Monday, September 20, 2004

Election Analysis: Crazy People
What’s wrong with Kansas, and America

So, what the hell’s really going on in this country? There are some underlying political dynamics that I think would be generating a lot of interest this year, if the media actually pretended to live in the same country as we do and stopped talking about f***ing Vietnam already.

1. Neighborhood Swap! Tuesdays on ABC! Educated young people from established suburbs move to the city to “hive,” displacing working-class blacks and Latinos who end up . . . in the old inner suburbs.

Wackiness ensues. While it’s all trendy and PC to be down on “gentrification,” politically the results have favored Democrats. The influx of minority voters has turned formerly red suburban districts blue, while new yuppies, as soon as they get acclimatized to the city, become reliable Democratic voters too. Since Dems dominate urban areas, expanding the sphere of urban-ness has helped Democrats. Think about it – what would happen if more professionals who work in DC moved there, while Marion Barry voters relocated en masse to Virginia? D.C. would stay blue, while VA got more competitive.

Also, the tired suburban Republican line of blaming liberals for the horrible state of cities is losing its power, since most American cities are in pretty good shape, and many of their kids have moved there. Suburbs that want to keep their kids and their tax base are responding by getting more citified, with condos and sushi bars Trader Joe’s.

Gentrification, more than anything else, has turned former swing states in the Northeast and West Coast (and Illinois) into Democratic strongholds. Overall, this is good for Democrats but with some scary implications: If Detroit doesn’t start gentrifying soon, we lose Michigan. Ditto Milwaukee - and look what’s happened with Cleveland. These Democratic powerhouses have lost their clout because they are outnumbered by a ring of Republican dominated suburbs. Sprawl is the opposite of gentrification – it increases segregation, and people who move there rapidly turn Republican.

Implication: Environment matters. Where Democrats are in power, they will promote gentrification. Where Republicans are in power, they will promote sprawl. Zoning may be an even better tool than gerrymandering for influencing elections long-term.

2. Desperate Housewives! Moms by day, commandos by night, these “Security Moms” will do anything to defend their children!

Yes, the media have been yammering about Security Moms, but they don’t get it. These women seem to have shifted from Kerry to Bush over the last few weeks. What they are missing is, that shift has nothing to do with the GOP convention. It was the Beslan massacre. In the aftermath, my extremely liberal wife was basically calling for genocide in Chechnya. Blow up the whole country, she says. (I pointed out that’s already been tried, twice). She’s not about to vote Bush, but many more moderate women are convinced that Bush’s “wipe out the terrorist evil” rhetoric will make them safer.

This of course is nuts. Asymmetrical warfare is an inevitable response to US military power (and we have killed WAY more than 350 children in Iraq, why do you think they hate us?). We seem to think that if we have enough tanks and bombs, we won’t have to negotiate with anyone, ever, and only our views matter. It just doesn’t work that way. We can label people as evil terrorists as much as we want, but the only way to resolve things in Iraq, in the West Bank, in Chechnya is politically.

The right’s rhetoric implies that it is wrong to negotiate with murderers, and that only complete military victory is morally acceptable. Yes, this is madness – you make peace with your enemies, not with friends, by definition. And you wouldn’t be enemies if you didn’t think the other guy was wrong. But the fact that it doesn’t work doesn’t matter in domestic politics – it feels right, and as long as the violence continues and keeps people scared, it benefits the Bushies.

(Note that the Islamists know these terror tactics are not helpful for anyone but Bush – the alleged head of the Chechen rebels condemned the attacks, known beheaders in Iraq have demanded the release of the French hostages, etc. They know that killing children and potential allies doesn't sell. (Thank you for making us all look like crazy people - Jenny Calendar) But the problem of using conventional military tactics to fight insurgents is that you tend to capture, kill, or isolate any strong leadership, which leads to resistance by atomized cells, which answer to no one.)

3. Enlightenment vs. Animal House: Rebellious students challenge the dogma of their hidebound professors and engage in wild hijinks on campus!

At one point I got a lot of e-mail forwards from a relative that really got me thinking about the mindset of Christian Conservative/Evangelical voters. The most interesting was a fictitious conversation in which an Evangelical college student stands up in class and debates his fuddy-duddy professor on evolution vs. creation and wins. Obviously the student’s “logic” isn’t that great and his facts are wrong, but that’s the point – the essential conflict here is Faith vs. Reason, Great Awakening vs. Enlightenment. The old, settled debate has flared up again because of class divisions. The scientific method, evidence based debate, and logic are learned skills, associated (although not exclusively) with the educated elite. People who have been cut off from the upper rungs of society feel resentful about it, and since our social and economic system is no longer allowing them to move up the ranks, they need to find a way to convince themselves that they are really better than these people, anyway. Religion has given them this opportunity – they can claim that all the things you think you know are false, the truth is available to anyone in the Bible, etc. Knowledge, skill, and accomplishment can thus be replaced by beliefs and moral values as the measure of an individual’s worth (which, frankly, is a perfectly “reasonable” position to take). As science increasingly reveals mind and body as one, the soul as myth and life after death as wishful thinking, the anti-Enlightenment point of view becomes increasingly attractive beyond Evangelical ranks - to those of us who fear death, or, like George W Bush, who’s a Methodist but who has adopted parts of the Evangelical worldview, I believe, because he needs the moral certainty to help him stay sober.

4. Jackass: The Protesters: On a dare, contestants infiltrate the Republican convention and start yelling at speakers! If Bush had a convention bounce, it was the protesters that gave it to him, not the Governator's speech. Thanks guys, for making us all look like crazy people.

There was more, but it will have to wait. I have actual work to do.

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?