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Tone Deaf

I agree with the spirit of this Tim Lee post, but feel compelled to take up the notion that I'm "almost as tone deaf about cultural conservatives as these folks" (i.e., the Left 2 Right bloggers). If anything, I'm probably more tone deaf, since I assume that even though these folks have been hanging their hats at fancy universities, some of them must come from culturally conservative areas. The only cultural conservatives I know are highly atypical intellectual sorts, not rank-and-file salt-of-the-earth Americans.

But I think this sort of misses the point. I'm not trying and failing to sing a song that will be pleasing to the ears of cultural conservatives. I'm just not trying. I wouldn't know how to do it if I did try, so I don't really bother. It's not something I would call a major goal of mine. To me, one of the most distressing things about the 2004 election result is that it seems to have created some kind of supposition that making liberalism more appealing to cultural conservatives should be the primary task of every liberal person in the country. But life is too short for everyone to spend all their time on this. Certainly, someone needs to do it -- hopefully someone who knows something about it -- but it's not a role I'm well-suited to, so it's not one I care to play. Instead, I try to delight, entertain, amuse, and inform myself and my readership, which I take not to include many cultural conservatives.

The flipside of all of this is that cultural conservatives are remarkably tone deaf about, say, me. It's a little hard to get worked up about the notion that Hollywood, the news media, and homosexuals are going to destroy the American family when you grew up in a happy family where your parents worked in Hollywood and the newsmedia and you counted a lesbian couple among your neighbors. I'm aware that it seems "obvious" to some people that these things are dire threats to traditional life and values, but that just seems bizarre to me, in part because my tradition isn't the "traditional" one and in part because it simply isn't the case that the dire threat exists. Now as Will put it a little while ago, a bare counter-assertion of the legitimacy of my identity and personal narrative doesn't get us very far in terms of the fact that the like-me people are outnumbered by the not-like-me people, but it's hard to move beyond assertion and counter-assertion when you feel that the legitimacy of your identity is under attack, be it from the political system or the media-industrial context.

Fortunately, as I noted before there's actually quite a lot of interchange across this allegedly divided country. A very large proportion of "blue" people actually come from "red" families and towns and (as was pointed out to me by some detractors) many people who are hardcore "blues" when young and single shift to a more "red" mindset at geographic location as they get older, have kids, etc. So it's not as if prospects for dialogue are all that bleak in a universal sense.

December 7, 2004 | Permalink


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Thanks for stating the obvious that people like David Brooks (today cackling about red staters outbreeding their blue counterparts) miss-- how idiotic the assumption is that politics and culture are passed down throught the generations like eye color. How many red state moppets are going to grow up, decide that their exurbs are boring, and pic up and move to L.A., Manhattan, and Seattle to follow their dreams?

Posted by: Hank Scorpio | Dec 7, 2004 1:58:46 PM

It is also untrue that as we get older we shift from "blue" to "red" in our cultural values. When I was a teen I was as conservative as it is possible to be. When in my 20's I was just a run of the mill Republican. When in my thirties I began to shift towards the Democrats, and before age 40 was a left wing Democrat, where I remain today in my late 60's. It seems to me that the more you read, the more exposure you have to people who are different from you, and the more thinking you do, the more likely you are to shift to the left, and age can assist in that shift.

Posted by: Vaughn Hopkins | Dec 7, 2004 2:10:15 PM

Mr. Scorpio,

Statistically, not a lot. Many more are headed "red" than "blue". Growth in CA, for instance, has been all from foreign immigration for the last decade.

But Georgia and Texas and Virginia and North Carolina and Florida - etc. - have been gaining from internal migration.

Posted by: luisalegria | Dec 7, 2004 2:12:30 PM

The issue for dems isn't so much to show that, on the inside, we're red to the core. It's to show that the choice between blue and red *isn't* a choice between moral relativism and moral values, but between competing moral systems. That is why someone like David Brooks, despite his support for gay rights, is such an effective proponent of cultural conservatism. His columns urging us to take evangelicals seriously and the like are all intended to make the following point: those people may have beliefs we don't fully comprehend, but, unlike us, they actually have beliefs. We need to say over and over again that we "tolerate" homosexuality and "tolerate" abortion, not because we refuse to judge the conduct of other people, but because we consider homosexuality perfectly acceptable, and think there is a right to an abortion. That's an agenda to which we can all contribute.

Posted by: pjs | Dec 7, 2004 2:15:20 PM

Mr. Scorpio,

Statistically, not a lot. Many more are headed "red" than "blue". Growth in CA, for instance, has been all from foreign immigration for the last decade.

But Georgia and Texas and Virginia and North Carolina and Florida - etc. - have been gaining from internal migration.

Posted by: luisalegria

While this is true, these states will eventually reach a critical mass where they are no longer essentially rural in character and outlook. As many people noted of the profusion of electoral maps, look at the blue cities, even in the old south, snaking up the Mississippi.

Cities (100,000 and larger) are by their very nature more liberal than rural areas. Suburbs and exurbs (whose electoral import is inflated given their relatively low population density) will always be a mixed bag.

See http://thestranger.com/2004-11-11/feature.html

Posted by: Jeff I | Dec 7, 2004 2:28:14 PM

Luis - I get the impression you're looking at the wrong map (ie state level not county level). The people internally migrating to Texas are migrating to (largely blue) cities like Austin, not to one-horse red towns in the middle of nowhere.

Posted by: john b | Dec 7, 2004 2:29:21 PM

I'm just not trying.

You're not? I thought that's what this whole Beinart/Atrios/Drum/MY dustup was about: how to attract more red staters. Sure, you're just applying it to one partiuclar issue - national security - but that's a pretty big issue. And I think you're doing a pretty good job.

Posted by: Al | Dec 7, 2004 2:32:39 PM

Mr. Yglesias,

I do know of a way you in particular can "sing a song pleasing to the ears of cultural conservatives" - both pleasing to the ear to the "red" people, and easy to do, and you, personally, are in an excellent position to do something.

Call for Harvard to host ROTC again.

You have standing as an alumnus, you have their ear through your magazine, etc.

I recall back in 2003, where an armored battalion commander put a flag on one of Saddams palaces - that of the University of Georgia - as there were several ex-ROTC men among the officers.

One day, should a Harvard banner be raised above the palace of a fallen dictator, the red-blue split would be nearly gone.

Posted by: luisalegria | Dec 7, 2004 3:05:46 PM

For that matter, why shouldn't immigration count in terms of population growth? For this purpose you'd have to only count legal immigrants who get registered to vote, but for that matter, all of this population data would have to adhere to the same criteria.

Posted by: theogon | Dec 7, 2004 3:06:43 PM

To me, one of the most distressing things about the 2004 election result is that it seems to have created some kind of supposition that making liberalism more appealing to cultural conservatives should be the primary task of every liberal person in the country.

Only a knucklehead would define the problem as making liberalism appealing to conservatives. They're conservatives because it does not appeal to them. The job should be to make liberal values appealing to those who live in regions now dominated by conservatives by appealing to self interest and shared goals. This means stripping core liberal values from irrelevant cultural trappings that annoy those who don't share them. A major triumph of conservatives has been to conflate the two.

I agree with Matt that he is not a good choice for bridging this gap. I also don't think it is the job of all liberals to do so, but it is the job of some. I think I could make a more sincere effort than Matt, but I doubt I'd be very effective. I do think that Democrats shoot themselves in the foot by doing little to counter the impression that you have to be an ironic wine-and-cheese urbanite to join the club.

"Red State" America correctly infers that many of the most outspoken liberals are nothing like them. Never mind that neither are the outspoken conservative megapundits. For some reason nobody goes up to Ann Coulter and says "WTF?! You ARE the media elite, and I'm just a Democrat in a 50s-era suburban tract house." There needs to be a response to the negative stereotyping of liberals and it has to go beyond ignoring it and pretending its not happening."

Posted by: Paul Calalhan | Dec 7, 2004 3:10:38 PM

aren't you afraid that when a critical mass of rational, intelligent and decent people is accumulated in the miliary, they may simply refuse to fight criminal colonialist wars and start doing what Mr. Kerry was doing in the 1970s? You wouldn't like this to happen, would you?

Posted by: abb1 | Dec 7, 2004 3:13:48 PM

Growth in CA, for instance, has been all from foreign immigration for the last decade.

And your point? Many of the most ambitious, influential people here in the Bay Area are from other countries. The ones who stay here long enough often naturalize and become eligible to vote. You seem to be suggesting that this is a less worthy source of added population.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Dec 7, 2004 3:14:30 PM

Mr. Abb1,

No, I'm not worried about that.

On the other hand, if you are convinced that this will happen, its in your interest to get behind the idea.

Posted by: luisalegria | Dec 7, 2004 3:22:55 PM

Mr. Theogon, Mr. Callahan, Mr. Jeff I

Immigrants are a factor of course, but the first generation does not vote much, and subsequent generations seem to have the same migration behavior.

As for future voting behavior in "red" states, being determined by "blue" immigrants - this does not seem to be happening as the "red" have gotten "redder", migrants or not.

Posted by: luisalegria | Dec 7, 2004 3:28:28 PM

I see Luis is back, making up random but convenient facts about red vs. blue, and pushing his "you Jews have to try to be more likeable to us Nazis" line. If anyone thinks I need to assimilate to my own goddamn country, they can go fuck themselves.

Posted by: Walt Pohl | Dec 7, 2004 3:50:04 PM

Mr. Pohl,

It is refreshing to hear such a calm and moderate position.

Posted by: luisalegria | Dec 7, 2004 3:59:50 PM

I don't claim to know whether the country is trending "blue" or "red" over the medium to long term. Processes can be self-limiting or self-accelerating (up to a point). I want to believe that GOP power is self-limiting particularly with respect to population density, but who knows. As far as I know, Dallas and Atlanta are both dense yet conservative cities.

There's no question that the unadjusted red state/blue state map is a stunning piece of visual propaganda. Conservatives have a tenuous majority in a winner-take-all system. The dominance of ink on the map reinforces the political reality, but neither points to an overwhelming consensus on conservative views.

It looks to me like this majority is still very white-centric, and I also (too optimistically) think that we might be seeing a lot of the Reagan-era youngsters coming into their own. I speak from personal experience when I say this was the most soul-crushingly terrible time to be a college-age American--at least a liberal American. I think the genXers and so on will be an improvement when they come of age politically.

I'm hopeful of two trends. One is that younger voters went for Kerry, even in some states Bush won like Ohio and Colorado. I'm also hopeful about immigration. I don't kid myself that successful immigrants will vote like I do, but I don't think Tom DeLay should kid himself that they'll vote like he wants them to either.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Dec 7, 2004 4:18:15 PM

Well, I think there is good chance even some of the regular cannon fodder will be able to figure it out.

One doesn't really need Harvard education to get sick and tired of going half way around the world to make brutal dictators look good in comparison.

Posted by: abb1 | Dec 7, 2004 4:19:28 PM

Mr. Callahan,

"The most soul-crushingly terrible time" ?

I hope you don't take it too badly from someone unfortunately much more than old enough to be your father, but you should open your eyes a bit. This is a truly wonderful time in world history. The world really is your oyster - an American, in college, everything before you, and fewer impediments to doing whatever you want than has ever been the case for almost anyone in the history of the world.

If I were you, I would be singing all day. Some setback in a probably passing bit of political enthusiasm should not qualify as "soul crushing".

I recall reading the line of Ginsburg on "the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness" and being instantly convinced the man was stupid. His generation ? The generation of computers, aerospace, prosperity and freedom unbounded ? What an utter fool. Don't think like that.

Posted by: luisalegria | Dec 7, 2004 4:29:39 PM

I meant when Reagan was president. That's when I was in college.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Dec 7, 2004 4:40:36 PM

BTW, I agree totally and non-ironically that "these are the days of miracle and wonder" (intentionally dating myself). However, the future to my taste is representative by Tom Coburn's warnings of rampant lesbianism in the classroom. The American rightwing wants to preserve a particular view of America that never was. I want to help build an America that will surprise me.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Dec 7, 2004 4:45:14 PM

I meant (above) that Coburn and the religious right does not represent my view of the future.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Dec 7, 2004 4:49:06 PM

Mr. Callahan,

Should you ever be a father to a girl, stories of "rampant lesbianism in the classroom", or other things of that sort, are going to sound a little less attractive.

Posted by: luisalegria | Dec 7, 2004 4:52:31 PM

Finally, you're just being silly about Ginsberg. He meant the greatest poetic minds assuming he meant anything at all. It's a poem and has to be judged as to whether the line has resonance, not literal accuracy--and it resonates for enough people to be quoted often.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Dec 7, 2004 4:55:34 PM

Mr. Callahan,

I'm afraid I am an engineer, not a poet, and thus not exactly qualified to judge poetry on its own merits. But many other people take such poems as literally as I do, and accept the message.

From what I know of poetry though, the thing does represent a state of mind - and thus reflects a plain blank ignorance of anything but the mans own milieu, if that.

"High flight" is an engineers poem, and accurate.

Posted by: luisalegria | Dec 7, 2004 5:06:04 PM

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