1. souse, n.5: 3. A drunkard. slang (chiefly U.S.). (OED)
  2. white souse, n.1: A blog for literature, politics, science, and the occasional cocktail.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The bitter and the clinging

Matt makes a very sharp argument about the politics of cultural division which many accuse the Republicans of playing. Drawing from Andrew Gelman's Red State, Blue State, he argues that poor whites in America do not typically vote against their economic interests by voting Republican -- the majority still vote Democratic. In other words, the politics of elite/NASCAR cultural division is really an argument between wealthy rural elites, and wealthy cosmopolitan elites:

But in whatever sense snowmobiling is a “working class” hobby — and I’ll agree it doesn’t have vast appeal to big city sophisticates — it’s not a cheap pursuit, and I’m sure Todd Palin could have bought a ton of arugula with the money he spent on his snowmobile instead. He just chose not to, which is fine. But that’s what these culture wars are all about — relatively prosperous cultural conservatives fighting with relatively prosperous cultural liberals about “postmaterial” political issues and using lifestyle cues as proxies for those battles — they’re not about poor people mobilizing themselves on behalf of the GOP.

As I say, it's a very sharp and well, argued point. Please go read it in full -- I can't do it justice here. But it's still fundamentally flawed -- because it Republicans win rich rural people, and Democrats all poor people as well as rich cosmos -- there's no way the Republicans would ever win.

The key point, I think, is that the politics of culture war (what Obama called "Making a big election about small things") is not predicated on the need to win over the majority of poor whites -- just enough to put the Republican vote over the top. If you combine a sizable minority (say 40-45%) of poor whites with the strong financing and organization of the wealthy, you can out-hustle and outvote the Democrats in a large share of elections. Besides, from the perspective of "voting against economic interests," the Democratic party traditionally benefited at least as much from their own sizeable minority of the rich -- those Buffet and Soros Democrats -- to work their own political mojo. What has been most notable about this election, I'd say, is that for once, the economic punch of the Democratic party is coming from the bottom up -- from the people who will benefit most from their policies (and have the least individual ability to put their pet causes in their politician's ear).

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