Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Curse of the Countryside

It's Sunday morning, so I'm reading Father Frank, who flays the Republicans in no uncertain terms:
The G.O.P. ran out of steam and ideas well before George W. Bush took office and Tom DeLay ran amok, and it is now more representative of 20th-century South Africa during apartheid than 21st-century America.
It's kind of amazing to see that in print: the Republicans as the American Apartheid Party.

Rich then cites David Letterman's joke about how the 10 G.O.P. presidential candidates at an early debate looked like “guys waiting to tee off at a restricted country club."

The very limited region of GOP gains were immediately apparent, and yet the GOP base in white males remained very solid this year. I criticized Father F last Sunday for understating how Republican white males continue to be overall, regardless of how culturally brain-dead or economically dysfunctional their party becomes.

There were reports this week of an upswelling of anti-Obama racist attacks on black folks, especially but not only in the South. Is it racism or some kind of country politics - or both - that made Southern whites go for McCain 68% - 30%? If you broke males out of the number it would be even higher?

The split between country and city is huge: cities over 500,000 went for Obama 70% - 28%, and cities 50,000-500,000 gave Obama a 59% - 39% advantage. Suburbs were almost evenly split, and everything below 50,000 went 53-45% for McCain.

On the other hand, the "West" is full of rural spaces, and yet "Whites in the West" gave McCain 48% and not the 68% McCain got from their Southern cousins. This may well be because the West has more gigantic coastal cities, huge urban-oriented suburbs, and multipolar racial politics.

This begs the question of why you need all those things to have even minimally centrist politics (Obama vs. the hard-right McCain and Palin). Why can't you have centrist politics with the normal class mixture of the white and still-rural South?

Journalistic anthropology isn't yet giving us answers. The best newspaper piece I've seen focused on the Republicans overdoing it on their Southern strategy and alienating voters elsewhere. But here's the underlying analysis:
Mr. Obama’s race appears to have been the critical deciding factor in pushing ever greater numbers of white Southerners away from the Democrats.

Here in Alabama, where Mr. McCain won 60.4 percent of the vote in his best Southern showing, he had the support of nearly 9 in 10 whites, according to exit polls, a figure comparable to other Southern states. Alabama analysts pointed to the persistence of traditional white Southern attitudes on race as the deciding factor in Mr. McCain’s strong margin. Mr. Obama won in Jefferson County, which includes the city of Birmingham, and in the Black Belt, but he made few inroads elsewhere.
And the idea is driven home by the accompanying visual stereotype of Southern White Man (one Bill Pennington of Vernon, Alabama).

Unfortunately, this assumes the cracker racism that needs to be explained.

The best non-Southern analysis I've read involves my favorite issue - the degradation of public systems and social spaces that force people to stick with personal hierarchies and private solutions. Racism supports the hierarchy that has done more in a perverse and destructive way for white Southern working class security in their own world than has the region's white economic and social leaders. The latter have pursued strategies of underdevelopment decade after decade since the beginning of the South itself - slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and "massive resistance" to integration led appropriately enough by Sen. Harry F. Byrd, a descendant of the Byrd family colonizers of Virginia, who united stone racism with stone opposition to public spending - all which have kept the South backward as an economy and a civil society and a democracy. It is a non-democracy, where that requires the full participation of all social partners. The poet Charles Simic wrote a great piece on this just before the 2004 presidential election, and it is worth reading now.

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