The Other Two Americas
For the past four years, we've been subjected to the mind-numbing "red states v. blue states" comparisons, with David Brooks being a leading light in this field of insipid pop sociology. With the election ramping up, you can be sure we'll be hearing even more of these "red state people are like this, but blue state people are like this" nonstories. The latest episode to this ongoing storyline is the question of whether the "values" of the Kerry-Edwards team will help them win in the South and other rural locales. The implicit assumption, of course, is that denizens of red states constitute "real" Americans, while those living in liberal enclaves, with their NPR-listening, latte-sipping decadence, are somehow less genuinely American (for this, we can thank Messr. Brooks and lesser lights). Paul Waldman, discussing the issue of John Kerry's faith, and the role it will play in November, encapsulates this absurd mentality:
As in many areas, there's an underlying assumption here, that the codes and modes of certain kinds of Americans (usually conservatives) are "American," and the ways of the rest of us are aberrational. And it's when the chattering class – an elite culture, both the liberals and conservatives - finds something outside of their experience or habits that they are most likely to label it "authentically" American. NASCAR is thought to be more American than John Kerry's favorite sport of hockey, country music is supposed to be more American than jazz or rock, and the places where there are lots of Republicans are supposed to be more American than the places where there are lots of Democrats. No presidential aspirant would get in trouble for being unfamiliar with, say, the New York subway system, but the candidate who admits that he has never been to a cattle auction will be branded as "out of touch" with regular Americans.
Since 1992, Democrats have gained an electoral lock between Maryland and Maine, along with vote-rich states like Illinois and California. However, you never hear pundits bemoaning the Republicans' inability to compete in these states, unlike the incessant "Why can't the Democrats win in the South?" refrains. Similarly, when the Club For Growth ran an ad against Howard Dean claiming "Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading...Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs," nobody blinked. You can just imagine the fair 'n' balanced outcry if the Democrats had run a similar ad drawing upon popular stereotypes of Southerners and rural folk. To a great extent, Republicans have been able to get away with this through their admittedly brilliant manipulation of public discourse with regards to "values," as Waldman notes:
The corollary to the idea that the GOP is the "values" party is the similarly widespread notion that conservative voters have values, while progressive voters don't. As Kerry talks about values, you'll notice that it's often described by reporters as an attempt to reach out to voters in the South and in rural areas. Because obviously, if you live in the Northeast or in a city, you don't care about values.
This whole discussion regarding “values” and “faith” is bothersome because it’s being played on the Republicans’ home court. Kerry can talk about his faith all he wants, but he’s essentially conceding half the battle by letting the Republicans set the agenda. But hey, what do I know—I’m just a latte-drinking (actually, I’m more of a cappuccino guy) librul appeasenik, right?