Democratic Underground

The Magic Words

November 16, 2005
by Patricia Goldsmith

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In a Washington Post article discussing last Tuesday's election, I finally heard the magic words I've been waiting years to hear: "It's not just that they lost these elections," said Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin, "but that none of their old tricks worked that they've relied on to give them the edge in close contests." A Republican representative from Virginia, Thomas M. Davis III, put it more emphatically, declaring that the GOP's cultural wedge issues "are just blowing up" in the suburbs. "You play to your rural base, you pay a price." Sweet! And about time.

Actually, according to Democratic pollster Ruy Teixeira, it's a little ahead of schedule. In his 2002 book The Emerging Democratic Majority, co-authored with John B. Judis, Teixeira predicted that demographic shifts would favor Democrats within a decade, as populations move away from rural areas and into post-industrial metropolises,or ideopolises. Judis and Teixeira advised that it would be necessary for Democrats to achieve a new synthesis "that retains support among the white working class, but also builds support among college-educated professionals and others in America's burgeoning ideopolises." [page 143]

Last week's elections seem to be a model of the synthesis strategy in operation, as ideopolis-rich New Jersey chose Democrat Jon Corzine as its new governor; bluer than blue California gave Arnold the finger on all four of the propositions he sponsored; Dover, Pennsylvania turned out Republican school board members backing the teaching of Intelligent Design; and a decidedly purple Virginia chose Democrat Tim Kaine as its governor. According to Tom Vilsack, Kaine turned the whole "values" issue inside out by convincing swing voters that his stance against the death penalty was an authentic religious position - imagine that.

Not that wedge issues are gone. Texas became the nineteenth state to pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage. Kelly Shackelford, president of the Free Market Foundation, which backed the amendment, told the Houston Chronicle, "We didn't even call Republican homes. We called Hispanics, African-Americans and rural Texas voters. That's where the numbers were." Among blacks and Hispanics, the vote was seen as "religious based." Eighteen percent of registered voters turned out, the highest number for a constitutional amendment election since 1991, due to "heavy black turnout by African American women who go to church."

In a poll conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 64 percent of African-Americans in the Houston area believed that gays and lesbians should be protected in the workplace, while 62 percent were against gay marriage. Former state Democratic representative Glen Maxey of Austin, who led the opposition, said, "Among that community, it's a total reversal. It is totally compartmentalized. It is religious based."

No. To quote Tyrone Simpson, it is effective. Simpson critiques Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas, arguing that the racism Frank declares missing from Kansas is not so much dead as effective. Simpson has written an eye-opening, brilliant article, "What's the Matter With What's the Matter With Kansas, or Why Liberal Whites Worry Black Progressives":

One could even rent Dubya for a day to bellow an exuberant "Mission Accomplished" before an assembly of proud Kansan suburbanites. With the majority of good housing, and more reliable public services shifted to spaces on the metropolitan periphery designed for white residents, there is no infrastructure available to support a collective of citizens willing to contest such racialized conditions. These urbanites of color, instead, are preoccupied with trying to survive their deindustrialized, underskilled fate in the new global economy. White Kansans then, with no impending protests to make them anxious, can appreciate the common humanity of their racial others and extend their good will without hesitation. ...

At the behest of the Democratic Leadership Council and its most successful benefactor, Bill Clinton, the party of FDR forsook its traditional commitment to working class causes in favor of "affluent, white collar professionals who are liberal on social issues." As a result, not only did the Dems become a party of big money, which the GOP has often been, it became officious and preachy; tutoring the populace in racial, religious, and sexual tolerance, touting the virtues of elite and degreed intellectualism, and championing a broader public role for women.

Republicans conceal their avarice beneath the shiny white suit of family values while their opponents don a cultural decadence that only further tarnishes their cupidity.

If we're going to beat back the corporations and survive the peak oil crisis we are facing, we have to present a massively united front. We're going to have to concentrate on our shared economic interests, and we're going to have to start seeing and dealing with our cultural biases.

If Republicans have a hard time discerning Bush's villainy, it is equally true that liberals have trouble seeing the dark side of Bill Clinton. George Bush has created a crisis of planet-threatening proportions, but he comes from somewhere, from a culture that offers no political or social resistance to the giant corporations that run it. The difference between Bush and Clinton is a difference of degree, not kind.

We need to make people aware that the whole radcon takeover attempt is based on another magic word: lies. For example, over the decades people have become so inured to Supreme Court nominations pivoting on the question of Roe v. Wade, without Roe v. Wade being struck down, that they simultaneously tune out any other nomination issues and minimize the seriousness of the threat we are facing. That is why someone like John Roberts could be confirmed after lying about his membership in the Federalist Society. Such a radical-right membership raises no red flags. The equally disturbing Alito nomination, in fact, is often mentioned as a minor bright spot in Bush's approval numbers.

This cavalier attitude toward Supreme Court justices is as dangerous as driving a car blindfolded. What we have to make people understand is that with the right judges in place at the top, they're going to start using the Patriot Act.

If you judge Alito by that standard, his failure to recuse himself from a case in which he had a personal financial interest is not only evidence of a lie, but of a total unfitness to be an independent judge. When his decision - needless to say, in favor of Vanguard, the company in question - was vacated, he wrote the chief administrative judge, "I do not believe I am required to disqualify myself based on my ownership of the mutual fund shares." The Boston Globe reports that Alito owned "$390,000 to $975,000 in seventeen Vanguard funds."

The spin? Soledad O'Brien on CNN wondered, "Doesn't it bode poorly for Democrats when you say this is the smoking gun you're coming up with, something over a relatively small investment in Vanguard, which legally, technically, he didn't have to recuse himself from anyway?"

We'll be hearing a lot more about what is "legally, technically" required if we get a real Bush court. Let's remember these are the people who have "legally, technically" defined torture out of existence and thrown habeas corpus out the window.

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