Red, Blue and Purple

Posted by sepoy on November 05, 2004 · 7 mins read

I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about "Where do we go from here?" that we must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. (Yes) There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. (Yes) And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. (Yes) But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. (All right) It means that questions must be raised. And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, "Who owns the oil?" (Yes) You begin to ask the question, "Who owns the iron ore?" (Yes) You begin to ask the question, "Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that's two-thirds water?" (All right) These are words that must be said. (All right). Martin Luther King, Jr. in his "Where do we go from here?" speech in Atlanta, 1967.

For the first time in my life, I gave money to a political campaign (no, I never checked the box to donate a $1 to the Presidential Campaign on the tax return). For the first time in my life, I volunteered. For the first time in my life, I publicly sought support for my candidate. I am not unique. Hundreds of thousands of first-time Democrats worked for Dean or Kerry campaigns. And it was not enough.

Where do we go from here? There is a lot of chatter about what the Democrat now has to do? Not stop, is what. Some analysis is needed, of course. To understand what has transpired. Some stabs are being made, here and there. In Slate, Jane Smiley makes an argument that it is cultivated and fostered ignorance that makes the red states red. Which is exactly the sort of thing that Tom Wolfe says pisses off the red states:

I think support for Bush is about not wanting to be led by East-coast pretensions. It is about not wanting to be led by people who are forever trying to force their twisted sense of morality onto us, which is a non-morality. That is constantly done, and there is real resentment. Support for Bush is about resentment in the so-called 'red states'

Morality, eh? I am loathe to acknowledge that the Golem that suddenly confronts us is Morality. Yes, I know that the "polls" all show that "moral values" was the # 1 concern. But that is just a keyword for we don't like fags getting married. Not a moral issue - but a cultural one. If sanctity of marriage really keeps 55 million Americans up all night than I suggest they re-visit the whole "divorce" thing or the "adultery" thing or the "quickie marriage" thing. Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Real World, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? are all north-eastern hits? Spring Break happens on Martha's Vineyard? Mardi Gras at the corner of Haight and Ashbury?

I don't know much but I would like to wager that morality alone is a red herring (pardon the pun). Class is still the elephant no one wants to talk about in America. The down-home values, the country-feel is all about class, not about morality. Heck, ever read Faulkner? Class seems a better bet to me. However, it is not one thing. The anti-intellectual strain that Jane Smiley calls ignorance is also misleading. There is no "lack of intelligence" in the Red states. But there is a particular abhorrance of, what I would call, "putting on airs" or anti-elitism which plays a role. The verbal stumblings of the Chosen One (neÈ Our Fearless Leader) are not the signs of stupidity as read by the lattÈ sipping, NewYorker reading crowd but signs of normalcy as read by your average trailer trash. Bubba speaks like that. Bubba knows he ain't got book-smarts, so Fuck You. But, remember, Bill Clinton was a Rhodes scholar. Except his public persona was one of homily-spitting, fried chicken eating, gospel singing homeboy. And get this, he wasn't pretending either.

Juan Cole argues that America will only vote for a Southern Democrat. To beat them, we need one of them. Well, John Edwards is one of them and he got squat from them. And he lost the primaries. So, it is more than just finding a Southern Democrat. We need a framer. Or a re-framer. But, I am not even remotely closed to discussing 2008. I would like, first, to understand why I am now a three time minority in this country (south asian, muslim, democrat).

I may be all kinds of off here but, I'd rather put it out there and think it through. There is lots of read and talk about and I will do it in the coming months. Hopefully, this conversation can be shared by moacir, marlowe, mark and the rest of my gentle readers. Normal broadcast can now resume. Have a good, safe weekend.

update (Nov. 8): Kevin Drum actually read the exit polls from 2000 and 2004 and concludes that the "morality" issue is, indeed, a red-herring.


Marlowe | November 05, 2004

submitted via email We ought to take Wolfe's observations to heart if we're to understand why the bad guys handed us our asses on Tuesday. Big trouble lies†in the fact our side controls the legitimate media, which a hundred-million or so†of our fellows have abandoned. The reasons for this are numerous, but most relevant to our concerns is the fact that for very long we have treated a plurality as though it is an ignorable minority. Now they have FoxNews, Rush and the Weekly Standard--they can read the arbitrons and circulation figures as well as anyone. They know Toby Keith outsells and outdraws Madonna, but is seen nationally only on Ford truck commercials. They attend politically tinged evangelical events that draw 80,000,†but the local news†ignores the event to report on a NARAL protest at the local university.†They rightly ask why their world is ignored. We, on the other hand, live in a college-town echo-chambers and have†deluded ourselves into thinking we're a clear majority. I do not agree with Jane Smiley--the red states are not "unteachable." It is in fact the notion that they ought to be taught that is the problem. Wolfe is right when he says, "[S]upport for Bush is about not wanting to be led by East-coast pretensions. It is about not wanting to be led by people who are forever trying to force their twisted sense of morality onto us, which is a non-morality. That is constantly done, and there is real resentment." I like that Wolfe mentions Zola. Perhaps we need to take a look at our own small-l liberal roots, decide what's negotiable, and protect our core values to the death. I know the red states. America is a tolerant, if not approbational, place. Most Americans can agree on a baseline of tolerance, civility and common sense. Unfortunately, as a people--this includes me and your greencard toting behind, Sepoy--we are proud, easily offended and, regardless of our philosophical groundings, many of us hold to untenable beliefs that render the term cognitive dissonance useless for want of coverage. It would be fine if we could all admit that, find a lowest common denominator and get on with it. For all our talk of the Enlightenment and our being heirs to it, we are weak. For many, our educations terminated with a sort of nihilist worldview borne of Humanities curricula deconstructionism. We know all the right questions and are convinced there are no answers. That's the rub, I think. True as I believe our stance is, the fact remains that our adversaries have a narrative, they recite it, and assure our countrymen of its righteousness and their place in it. They frame issues in terms of must instead of ought. Look back--there was a time when our guys held the moral high-ground--FDR and JFK appealed to the best of us. They offered alternative worldviews based on rightness and wrongness, though at heart both clearly believed and practiced realpolitik. They allowed clear, shining optimistic choices, because they understood that people want a script by which they may live life. We must decide whether following our purported stances to their logical conclusions, with which Rove and ilk†skewer us via reducto ad absurdum, is worth it. For instance, should we, the†clear victors in the abortion/life debate,†continue to defend late term abortions for the sake of not allowing the pro-lifers a single victory? (Read Cynthia Gorney's Harper's article this month). Maybe--but if so, we may also deserve our minority status. There is a price to pay for ideological purity, and we may have just paid it. Instead of using John Edwards' moving and eloquent "Two Americas" observation to its fullest potential, we used it as our margin, and pulled back. After all, if reality itself is an agreed-upon fiction, why can't we choose to do things another way? The beautiful thing about the Enlightenment, and our being heirs to it, is that we have freed ourselves from the old narratives and may†choose how we order our affairs. It seems that we've confused freedom from narrative borne of our recognizing it as such with a natural absence of narrative altogether. It's quite the opposite, and by withdrawing from political storytelling,†we've created an ideological vacuum. It's been filled, and we are the worse for it. Shame that the world may end for want of a story. If we're to be legitimate again, we must get our shit together and offer an alternative view that is articulable and defendable, rather than a patchwork of a hundred unrelated grievances. Wolfe is right about red state rebellion against East Coast pretense; thankfully, he's wrong if he thinks that means America is†big-c Conservative. The red states went red because†because we are scattershot in our aims, slapdash in our presentation, and incoherent in our reasoning. We have no story for them, and until we give them one, they'll remain against their own interests where they're welcomed and invited. To do otherwise would be impolite. To quote Bush's favorite political philosopher, and a favorite of mine as well, "Remove the plank from thine own eye,†before you remove a speck from thy neighbors."

nathaniel | November 06, 2004

I agree with manan that Morality is something of a red herring. Not that people don't care about morality (or their conception of morality), but rather that morality is not an issue where movement can be achieved in the next few years. The many issues that come under the umbrella of morality - abortion, gay marriage, good, down-home values - are a fundamental division in our country. This is not the place to make a political argument - people are no more open to political questioning of their morality than they are open to political questioning of their religious beliefs. Class warfare is also a piece of the problem - and a large one at that. There is another element, however, that I didn't notice in Manan's post, but that I feel is one of the most fundamental problems facing democrats today. It is a lack, if you will, of Cajones. We don't have the balls to stand up and present ourselves as different. We don't choose a candidate who will present the democratic platform as distinct from the republican, but one who will seem as close to one of the republicans as possible, while still being different. I'm not saying that Kerry is a conservative dem (ha), I'm saying that the entire campaign was engineered to make him appear to be as little different from bush on the issues as possible. Sure, towards the end he started to take stands -but these stands came because he was forced to them by the lack of yeast in his numbers. If our political strategy continues to be how can we make sure we don't piss off anyone at all we will continue to get fantastically whomped in every election. Here's what I think can reach across these red-blue borders in our country: courage and conviction. I think people in every state - perhaps particularly those who are often caricatured as the red voters - respect courage. Respect a willingness to stand up and say this is wrong. this is right. And this is what I believe. Most democratic candidates do this when they are forced to by the political winds. Republicans do it at the drop of a hat. Now of course this is an over-generalization, but just the same. The way to reach across is to show the voters candidates who believe in their stances as much as they say they do. Not candidates who pay lip-service to a liberal position, but candidates who believe in them. If we are going to ever hope to change people's minds on these ingrained issues, first the candidates have to convince people that THEY believe in them.

nathaniel | November 06, 2004

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