The Democratic Party is hemorrhaging a peculiar type of voter. This is fairly easily to establish. Wherever the Democrats have a foothold in Red America, where White conservatives are either predominant or the White working class is numerous enough to swing elections, they are losing or running even.
Yesterday, I brought up the fate of the Blue Dog Democrats. In recent months, there have been calls from the Left to purge these “fake Democrats” from their midst. Naturally, this would lead to a collapse of the Center in Congress, gridlock in Washington, and a polarization of Whites into two hostile, mutually unintelligible camps.
In the prelude to the Civil War, the Southern Whigs experienced a similar collapse as they fell prey to the charge of being soft on slavery and traitors to the South. Their Democratic opponents were able to successfully link them to Northern extremists within their own party. This is not unlike the tactic that Republicans are using today to successfully link Joe Manchin to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.
We are going to travel around Red America this afternoon. I intend to show that polarization and White identity politics are transforming the American political landscape:
1.) Let’s start by revisiting the Blue Dogs: White Democrats who represent “Red” districts in the South and Midwest. This species of Centrist is once again facing extinction.
Of the 54 Blue Dogs in the House, 6 are retiring or seeking another office. 39 are in competitive races. 22 of those races are toss ups. Rep. Baron Hill of Indiana and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota, leaders of the Blue Dogs, are in tough uphill reelection fights.
In the Senate, Senator Bayh of Indiana and Senator Dorgan of North Dakota are retiring. Both of their seats are considered safe Republican pick ups. Meanwhile, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas will almost certainly be defeated by Republican John Boozman.
At this point, it is inevitable that the incoming Democratic caucus in the House and Senate will be less Southern and Midwestern, less White and rural, and more progressive and urban. Likewise, the incoming Republican Congress will be more thoroughly White and conservative and geographically centered in the American Heartland.
2.) As the Blue Dogs fight for their political lives, it is increasingly hard to tell who will run away from Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi the fastest before Nov. 2.
In Alabama’s Second Congressional District, Rep. Bobby Bright has vowed not to vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. In Mississippi’s Fourth Congressional District, Rep. Gene Taylor is making headlines for claiming he voted for John McCain.
Gene Taylor, a Southern conservative Democrat, has easily been elected to the House in 11 election cycles. However, this year the current of White identity politics is running so strong in Southern Mississippi that Taylor is running behind his Republican challenger Steve Palazzo, who hardly sounds like a good ‘old boy.
If I were forced to award a first place prize, I would give it to Blue Dog Parker Griffith of Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District, who saw the writing on the wall and switched parties to survive last year. Parker was later defeated in the Republican primary.
3.) If the White working class had a capital, it would be West Virginia, where 9 out of 10 people are White and 6 out of 10 have never gone to college. In this state, Joe Manchin has done everything but shoot a target of Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama to get himself elected to the Senate, and he is still struggling with the perception that he can’t represent “Red” voters as a Washington Democrat.
4.) Out in Arizona, the stigma that comes with being associated with the national Democratic Party is weighing down Arizona’s Democratic congressional delegation. 5 out of 8 congressional representatives from Arizona are Democrats. Of those, 1 has a safe seat, but the other 4 are in varying degrees of trouble.
It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.
For months, the prevailing narrative in the mainstream media was that “comprehensive immigration reform” would hurt Republicans with Hispanic voters and would be a boon to Democrats in the Southwest. In reality, Gov. Jan Brewer will be reelected, John McCain was forced to repudiate amnesty, Arizona’s Democrats are fighting for survival, and SB 1070 has majority support in neighboring Utah, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado.
The times are so hard for Arizona Democrats that Raul Grijalva, a co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, is facing a stiff reelection fight in Arizona’s Seventh Congressional District which is majority Hispanic. This is largely attributable to his full throated support for the Arizona boycott when unemployment in his district was among the highest in the nation.
5.) Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, Indiana, South Dakota, Arizona – an enormous Red backlash against the Democratic Party – these are all isolated examples of a larger national trend. If I had the time, I could extend this analysis from Southern Virginia to Ohio to Iowa to Florida. It is the same story everywhere you look: Whites are abandoning the Democratic Party.
In The New York Times Book Review, Christopher Caldwell ties all these pieces of the puzzle together with a persuasive explanation. In the last two years, over 50% of Americans claim to have become more conservative. Blacks and Hispanics are relatively unchanged in their political views, but Independents have shifted dramatically to the Right.
The White Right is energized like never before and the White Center is leaning away from the Left. Even college students have lost their enthusiasm for Barack Obama.
Identity and Economics
The preferred explanation of this on the Left is that racist White voters have rejected the Democrats because of the bad economy. There is some truth to this, but it is more like a shadow or distorted image of the real explanation.
Whites are abandoning the Democratic Party because of 1.) the perception that Democrats represent “them” and no longer “us” and 2.) because of the perception that Democrats are seemingly unwilling or incapable of doing anything for “us.”
If a terrible economy were to blame, why are less than 20% of working class White males without a high school education – the White lumpenproletariat, the most economically distressed segment of the White population – saying the country is headed in the right direction? Why are the vast majority of Jews, blacks, Hispanics, and homosexuals still supporting Obama?
Why is Obama targeting affluent, highly educated Whites with low unemployment instead of disaffected White workers in the Heartland? Indeed, why is the White working class turning against “the people’s party” and the “party of government” in such dire economic times?
The Tea Party claims to be be based on a fiscal and economic message, but its members are not particularly financially distressed. Barack Obama’s supporters are more likely to be falling into the working poor and surviving on hot dogs and beans.
Alternatively, if Whites were motivated by mere racism, why did Barack Obama run so strong in Red America in 2008, in unlikely places like Idaho, Kansas, and Nebraska? Why did he win lily White Iowa or Indiana? Why did he carry Southern states like Virginia and North Carolina?
More to the point, why have explicit White Nationalists failed to make headway into the mainstream, seeing as how the prevailing narrative in the media is that the Tea Party is driven by White racism? If Whites were really and truly racists, it is reasonable to assume that White Nationalists would be enjoying more success than they currently are now.
Implicit Whiteness is at the root of everything we are seeing today. By implicit Whiteness, I mean a vague, unarticulated sense of White identity, which conservatives like Sarah Palin are successfully tapping into, and progressives like Barack Obama are rubbing the wrong way.
This diluted sense of White identity is compatible with a positive attitude toward non-Whites, a live and let live attitude, and a rejection of explicit racial consciousness.
It can switch either way.
In the right conditions, implicit Whiteness can be tapped into and harnessed to make Whites feel threatened by hostile outsiders, particularly Muslims, illegal aliens, and black criminals. At the same time, this form of Whiteness is weak enough for the masses to be sold on utopian anti-racist schemes.
Compare the popularity of Barack Obama in Alabama to Auburn’s Heisman Trophy frontrunner Cam Newton or Alabama’s Mark Ingram. When Whites can be persuaded that a non-White is “on their side” or “part of their team,” even the mental processes of explicit White racists can be shortcircuited.
Only the team principle can override the tribal principle. And then, usually not in the long haul. If Democrats want to preserve their majority, they must persuade White voters they are “on their side” and sincerely desire to improve their lives. Adopting a hostile, downright antagonistic posture out of alienation from White America will drive Whites into the Republican camp and eventually beyond it.