country - Gore won 80% of the vote and all 50 wards in 2000.

We are surrounded by 5 million suburbanites, who are majority Republican, but Democrats are gaining ground. Suburban Cook County is also quite Democratic at this point, but DuPage County, due west of us (where I was born, by the way) is just as Republican as we are Democratic. Wheaton, where I lived until I was four years old, is home to a conservative Bible college and represented in Congress by Henry Hyde of Hyde Amendment fame. Their machine was run for decades by a guy called "Pate" Phillip, but he is in a lot of legal trouble at the moment. The South Suburbs are increasingly African American and are dominated by the Jackson family, especially Jesse Jackson Jr., a US Representative from a South Side/South Suburban district. The North Shore of Lake Michigan is rich people who are socially liberal, trending Democratic and hate Bush. The Northwest and Southwest suburbs are probably still gonna go for Bush. The new "Edge Cities" of Aurora and Naperville are Bush Country. Between the city and suburbs, the Chicago region has 8 million residents and 13 of our 19 congressional districts.

Downstate we have 4 1/2 million people. Farm country is pretty Republican, dying factory towns like Decatur where my father lives are hotbeds of union activism and go Dem even though they are socially conservative. The Illinois suburbs of St. Louis are reliably Democratic. Our half of the Quad Cities, Rock Island and Moline, vote Democratic as well. Downstaters don't trust the city, but the don't trust the suburbs either. We have a lot in common - we both want our steel mills back, and haven't quite figured out what to do without them. My grandfather worked 30 years at Northwestern Steel and Wire in Sterling, Illinois, which is now shuttered. Sterling used to be represented in the US House by Donald Rumsfeld. My grandmother, a lifelong Republican activist, did in fact know him. Sterling is 25% Mexican and votes solidly Democratic these days.

There is much disagreement on the war. All three parts of the state have lost good people. We don't like being lied to, and mostly didn't think it was right to shoot first, but we are proud of our soldiers. My uncle is career military, my cousin just signed up with the Marines. I am fiercely proud of them.

Illinois is trending Democratic for several reasons. It's less white than it used to be. Suburbs that used to be Republican voting have increasingly been experienceing "urban" problems and voters in the inner suburbs tend to see them selves more and more associated with Chicago than with outer sprawl-burbia. The city has been slowly coming back from the dead over the last decade, and is widely regarded as liveable and well-run: Daley has redeemed his daddy's name in the eyes of many. But the biggest factor by far has been a series of scandals which has seen many Republican politicians including former Gov. George Ryan indicted for corruption and kickbacks. Outside the state, Ryan is widely known as an opponent of the death penalty. He commuted every pending death sentence right before he left office. Locals know he was just trying to make friends in prison before he's inevitably sent there. Republicans had held the Governor's mansion for 32 years, but were swept out of almost every statewide office (all now held by city Democrats) and lost the state House and Senate, too.

In addition, all the industrial job losses just plain suck. Unions are big here, not just among union workers but among working class guys who want to be union. Gephardt could be elected King here.
State Senator Barack Obama, who just won the primary on Tuesday, received more votes than all 8 Republican candidates, and he had 6 competitors himself. He won whites, blacks, city, suburbs, and did decent downstate. Not bad for a Harvard guy who's half Kenyan. He's gonna be Senator. We're sending quite a present to Washington - you're gonna like this guy.

That TPM stuff about being dependant on black voters is largely bullshit. This country leans to the right because of racism. If there were no black people here, we would all have government health insurance and look like Europe in terms of economic security. People oppose "big government" here becuase they don't want white people taxed to benefit blacks. Modern American suburbia was built specifically to get around Brown v Board of Ed by establishing entirely separate school districts for white kids. They are build they way they are, with big lots, no mixed use buildings, "subdivisions," strip malls, etc. because they are zoned to prevent poor people from moving in. Minimum lot sizes and single-family zoning exist to price working-class blacks (and whites, but that's a side effect) out of the market. Having established segregated "communities," now they want to push all services down to the local level, again to prevent the transfer of resources between races.

Racism explains almost everything that's gone wrong in American society, including modern Republicanism. The real question isn't what things would be like without black voters, but what things would be like without racists. If the widespread support given to Barack Obama in Tuesday's primary is any indication, we may be about to find out.
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