Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Another "bitter" angle

As a self-identified member of the reality-based community, I think I'm obligated to face facts even when they contradict my opinions. [Sigh!] We won't get into how often that may happen. But I have to modify my notion that Obama's "bitter" comment was basically right.

Okay, I don't want to get pushed around by the facts too much. I was focused on the concept that people sometimes vote against their own economic interests and that racial or other inflammatory "culture war" issues can be a factor in doing so. Fortunately, I didn't didn't get much into the small town aspect of his comment.

Enter Paul Krugman and his colleague Larry Bartels: Clinging to a Stereotype by Paul Krugman New York Times 04/18/08; Who’s Bitter Now? by Larry Bartels New York Times 04/17/08.

So, the relevant points they bring out include:

Working-class voters support Democrats more than Republicans

Working-class voters are more Democratic today than in the 1960s.

"[I]t is affluent, college-educated people living in cities and suburbs who are most exercised by guns and religion" (Bartels), not small-town or less affluent voters.

And, in keeping with the second of Bruce's Two Fundamental Guides to Understanding Today's Republican Party - "follow Dick Cheney" and "follow the segregationists" - here's Krugman citing Bartels:

So why have Republicans won so many elections? In his book, "Unequal Democracy," Mr. Bartels shows that "the shift of the Solid South from Democratic to Republican control in the wake of the civil rights movement" explains all — literally all — of the Republican success story.
Bartels concludes:

Mr. Obama’s comments are supposed to be significant because of the popular perception that rural, working-class voters have abandoned the Democratic Party in recent decades and that the only way for Democrats to win them back is to cater to their cultural concerns. The reality is that John Kerry received a slender plurality of their votes in 2004, while John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, in the close elections of 1960 and 1968, lost them narrowly.

Mr. Obama should do as well or better among these voters if he is the Democratic candidate in November. If he doesn't, it won't be because he has offended the tender sensitivities of small-town Americans. It will be because he has embraced a misleading stereotype of who they are and what they care about.
Notice here that Krugman, who has been a sharp critic of Obama's campaign, is not faulting him for being "condenscending" or echoing similar Republican claims, but for failing to get his facts right about the Democratic constituency.

The Republican version is that the Reps are the ones who support guns and Jesus while the Dems support criminals and sneer at religion.

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