Monday, August 9, 2004

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Simply put, Dan Drezner is my hero. I feel really lucky to be here. Now I will abuse this privilege with a long, rambling post that will alienate almost everyone. Some speculative thoughts:

There was a letter to The New York Times Magazine that struck me as interesting. It was from a Hannah Clark and it read as follows:

As Matt Bai points out, the Democratic Party has been focusing on winning individual elections. But winning an election generally requires an appeal to the political center. Since the center has been moving steadily right, the Democrats have drifted in that direction as well. We need a long-term strategy with the ultimate goal of moving the center to the left.

There’s something to this. My strong sense is that demographic trends coupled with the decreasing salience of (a) the federal income tax burden and (b) crime, welfare, and racial preferences in national elections will create a kind of “perfect storm” for the aging Reagan coalition. The rise of right-leaning exurbs and the continuing growth of emphatically conservative religious denominations notwithstanding, I’d bet that John Judis and Ruy Texeira are, in broadest outline, correct: there is an emerging Democratic majority. The Rove strategy may very well succeed in reelecting the president, but it could represent the last hurrah for the Republicans. Partisan gerrymandering will probably serve to entrench a Republican House majority in the medium-term, but even that’s vulnerable further out. But will this do the trick for Hannah Clark, i.e., will it achieve her “ultimate goal of moving the center to the left”?

Before I continue, I should point out (indulgently) that I’m in a funny position: for a whole host of reasons, a nontrivial proportion of which have to do with a thoroughgoing contrarianism and the experience of growing up among incredibly smug lefties, I identify as a man of the center-right (unconvincingly, a lot of the time). My gut instinct is to root for the John Sununus and the Marc Racicots. But my ideological lodestone would be the neoconservatives of the early 1970s, particularly Irving Kristol and the Daniel Patrick Moynihan who served as head of Nixon’s Urban Affairs Council—which places me in the vanishingly small “Tory Men, Whig Measures” camp. And so, strangely, I agree with Clark, provided “moving the center to the left” means building a consensus in favor of a large and permanent role for the federal government in facilitating social mobility and eliminating poverty.

Right. Back to the original point. Will Democratic hegemony move the center to the left? It probably will, but, if there’s no effective opposition, the newly triumphant Dems will do it in the most odious way.

In February 2001, Jason Zengerle wrote an insanely perceptive essay in The New Republic on Zell Miller and, to use the saucy language of the subheading, “Why Zell Miller screws the Democrats.” Right now, Zell Miller is, for all intents and purposes, a committed, fervent Bush Republican. But in the early 1990s, as governor of Georgia, he was one of the most innovative and shrewd New Democrats, with a keen appreciation of the needs and wants of suburban professionals. Miller first ran as a classic populist. Over time, he became a pomo populist. Zengerle’s take follows:

Miller changed his political strategy, abandoning his coalition of blacks and poor rural whites in favor of a new alliance between blacks and middle-class, traditionally Republican white suburbanites. In the process, he abandoned his commitment to progressive economics. Miller put on hold his campaign pledge to repeal a highly regressive sales tax on groceries (he would eventually repeal it in his second term) and instead pushed through a less progressive $100 million tax cut for the elderly and families with children. More importantly, he curried favor among middle-class voters with the hope scholarship, one of the education initiatives funded by the new state lottery. Beginning in 1993, any Georgia resident whose parents earned $66,000 or less per year and who completed high school with a B average could attend any public college or university in Georgia for free. At the beginning of 1994, Miller bumped up the income cap to $100,000, and by the end of the year he removed it altogether. In effect, Miller created an enormous middle- class entitlement on the backs of the poor, who buy a disproportionate share of the state's lottery tickets. That November, while Republicans were routing Democrats throughout the South, Miller eked out a two-point victory, primarily thanks to the new votes he'd picked up in the Atlanta suburbs.

Miller is, for obvious reasons, persona non grata among Democrats these days, but his past quite possibly represents the Democratic future. The income tax burden will be shifted off of the median voter and onto the very affluent. The costs of generous new subsidies for the middle class, or rather working families, will thus be borne by a small minority likely to become more unpopular over time. If the subsidies take the form of Jacob Hacker’s “universal insurance” (which I hope to revisit) or the family subsidies proposed by Elizabeth Warren and Anne L. Alstott, among others, the costs are likely to be very, very high. Because a serious commitment to “the underclass”—which to my mind would involve an income strategy, but also a sustained effort to address deeply-rooted cultural pathologies (“What the hell can the government do about that?” is a fair question)—ain’t exactly a big vote-winner, it’s easy to see this getting shunted to the side. This rather cynical approach to domestic issues (definitely an improvement in some respects over the Bush approach, thought that’s another matter) will be coupled with an approach to global trade I like to call “polysyllabic protectionism.” The amazingly sharp Barack Obama is its most skillful practitioner. Basically, it combines soaring rhetoric on democratizing the global economy and helping poor nations with tariffs or onerous non-tariff barriers.

There you have it, folks, a glimpse at a possible future. If the Republicans continue with their dunderheaded allegiance to the Norquistian fantasy, AKA “What Would Reagan Do?,” they will rule the suburban fringe of Denver and Nashville with an iron fist while leaving the country to pomo populists who will overindulge the relatively affluent, overregulate the entrepreneurs, and underserve the poor, both here and abroad. That they’ll probably hew to a “Come Home, America” approach to power politics should also give thoughtful observers pause.

So what should Hannah Clark do? Targeting people like Chris Shays or Connie Morella (who lost in 2002) isn’t the smartest move. If she wants to move the center left, she should consider joining the Republican Party. The GOP badly needs centrist infiltrators who will shift the party back to the “wouldn’t-be-prudent” prudence of George H.W.—if you’ll recall, 41 proposed solutions to the health care crisis that made George W.’s narrow focus on association health plans and medical savings accounts look like the joke it is. (Clark is almost certainly not a centrist, but you catch my drift.) We can beat some sense into the Republican Party now—by hoping Bush loses to the hilariously mediocre John Kerry and getting behind Rudolph Giuliani in manic Deaniac fashion before 2008—or later, when President Patrick Kennedy (heaven forfend) is reelected to his third term in a landslide.

The Third Way is it. Game over. Drowning government in a bathtub simply will not happen. The Republican Party is going to be ripe for takeover, and thoughtful centrists should think about playing pirate.

posted by Suzanne Nossel on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM


Haven't read Judis' book, but I'm guessing its mostly based on demographic trends. I dont know how much Zell is really a trend-setter, think Alabama, or "What's the matter with Kansas?". Beyond that though, Georgia is a red state, I don't think the people in the solidly blue have as weak a commitment to the "underclass". From the slate article,

"Like many Bushenfreude sufferers, they're generally comfortable with their social and financial lot. So why are they blowing their hard-earned cash on political ads, yard signs, and $1,000-a-head dinners? They're angry about the war, science policy, the religious right. They're worried about the Supreme Court, air quality, and the budget deficit. They're worried about everything but the prospect that John Kerry might raise taxes on those who earn more than $200,000. "It doesn't come up," said Diane Farrell. "These people realize that life is about more than tax cuts. People feel so strongly about the administration."

So people still care, even if programs don't effect them at all, and they will vote for programs that will benefit others -- still today.

There are even some easily co-opted progressive oppurtunities for republicans, Doha and venture philanthropy to name a couple.

BTW, Kerry may be medicore, but on a rating scale that puts Kerry at medicore, Bush would be off the chart.

posted by: Jor on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

"We can beat some sense into the Republican Party now—by hoping Bush loses to the hilariously mediocre John Kerry and getting behind Rudolph Giuliani in manic Deaniac fashion before 2008—or later, when President Patrick Kennedy (heaven forfend) is reelected to his third term in a landslide."

You forgot the most important issue: the war on terror. John Kerry will endanger our families and other loved ones. He is a proven policy wimp regardless of whatever he did in Vietnam. Kerry hindered Ronald Reagan during the Cold War. He embraced a policy of appeasement. Why is his political record ignored? Does somebody think that Karl Rove changed Kerry's votes in the U.S. Senate?

posted by: David Thomson on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

Okay, let's talk about a couple of things here. As someone from the state that Marc Racicot (Roscoe) once governed, if he represents someone you want on the national scene you're in big trouble. The man is a lightweight as I found out covering his speeches. Great charisma, but he says nothing in the best way possible.

And do you really feel safer with George Bush at the helm? He gave up on the war on terror to take his revenge on Saddam Hussein and we now have, according to report from London, some 18,000 members of Al Qaida floating around the world. They may have just stopped one, although I'll wait for the trials to make that call, but I doubt if they can do that for long with so many terrorists in the world. Kerry might not be your dream man on terrorism, but then, from what you say, Bush isn't either.

posted by: chuck rightmire on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

A worthy project, perhaps doomed to failure. You sensible R's are generals in search of an army. You suffer from a collective action disorder, whereas the fundies, gun nuts, nativits, and antitax whackjobs have the organizational muscle and esprit de corps. Boosting the Main Streeters is probably your best bet.

posted by: praktike on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

Man, I wish I lived in a version of the US where I'd be one of you guys and considered myself center-right instead of center-left. Well, of course I would.

I'll only say this: you can't really get a handle on this left/right battle in the US unless you distinguish the cultural from the economic battle. For all the grumbling and effective antitax rhetoric on the right, the truth of the matter is that in the US something like the economic right has won the argument. Taxation is by world standards low and not very progressive at all, the doctrine of free trade has won the day. You guys won. On the cultural side, though, the left has soundly won the battle.

Other than taxation, look at the issues that the contemporary Republican party uses to win elections and fire up its base: it's cultural.

Now, the impending Hispanic majorities in much of the US is in some ways culturally conservative, but it's not a variety of cultural conservative that is very compatible with the southern, white, protestant cultural conservativism that the Republican party has hitched its wagon to. That's why they've not gained any real traction there, although they expected to. Hispanics know that the Tom Delays of the party are not their friends.

I don't think that the general cultural movement leftward is going to stop. I think the hope of winning that war is gone. What's going to happen, though, is what's already happening: the losing side is going to become more entrenched and embattled and paranoid and fervent while their numbers slowly diminish. In this sense, they'll continue to be a powerful movement, right up until they're not.

On the other side, the hard core lefties—who are hard-core on economic issues because that's the core issue for that side—will also become more marginalized but perversely more influential in some ways as they dig in. The antiglobalization movement and the like is best understood as a sort of last gasp of movement economic leftism—it is powerful in its own way, but reduced to talking about "fair trade" rather than worldwide revolution. I mean, c'mon.

The grown-up Republicans need to realize that the religious cultural conservative right is like a sort of drug that the modern Republican party has become addicted to. It's given them a short-term boost at the cost of long-term viability. Althernatively, there's a youth Christian evangelism that is in many ways culturally conservative but which has a somewhat different set of hot-button issues and, overall, very different political priorities. This group isn't comfortable with the Dems, the Repubs should court them and learn not to sound like the crazy white Southern people too many of them are.

posted by: Keith M Ellis on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

The Republicans brought out the more moderate Bush because it took them two elections to lose before they realized that self-righteous bigots are not trusted to lead this nation. Bush is Christian but is hardly in the Jerry Falwell category. This war gives the Repubs the chance to really gain support with a broad number of people. If Bush can handle it and direct it towards a less threatening McCainish type of party then the Repubs will likely become the dominant party. The Republican Party is still suffering from that bigoted fiasco in '92.

posted by: Ptolemy on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

In what way,exactly, is Bush a "moderate"?

He *campaigned* as one, certainly.

But unless your definition of "extreme" is itself awfully skewed -- that is, only the likes of Freeperville and LGF are extreme; all else is moderate -- I don't see how Bush fits in that category.

posted by: CaseyL on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

Beginning in 1993, any Georgia resident whose parents earned $66,000 or less per year and who completed high school with a B average could attend any public college or university in Georgia for free. At the beginning of 1994, Miller bumped up the income cap to $100,000, and by the end of the year he removed it altogether. In effect, Miller created an enormous middle- class entitlement on the backs of the poor, who buy a disproportionate share of the state's lottery tickets.

This is "brilliant"?

Funny but everywhere I've ever been, lottery tickets are purchased voluntarily.

If the Dems wish to move the center leftward, they'll have to get over the bizarre refusal to hold individuals accountable for any behavior and the even more strange charge that a governor who throws privileges in front of his state's less-privileged citizens is somehow breaking their backs with still more burdens.

posted by: lex on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

Bush is not self-righteous? Hmm.

posted by: Barry on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

There are certainly plenty of things wrong with Kansas but the left wing of the Democratic party is too clueless to get it right.

Folks, 70% of Missourians, in an electorate that was weighted 58-42% Dem-Repub, voted against gay marriage. Ditto for overwhelmingly Democratic states such as Hawaii. How on earth does a party that's increasingly dominated by limo liberals from Hollywood and Wall Street expect to connect with a resolutely anti-gay marriage and culturally conservative working class?

If there's to be a political realignment in the next 10-15 years, it seems pretty obvious that the faultlines will be 1) social issues such as gay marriage and 2) isolationism & protectionism vs overseas engagement & free trade.

Bush has annoyed the hell out of many of the moderate, blue-state country club Republicans with his social agenda and budget-busting spending policies.

The Dems have for forty years annoyed the hell out of god-fearing blue-collar whites, with the added blow of the DNC drive toward free trade agreements.

On top of the above, growing isolationist sentiment-- in places hard to distinguish from simple battle fatigue-- offers a ripe target for either party (though one that Bush cannot exploit in the next couple of years).

Instead of trying to out-Bush Bush on the military issue, it would make electoral sense for the Dems to embrace a hard isolationist "come home, America" platform that would pull back the working class voters who are not enamored of neo-conservative visions of national greatness while cementing the party's appeal to angry left-lib Howard Dean supporters.

Likewise, post-Bush, a more durable and coherent Repub agenda would be based on downplaying the social issues (who needs DOMA when state referenda will do the work for you?) and position themselves as the party of small deficits and aggressive promotion of democracy and free trade. This would win back the GHW Bush Repubs and appeal hugely to the yuppies along the coasts and in IL, MI and OH.

Only the above realignment can break the red-blue deadlock. Interesting to see which party will move there first.

The swing voters would then will be the latinos, who are susceptible to both the pro-free trade and the less aggressive military agendas. The swing states would then become California, Colorado, NM, AZ, perhaps also Illinois, WA, OR and of course Florida. Maybe Texas as well.

posted by: lex on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

I doubt that many cultural issues still resonate with the broader public as they did in the '80s and '90s. Abortion? No one wants to disturb the status quo. Affirmative action? Ditto (see O'Connor's ridiculous fudge opinion in the U-M case). Guns? Not a big vote-getter.

The only social issue that resonates nationally is a vague perception of "family values" religiosity, or piety, in a candidate. The hot button issue there is of course gay marriage. Until the Dems figure out how to play it, they will be on the defensive everywhere except the Hollywood-media capital-Harvard axis, ie CA-NY-MA.

Where the political situation is fluid and ripe with opportunity is in the area of how we're to engage with the big bad outside world. Dems could, if they were willing to shuck off the unions, pick up huge numbers of centrists by embracing free trade and muscular nat'l security policies. Repubs could, if they were willing to shuck off the neo-cons, pick up huge numbers of blue-collar Dems by denigrating nation-building again and veering back toward a Buchananite "fortress America" strategy.

The issue that will determine the next realignment will be America's posture toward the world. The fault line will be isolationism/fortress America/protectionism vs nation-building/democ'y promotion/free trade.

posted by: lex on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

As I said on Brad DeLong's site, your characterization of the Democrat is grossly wrong.

Would you mind telling me how Barack Obama practices "polysyllabic protectionism"?

posted by: Brian on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

"Polysyllabic" is yet another example of what appears to be, sadly, a near-universal habit of patronizing applause for Obama's ability to speak proper English.

Obama's protectionism is populism, period: junk economics, brilliant politics. No different from Buchanan's or Kevin Philips' strategy.

Can we please stop patronizing the man's politics by these back-handed compliments to his language ability?

posted by: lex on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

Regarding the social conservatism of hispanics, I have a few observations to make.

(1) Keith M Ellis is absolutely right in pointing out that the social conservatism of hispanics is different from the social conservatism of the WASPs. There is still a very widespread perception among hispanics that the latter is intimately linked with racial prejudice, and that the republican party *is* the party of racism and bigotry. The appointment of Powell, Rice, and others to high places has certainly undermined that perception to a significant degree, but only so as to replace the "all republicans are racists" meme with the slightly more nuanced "not all republicans are racists, but virtually all racists are republican" meme.

(2) While the cold war years yielded a certain type of Latin American immigration to the US--times have changed. My impression is that the current perception of American international policy is not exactly positive in Latin America. (The largest contingent of republican hispanic voters in the US is the Cuban-American community in Florida.)

(3) Believe it or not--for all the social conservatism of the lower economic classes in Latin America--Latin American Catholicism is surprisingly more progressive than American Catholicism. The American Catholic Church is far to the right of the Latin American Catholic Church.

(4) It may be true that second and third generation hispanics are more integrated and adapted to American culture in general, but they seem to have developed an identity that is hard to reconcile with republican conservatism. The Comaroffs at the University of Chicago have said that ethnicity is a form of identity that arises in situations of social structural inequality (as opposed to totemism, for example), and it is extraordinary to see how strong an 'ethnic' identity has arisen in this country among second and third generation hispanics. Republican conservatives will have a hard time convincing young hispanic voters that theirs is not a plight to reclaim cultural 'whiteness' (or WASPness) as the defining feature of American culture.

posted by: Pedro on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

Judis is right that demographic trends make the latinos the crucial group.

However, there's no reason to suspect that latinos would vigorously support a party whose core foreign policy planks include scrapping NAFTA. And of course gay marriage, if exploited skillfully by the Repubs, could cut significantly into latino support for Dems.

On the other hand, Rove is wrong to think that the evangelical agenda means more to latinos than bread-and-butter economic issues. The best way for the Repubs to win latino votes would be to get back to talk about opportunidad, with a mix of targeted help (Miller-style educational loans and grants) and aggressive reduction of trade and immigration barriers.

For the Dems, the only viable pro-Latino strategy is to mute the gays in the party and shovel gravy, gravy, gravy to the poorest latinos.

The latino vote is up for grabs. The Repubs get it wrong when they assume latinos care

posted by: lex on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]


Interesting points. The same reaction against protestant Republicans explains urban Irish Catholics' fierce attachment to Democrats during the first half of the last century. By backing prohibition, the Repubs cemented the suspicion of many big-city Irish Catholics that "good-government" anti-machine politics was a cover for ousting Irish machine pols from power.

How does your theory fit with Arnold's extraodinarily high popularity with California latinos? How successful would the Republicans be with latino voters if their top candidates on the two coasts bore names like Giuliani, Schwarzenegger, and, in future, Chow, Singh, Patel, Kim etc?

Is it that, as an immigrant with a thick accent, he escapes the presumed-racist-till-proven- otherwise rap against Repubs?

posted by: lex on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

Good luck. I voted for HW, and didn't vote for Clinton either time (voted for Perot), but can't see myself ever voting Republican on a national scale again. The lack of fiscal responsibility mortgaging our future (and especially my daughter's) and the social neanderthalism make me shudder for the future of this country.

posted by: MattB on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

PS -- it will be Edwards / Obama in 2012.

posted by: MattB on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

Let's start with the fact that, counting this year, the Republicans have chosen a member of the Bush family to be their Presidential nominee in four elections out of five since Ronald Reagan left office -- in other words, whenever they had the chance.

So far, the results have been a competitive election against one of the weakest Democratic candidates of recent times, in 1988; a political collapse of historic dimensions, in 1992; and a victory that could not have happened if local officials in Florida knew how to design a ballot, in 2000. This record is a lot of baggage for the Republican Party to carry, no matter what its ideological strategy is.

Analysis of demographic trends and polling data about popular attitudes on various issues is interesting. But there are good reasons why the early 1900s are remembered as the age of ascendant progressivism and the 1980s as the era of neo-conservatism only by academics. It makes a huge difference who gets elected President in our system of government (in fact, that system could not have been instituted in the first place if everyone had not known who the first President would be). A successful Presidency during which America prospers and its government lives up to popular expectations of what government ought to do can define a political party's identity for years, decades, or (in the case of Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt) generations.

The problem I have with much of the political crystal-ball gazing I have read recently is that it assumes elections results can be determined through policies designed to determine election results. Sometimes they can. Most of the time such policies will end up being ineffective, producing public disillusion, or worse, with government and politics. Right now the leadership of both parties is oblivious to that reality, as one would expect in an era where campaign operatives like Karl Rove, Terry McAuliffe and Bob Shrum exercise such a dominant influence on the elected officials they work for. Actual and aspiring academics writing about politics are oblivious to that reality, which I suppose goes without saying. And media commentators, who write stories about politics sources almost exclusively from campaign operatives, are perhaps the most oblivious of all.

posted by: Zathras on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

Poor people don't vote. They used to when poverty could happen to anyone, but for the past 25 years it has developed three distinct major groups: those who are poor due to social pathologies and don't vote, those are temporarily poor due to changed circumstances (chiefly just-divorced females, especially those with children living at home) who do vote, and those who are poor due to severe long-term medical problems (which is small compared to the other two).

The latter two groups vote, notably those temporarily poor who vote at the same rate they did prior to becoming poor. And they don't expect to remain poor long. There is a government and private safety net which does address their interests, because they vote. But most of the poor in America for the past 25 years are poor due to social pathologies which also affect their voting participation.

This relatively recent change in the nature of poverty did a lot to gut the Democratic party at the national level. Class warfare as a campaign tactic ceased even nominal effectiveness.

The Democratic party has since followed votes and money away from the interests of the long-term poor, whom the Republican party has pretty much ignored for almost a century.

Advocates of policies which benefit those who are poor due to social pathologies face insuperable political hurdles. The poor just don't vote.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

This is a very thought provoking post - Drezner should hire you on. Republicans here in Texas are not the same folks as Republicans like Susan Collins, Cris Shays or Arnold. In the late 70s and 80s, the people that run things down here in Texas switched parties en masse - same people, different party label. I would be interested in an academic comparison of LBJ and Tom Delay. They both gained power the same way - through the control of money available for political contributions on a national scale. One of LBJ's biggest contributors was Brown and Root - now part of Halliburton. The Texas (and other southern) "democrats" switched parties after the Democratic Party "sold them out" on Civil Rights/ Voting Rights /Welfare/ Abortion etc. and then proceeded to take over your party. They are now trying to tie the Republican party to Gay Bashing. I hope you Yankees can take it back.

posted by: TexasToast on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]


"Obama's protectionism is populism, period: junk economics, brilliant politics. No different from Buchanan's or Kevin Philips' strategy."

What about Obama's platform is junk economics? He's not a protectionist.

"However, there's no reason to suspect that latinos would vigorously support a party whose core foreign policy planks include scrapping NAFTA."

It's ludicrous to suggest that Kerry is going to do away with NAFTA. How can you honestly say that?

posted by: Brian on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]


I'm not sure how to reconcile my observations with the popularity of Mr. Schwarzenegger without appealing to the fact that he is himself an immigrant. On the other hand, Arnold does come across as a true 'compassionate' conservative. I don't think that Latin Americans are as easy to hook with hot cultural buttons (like gay marriage, abortion, etc.) as other lower class Americans are. In fact, I think that hispanics feel particularly vulnerable as immigrants, and as an ethnic minority; thus it is centrist republicans--like Arnold--who would have a chance to persuade them, not the religious right. The religious right is and shall continue to be 'the enemy'.

I am not so sure that last names are the deciding issue for hispanic voters, although they certainly have an impact. If I were a republican political advisor, I'd seek ways of celebrating the hard-work of hispanic immigrants as a crucial element of American identity (identifying it as exemplary of 'the pursuit of the American dream'), and I would promise to make the process of legal immigration far more expedient (it's taking me quite a while to even get responses from the USCIS, after having married an American citizen.) Finally, I'd try to tame down the cultural paranoia, and to seem as removed as possible from the already ardently pro-republican, Bible-thumping, evangelical right.

posted by: Pedro on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

Oh, it occurs to me to point out that hispanics need not be as anti-intellectual as lower-class Americans are. Anti-intellectualism is an eminently American phenomenon, it seems to me. Latin Americans tend to have a more reverential attitude towards people who appear articulate and nuanced. Some of the more endearing symbols of national identity are Latin American writers (even football hooligans recognize names like Garcia Marquez and Borges). Science is viewed with far more respect than it is here in the US, perhaps because it is viewed as one of the defining factors in the success of America as a nation vis-a-vis underdeveloped Latin America. And so the rhetoric of disdain for 'experts' does not necessarily stick among hispanic voters. I wonder to what extent the powerful and succesful anti-intellectual rhetoric of republicans resonate with a community that finds that rhetoric a bit strange.

posted by: Pedro on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

"Science is viewed with far more respect [in latin american cultures] than it is in the US"? "Anti-intellectual rhetoric"?

Why are you so focused on "the rhetoric of disdain for 'experts'"? And why would you assume that this is a Republican specialty? You've never been to a Democratic rally?

Anti-intellectualism may hurt your pride (or mine), but it's not particularly important to political outcomes in this country. There are many varieties of populism today, most of which have little to do with bashing "intellectuals", and in any case we have a variety of competing social elites in this country instead of the single, often officially-supported small group of cultural elites that one finds in latin america. Thus it is not uncommon for one group of experts to bash another group of experts. I remember the days when many economics professors poured scorn on those who considered marxist economics to be nonsense; ditto for those who thought the Soviet Union was on its way to collapsing. In short, a healthy suspicion of "experts" is a source of tremendous strength in this country. Long may it flourish.

I'm sure you're as proud of your people as I am of my ancestors, and I know it sucks to wait for the USCIS (my wife's been waiting nearly a year beyond she was told to expect her green card), but really, your comments about Garcia Marquez and Borges and the hallowed latin american scientist are ridiculous.

What percentage of Mexican-Americans have read a book by Garcia Marquez? What percentage have read any book since leaving school?

When US latinos' school performance improves, I'll take seriously your argument that latino society has a profound appreciation for science and literature. Don't confuse the privileged social status of the latin intellectual with broad popular support for intellectual achievement.

posted by: lex on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]


Pretty extraordinary to hear a would-be Democratic senator bashing Mexico, don't you think? He specifically trashed one of the core aspects of NAFTA, which is

"companies shipping jobs overseas... [workers] losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that's moving to Mexico."

As to protectionism becoming a key Democratic plank, that was my hypothetical situation in which the Dems decide to follow the Obama populist path to its logical destination. Seems a fairly likely scenario to me-- as I say, great politics, disastrous economics.

As to

posted by: lex on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

"I'm sure you're as proud of your people as I am of my ancestors"

Absolute nonsense. I am not one to take pride in the merits of others, nor to take the blame for their lack of merit, and what I have said about the sense of respect that Latin Americans have for certain intellectual is certainly not consciously based on my own personal attitudes. At any rate, what I think or don't think is not the issue.

I grant you that I am not quite as informed on the particularities and idiosyncracies of American populism, but I can tell you the following: I participate in two different--and very active--internet lists consisting of immigrants to the US, and I have had contact over the years with several groups of hispanic activists (Fresno, Chicago). Some of the issues that seem to pop up from time to time have to do with the opposition of science with 'morality' on the part of conservative channels of public opinion, like Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc. (not to mention the perceived bigotry of the Limbaughs and Hannitys of the right wing); additionally, Carlos Fuentes--important opinion writer in Mexico, and well-respected novelist--and a host of other Latin American self-proclaimed experts on political issues do in fact get read by Latin American immigrants. I am not sure to what extent their voices permeate to the hispanic-American community, but I suspect that their opinion does have an impact on the internal attitudes of hispanics in the US that are LIKELY voters. Those without education--as some others have noted--do not belong to the class of likely voters. And those with education may not have the wonderful level of educational accomplishment of ordinary American citizens, but by and large have an attitude of far more humility towards both the sciences and the arts. This is not a projection of my own prejudices (I have little reverence for artists, mind you, and my scientific training has made me far less reverent of scientists). This is what I have encountered in my experience with other Latin Americans and hispanics living in the US.

Now, I am ready to admit that I may be completely wrong on this, and you may very well be right that I am simply wishfully projecting disdain for anti-intellectualism onto my Latin American friends. Nonetheless, my impressions come from local knowledge, the same kind of knowledge that your likely hero Friedrich Hayek used to vindicate in the face of the modernist pretentions of those who attempt to impose a certain structure upon the messy reality of the economy (and by extension, on society).

My sense is that hispanics who are likely voters are more libertarian on social issues than conservative Americans give them credit for.

posted by: Pedro on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]


"Anti-intellectualism may hurt your pride (or mine), but it's not particularly important to political outcomes in this country."

Would you care to explain how this is so? I've recently read a book by Thomas Frank called "What's the matter with Kansas?" which probably has informed my preoccupation with anti-intellectualism. Succinctly said, Mr. Frank believes that at the root of the success of the Republican party in Kansas--as in other heartland states--is a deeply anti-intellectual agenda, albeit one that does not deliver the goods it sets out to deliver. Hot cultural buttons serving the interests of laissez faire economic policy. It made sense to me, but I'd love to read a reasoned refutation of the basic argument of the book, and it seems to me you can make an interesting critique of Mr. Frank's thesis.

If Mr. Frank is right, the reason why the farmer living twenty miles from where I live will vote republican in the upcoming election largely because of issues like 'cloning', 'abortion', 'same-sex marriage', etc. What I wish to challenge is the idea that somehow this strategy (or what Mr. Frank has depicted as a strategy) of winning votes on moral issues without at least giving a voice to the opinions of physicians, scientists, psychologists, etc. is not likely to be as successful among Catholic hispanic voters of the first generation, who come from societies that not only view other issues as more important, but who also are likely to defer to the opinions of experts at least a bit more than Rush Limbaugh listeners.

posted by: Pedro on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]


"Pretty extraordinary to hear a would-be Democratic senator bashing Mexico, don't you think? He specifically trashed one of the core aspects of NAFTA, which is"

I read the speech, or at least one of them, where he allegedly said that.

He's not bashing Mexico, unless you conclude that anything that could be perceived as bad for the US that relates to Mexico is that country's fault. He's merely stating a reality, or some form of it. He's not flying in a helicopter, shouting that immigrants are stealing our jobs, thakfully.

As for his alleged populism, well, okay, he does engage in a little bit of that. But as different as their solutions to certain problems can be, both sides do it.

Take a look at this piece from The New Yorker:

posted by: Brian on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]


Franks' thesis is incorrect. No one's manipulating or gulling the voters, and it's symptomatic of the Dems' problem that they would ascribe their core constituencies' rejection of the Pelosi-Hillary social agenda to voter ignorance.

Whether you measure voter sophistication by surveys of voters' knowledge of issues or average level of education, the American voter today is far better educated than he was thirty or forty years ago and of course far better educated than Mexican voters today. I would also argue that US voters, given the freewheeling and intense nature of debate in this country, are better educated than European voters.

Re. anti-intellectualism, neither party's stance on the core cultural issues like abortion, gay marriage, gun control etc. is "anti-intellectual." Intellectuals can and do oppose partial-birth abortion, support gun control, see major problems with justices rather than legislators writing social policy.

It strikes me as more than a little arrogant to dismiss, out of hand, blue-collar and other average Americans' views and reservations about extremist positions on these issues. Remember, an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate (58-42, if I remember right) in Missouri has just voted down gay marriage by a 70-29 margin.

Again, you and I (and Franks) may be completely indifferent to these issues or on the other side from most people, but these issues are indeed crucial. Isn't it ironic that the "party of compassion", the party opposed to the heartles, capitalistic material view of life, is today incapable of speaking to the non-material, non-economic concerns of most Americans? And then blames the people for daring to suggest that spriritual and family concerns are more important than pocketbook concerns?!

Until the Democrats learn to speak to the electorate with something like intelligent sympathy-- rather than condescending incomprehension-- they will continue to lose elections. Pretty obvious, really. A shame that this blindness has lasted over thirty years.

posted by: lex on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]


As to your informal sample group, I highly doubt that latino internet users who participate on the chatboards you mention are in any way representative of latino internet users generally, who themselves are not at all representative of latinos.

The internet political chatboards I've seen are far more heavily representative of the Howard Dean constituency than of the voting population. And the voting population itself is not quite representative of the population overall: voters are wealthier and better educated. Likewise, internet political junkies tend to be far younger, more liberal, concentrated in big cities and college towns, and perhaps most important, childless or single or both, than internet users generally.

On that last point, few people with school-age children waste their precious free time on political chatboards. Hence these boards, and liberal movements like Dean's, are far more likely to reject-- usually out of hand-- anything like a non-liberal stance on social issues that deeply touch on issues of child-bearing, child-raising, moral education of children etc.

This is what produces IMHO the vast disconnect between the people and the leaders of what used to be known as the party of the common man.

posted by: lex on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]


I am glad to see that you maintain skepticism towards artists and even scientists, but I think you could be more skeptical still towards the intellectual class' capacity for identifying what's in the nation's best interests.

Further, I'm not sure the presumptive Hispanic solicitousness towards intellectuals is really that great a thing, especially when it comes to politics. I'm no expert on Central & South American politics, but I'll hazard that if anything, Hispanic humility towards authority, whether it be political, artisitic or scientific, has been excessive and counterproductive.

As you know, through much of the 20th century, Artists, experts and intellectuals threw their energy into causes like Fascism and Communism, and their passion, intelligence, industry and impatience with those who resisted ended up killing hundreds of millions, destroying whole societies and ways of life in the process. Wisdom and knowledge are not concomitant, and had Americans been more reverent towards its intellectuals in the earlier years of this century we might have gone much farther down this road than we did, or lacked the will fight it overseas.

Though I have no patience with those who are suspicious of knowledge and learning on their own account, in general I think America's so called "anti-intellectual" tendency is the result of a very positive skepticism, and I fervently hope that Hispanics, as they assimilate, lose whatever defacto humility towards intellectuals that they may possess.

In the case of Mr. Frank, I think he comes off as a bit of a condescending whiner. He writes from the posture of a liberal manager of men and women's lives -- he believes he knows what ails Kansas, what causes it, and what's the cure. Reason has led him to understand what's in Kansas' best interests and can't wrap his head around the notion that the average Kansan ranks other issues ahead of his, much less that their position on those issues differ from his. So he comes to the conclusion that their mulish insistence on not seeing things his way must be the result of devious Republican mind tricks, blinding Kansans to what really matters and who's really to blame for things being the way they are. It seems like Frank can't take seriously what Kansans say is important to them.

Maybe if Frank and intellectuals of his kind would approach their bumpkin subject matter with a little more humility of their own, they would get a warmer reception -- or even reach somewhat different conclusions.

posted by: Twn on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

Lex - Gay marriage is not an issue that reasonates with Democrats. I mean, most dems understand that it is an issue being pushed here and there (Vermont, Oregon, Mass, etc.) by people who are gay and want to get married. In other words, it is a gay issue, not a dem issue. The dem party happens to be the party more accepting of gays in general and more willing to assure minority rights. Therefore, you can say that the dems are more supportive of laws allowing people who are gay the right to designate their partners as heirs, medical decisionmakers at the end, ect. I think the whole gay marriage issue took everyone by surprise in this country. It is not some dem plot to overthrow traditional marriage. Dems generally support everyone's civil rights but they are as mixed as anybody regarding this new gay marriage phenomenon.

Twn - Doesn't sound like you've read the Kansas book. Frank's point is that conservatives promise people in Kansas that they will fight for family values, repeal Roe v Wade, lesson the church and state divide, fiscal responsibility. Yet, what they deliver is tax breaks for the wealthy, tax breaks for multi-national corporations, huge budget deficits. Frank does not claim to speak for Kansas. As a Kansan himself, he lists what Kansans are saying they vote for, and he points out what they are actually receiving. And they don't match so he is wondering why they don't hold the politicians responsible.

posted by: lansing on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]


"Hispanic humility towards authority, whether it be political, artisitic or scientific, has been excessive and counterproductive."

I'm not sure to what extent I endorse this statement, but I certainly sympathize with it deeply. My description of the Latin American public as having more reverence may be projecting the wrong impression that I believe such reverence to necessarily be a good thing.

So I would like to clarify my position. Mine is not an apology of expertise; it is an observation--from the inside--of a cultural trait. Inasmuch as I am a rabid skeptic of cultural commentary, I take my own observations with a grain of salt, for reasons that go deeper than those already enumerated by lex in his response. But I do have a sense that literate Latin Americans have more reverence for experts than ordinary Americans.

If I may indulge in a little bit of speculation, I think that significant differences between Catholicism and Protestantism have something to do with this (borrowing from Weber, I suppose). While Protestants tend to favor a view of the world in which they have a personal relationship with God, Catholics defer to the authority of the Church above them for theological guidance. Perhaps this is all baloney, but I doubt that this cultural difference has no effect on political attitudes.

What I want to challenge is the following argument--which obscures cultural differences to an alarming degree: 'since hispanics are--on average--less educated than Americans, and since less educated Americans don't care for scientists or artists in the least bit, then hispanics ought to be equally dismissive or removed from sanctimonious experts.'

Methinks this is an error of judgment, based on the preconception that the more blue-collar one is, the more likely one is to view experts as pretentious windbags--no matter how much Limbaugh listeners confirm that piety.

Perhaps out of cordiality or deference I have always been treated with admiration and approval by my fellow hispanics, especially when they learn of my academic credentials (which to an average American don't mean a thing). True that anecdotal evidence like this does not mean much, but I am simply chatting here--not developing a grandiose theory of any sort. And I insist, this description has nothing to do with my own attitudes, which are far different.

As for your assessment of Mr. Frank, I have to say that--setting aside what you characterize as his 'whining'--he does attempt to explain some of the reasons why a movement that traditionally appealed to the entrepeneurial class (in a time when the political divide was structured by economic class) has won the hearts of middle Americans. He may very well be opposed to the priorities and preferences of lower-class republican patriots, but it is quite disingenuous to dismiss his observations on the basis that he does not approve of the current political situation.

While I agree with the sentiment of your last paragraph (humility is a virtue!), Mr. Frank hardly struck me as lacking in humility after reading Kansas. Cheers-


P.S.: Oh, before anyone thinks I am Catholic--on the basis that I talk about the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism--be warned: I am not.

posted by: Pedro on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

Don't know if anyone is still reading this thread, but I have to ask:

What would be the point of two third way parties? For that matter, doesn't every run to the center represent a move to the left? If some people want no more gun control and others want guns banned, we compromise on some guns banned. Next election cycle, we compromise on some more gun control to show how gloriously centrist we are, and so on.

Two parties that actively campaign for a permanent role for government in maintaining social harmony seems entirely wrongheaded to me. You don't have to believe that drowning government in a bathtub is feasible to believe that the government is an intrusive beast that puts chains on you for disagreement. I can't imagine anything more important than maintaining a voice that reminds people what government actually does when it 'helps'.

Granted, we largely have the lip service small government party and the lauging their asses off at the very idea of small government party right now, but that is not to say that we'd be better off with only the latter.

posted by: Jason Ligon on 08.09.04 at 12:27 AM [permalink]

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