Friday, April 18, 2008

Michael Lind and liberal "elitism"

Mississippi segregationist Governor Ross Barnett: he was against snobs and elitists, too

I have to confess to being a bit lost in the Democratic circular firing squad over Obama's alleged "elitism". I've thought that the Obama campaign and our broken national press corps were working way too hard to paint Clinton's campaign as "playing the race card". On the other hand, I see that the Republican Party has been running against black people since 1964, and it was obvious to me that they would work a racial theme in 2008, which they are doing energetically already.

As I explained in an earlier post, I think the best way for the Democrats to address the "elitism" nonsense is to go on the offense about the fact that Republicans in the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of the federal government have adopted the attitude - and even the explicit argument - that they think the rules don't apply to them.

I actually don't think Obama's idea was far off, though you don't have to be part of an "elite" to see that or think it. Since it's being sliced and diced to death - while Dick Cheney plots war with Iran or Lord-knows-what else and Maverick McCain goes around branding himself as a moderate for the general election - I won't belabor that aspect more in this particular post.

On this one, I find myself at odds with at least three thoughtful analysts with whom I usually agree more often than not: Gene Lyons, Bob Somerby and Michael Lind. Lyons I blogged about earlier. And here I'll just mention Somberby's Daily Howler post of 04/15/08.

But I was intrigued to see the explanation by the New America Foundation's Michael Lind in The rubes and the elites Salon 04/15/08 of just how he thinks the Democrats and liberals have been communicating their supposed snobbery toward white working-class voters.

He cites several examples. One is an editorial from a Seattle "alt-weekly" called the Stranger, which I don't recall having heard of before or ever before seeing it quoted, by liberals or anyone else. Another is a self-published book by John Sperling, an "80-something billionaire", and Samuel George called The Great Divide. Strike two for me, I've also never heard of that, though evidently it must be taken as Gospel by sneering liberals everywhere. Sperling's name sounds vaguely familiar somehow.

There's a Daily Kos diarist he cites named RKA citing something he thinks is elitist, presumably in part because RKA uses the term "low-information" voters. Silly me, I thought that was just a description of voters who, well, weren't that informed about election issues. Little did I realize it was a snob's term of contempt for salt-of-the-earth heartland Americans. What would be a non-snobbishly-correct term for voters who are poorly informed about an election, is left unclear. Small town residents are evidently quite touchy about any adjectives that might be interpreted as other than deferential and admiring.

Lind also cites "liberal hawk" Peter Beinart, who is apparently representative of liberals because he was editor of the New Republic, even though that journal has pushed an neoconservative foreign policy line for years, including Beinart's own enthusiasm for the Iraq War until fairly recently. Spencer Ackerman, another New Republic alum, has said it seemed to him that New Republic was not so much prowar as that they were obsessed with the idea that if the war were prevented that some hippie somewhere might be pleased, and they couldn't bear the thought of that happening. But on domestic issues, New Republic does still take liberal positions so Beinart is not a complete outlier of liberalism. Beinart's offense was to suggest that perhaps the Democrats shouldn't do backflips to win that segment of white working-class voters who were never going to vote for them anyway.

Todd Gitlin would count as a liberal by most any measure, and he cites a sentence by him from a TPM Cafe post as showing this wicked liberal elitism. Later, he cites the very same post approvingly, which is understandable, because Gitlin's post was raking Obama over the coals for the same reason Lind is.

But, you learn something new every day:

Now consider the disturbing way that mainstream progressive thinkers and strategists discuss working-class white voters in terms of demeaning stereotypes. Working-class Catholic voters in the industrial states used to be "hardhats." Now they are "Archie Bunker voters," or "Joe Lunchbucket," or "the beer track voters." Even worse are the terms used for the Southern white working class. It's composed of "rednecks" or "Bubbas" or - more recently - "NASCAR man" or even "white trash."
Gosh, I must not be around that many liberals, living as I do in Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee's district. I can't remember the last time I heard the term "Archie Bunker voters". Does anyone under,oh, 45 or 50 remember who Archie Bunker was? "Beer track voter" is entirely a new one for me. What the hell it means, I can't fathom. Beer track?

And when in the name of Andrew Jackson did "Bubba" become a negative term? Is that supposed to be elitist-liberals who think it's negative? Or Lind who thinks it's negative? Or Lind who thinks that liberals think it's negative, whether it is or not? I'm soo-ooo confused!

George Wallace: he was opposed to "pointy-headed intellectuals" in the 1960s (whatever "pointy-headed" may have meant)

Lind writes, "The path of least resistance for liberal journalists and bloggers is to respond to these disturbing numbers by demonizing less-educated white Democrats." That explains why every liberal blog I know for the last week has been frantically declaring, "Damn those less-educated white Democrats!" (NOT!)

Lind cites the dubious analysis by David Sirota in The Clinton Firewall In These Times 03/31/08, which used a dubious methodology to conclude that in the Democratic contest, Obama ran strongest in states where there was a relatively small black population and in states where there was a relative large one, but in states with a "big-but-not-huge African-American population", Clinton did better, a result which Sirota attributes in part to a "race chasm".

Now Sirota's analysis, as I said, is very dubious. Somerby discusses why in his post of 04/08/08. Brendan Nyhan at his blog challenges the Sirota analysis in Be careful interpreting primary results! 04/02/08.

But Lind links to Sirota's article and says that Sirota:

... has suggested that white racist voting increases with the black proportion of the population of a state - high in Mississippi, low in Minnesota. Racism is supposed to explain why Obama does poorly with white Catholic voters in big industrial cities, who presumably see themselves as competing for jobs, status and real estate with urban black Americans.
Uh, no, that's not what Sirota said. His argument focused specifically on the Democratic caucuses and primaries, and concludes that in states with a medium-sized black population, racial prejudice among whites benefits Clinton. How Lind got "white racist voting increases with the black proportion of the population of a state" out of that, I don't know.

Somehow, in an even more elaborate exercise of imagination, Lind even squeezes out of Sirota's article that Sirota is saying that "everyone knows that all white Southerners are racists, even the ones without black neighbors". And, even worse, he claims Sirota is suggesting that "all white Democrats are at least latent racists".

Now, Sirota's article was sloppy and he failed to prove his case. But Lind's characterizations of his article are just whacked. I guess I should confess here that I have a particular perspective on a couple of things. Having grown up in Mississippi, I'm trying to think if there is anyone among all the people I know in Mississippi and from there who wouldn't look at me as though I had lost my senses if I were to say to them, "Whites in Mississippi don't apply any racial considerations in voting". Actually, thinking I was insane would be the generous response, the alternative being to wonder if I'd joined the White Citizens Council or something.

Also, I've paid relative close attention to the immigration issue over the last 16 years or so. And good grief, does anyone seriously think there are no racial considerations in the anti-immigrant movement. Please.

Actually, all this hoo-ha about Democratic "elitism" reminded me about how Jerry Brown, currently California's Attorney General, former two-term Governor and likely Democratic candidate for Governor next time around, doesn't make any pretense of being Mr. Cornpone in his public appearances. The guy's a real intellectual by any remotely sensible meaning of the word and he couldn't hide it if he tried.

I remember in the last major wave of anti-immigration agitation in California back in 1994, I heard Jerry addressing Pete Wilson anti-immigration Proposition 167 that was on the ballot that year. Among other things, he said that part of what happens in these anti-immigrant waves is that some people start looking around and thinking, "there's too many Mexicans around here." He left no doubt that he thought the measure was a bad idea. He memorably suggested, quoting from memory here, "If you want to do something about illegal immigration, stop eating. Because every time you sit down at the table, it's likely that something on the table involved illegal immigrant labor in getting it there."

Well, the measure won. But it was such a dumbass law that what the state courts didn't throw out turned out to be practically unenforceable. It made a long-term political difference in California though, because Latino voter participation has been up significantly every since. Why? Because like Jerry Brown, Latino voters could see that there damn well was racist and nativist sentiment involved in this kind of crap and if they didn't vote to oppose it, Latino citizens would also be victims of it. I suppose someone taking Michael Lind's approach could say that my preceding sentence was condescending because I didn't specify that Latino voters could also think it was a bad and/or impractical policy for dealing with the problem. But as much as I enjoy brain-teasers at times, I'm just not adapt at splitting hairs that finely.

Lind then goes on to elaborate some near-incomprehensible regional theory of voting that apparently revolves around the notion that New Englanders are snobs and this somehow determines national political trends. But I don't want to misrepresent Lind's flawed argument like he does to Sirota's flawed argument, so I'll refer you to Lind's article to see for yourself.

Lind even pimps the "Marxist" label that the Republicans and Joe Lieberman have been pushing the last few days. [Deep sigh] That's because a self-described Marxist, Theodore Adorno, was one of the co-authors of the pathbreaking study The Authoritarian Personality, which looked at sociological and psychological factors that led people to support authoritarian movements. And the analysis of conservative political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset about the role of "status anxiety" among Barry Goldwater's supporters was refuted by someone else. So it's a Commie idea to think that some voters in small towns are "bitter". Say what?

I think I'm going to spend the evening reading an H.P. Lovecraft novel. It couldn't be any weirder than Michael Lind's psychedelic analysis of Obama's supposed elitism.

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