Capturing the "Real America" Vote, Part XVII
The indispensible Digby is back with another incisive analysis regarding the difficulties Democrats face (and will continue to face) trying to attract rural and working class voters in the fabled Red States. I know I've been beating this subject to death for the past two weeks, but in my opinion, it's the most important issue as the Democrats warily stagger towards an election strategy for 2006. Here's a terrific excerpt:
[W]hen it comes to modern American politics there seems to be a conscious embrace of the irrational, an epistomological relativism that renders such reasoned arguments completely inneffectual. People who listen to Rush or absorb his message through osmosis in their social group are operating on the basis of some very long standing tribal hueristics that have been very sophisticatedly manipulated by the real elites in this country. It will take more than fiery speeeches about sticking it to the man to penetrate this mindset.
Certainly, a populist message should work for the Democratic party. But, our populist message cannot obscure the fact that we represent blacks, urban dwellers and those who appear to be agents of rapid social change. And even if it could, the Republicans are hardly going to sit back and be quiet about it.
This problem needs some fresh thinking and I think that the article I posted about earlier about undecided voters provides us with some clues. The first is that we have to stop thinking in terms of issues or a combination of issues. People think in terms of worldview and tribal identity.
The next thing we need to recognise is that we are living in a post modern environment in which straight appeals to reason are not very effective. We have to begin to use symbols and semiotics more effectively. This means that we have to be more stylistic and sophisticated in our presentation. TV with the sound turned off.
There seems to be two schools of thought within the left-liberal community about this issue. First, the reliable DLC mavens, such as Ed Kilgore and Al From, argue that Democrats have to close the "culture gap" in order to appeal to this voting bloc. Of course, wondering whether we should "bravely swim upstream out of loyalty to hip-hop and Michael Moore and Grand Theft Auto IV and Hollywood campaign contributions, or do something else, like at least expressing a little ambivalence about it all" doesn't strike me as a workable goal to rectify this gap, but I could be wrong.
At the other end are people like Tom Frank and Robert Borosage of the Campaign For America's Future, who argue that we should drop the "identity politics" fetish and return to our economic populist roots to regain the working class vote. But as Digby points out, these folks are either ignoring or misunderstanding the not-so-progressive sentiments underlying the Populist and New Deal era. In other words, "sticking it to the Man" just won't do it.
Both of these groups, I think, seriously underestimate just how formidable, and possibly insurmountable, this challenge is. Merely repositioning ourselves on hot-button economic or cultural issues comes nowhere near to addressing this. As Digby notes,
The Republicans are selling a vision and a sense of belonging to a certain tribe. We are selling an argument and a program. They are using 21st century tools to manipulate primal human needs and simplify the world. We are using 20th century methods to appeal to reason in a complicated way. They have the better hand.