Friday, February 11, 2005

Class and Culture

The Moose avers that the donkey's economic message may be lost because of his cultural weaknesses.

The Bush budget is a emblematic of the essence of Republican domestic politics - redistribution of wealth upwards and the undermining of the social safety net. The lie at the heart of "compassionate conservatism" is revealed in the hard cold numbers of the Administration's budget.

Paul Krugman aptly describes its contents,

"First, the facts: the budget proposal really does take food from the mouths of babes. One of the proposed spending cuts would make it harder for working families with children to receive food stamps, terminating aid for about 300,000 people. Another would deny child care assistance to about 300,000 children, again in low-income working families."

"And the budget really does shower largesse on millionaires even as it punishes the needy. For example, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities informs us that even as the administration demands spending cuts, it will proceed with the phaseout of two little-known tax provisions - originally put in place under the first President George Bush - that limit deductions and exemptions for high-income households."

"More than half of the benefits from this backdoor tax cut would go to people with incomes of more than a million dollars; 97 percent would go to people with incomes exceeding 200,000."

However, the Moose argues that the Democratic case against the elephant's plutocratic economic policies will never resonate as long as the donkey is perceived to be culturally out of step with millions of working Americans. Democrats need to be more in touch with the values of Wheeling, West Virginia than those of Burlington, Vermont.

The Moose was reminded of that fact after reading an eye-opening piece in the New Republic by John Judis. Judis, along with his co-author Ruy Teixeira, have written about the emergence of a potential Democratic majority that unites the socially liberal professional class with minorities. However, after meeting with Latino activists in Texas, Judis reports that minorities are attracted to the Republican's cultural appeal. Judis is told by a legendary Latino activist that a predominantly Mexican-American county in south Texas went for Bush despite its previous Democratic voting pattern. Here is an excerpt from the article,

"The organizers from New Mexico attribute part of Republicans' success to Latinos' belief that the military is the best career choice for their young. But the Texans point to cultural conservatism among Catholic Latinos. One priest from San Antonio says, "Abortion was a major issue for Hispanics. There was confusion in the messages from the bishops. My congregation in San Antonio was in a lot of pain over that." He says that some Catholic Latinos who did vote for Kerry went to confession afterward to seek absolution. Ernie and the IAF organizers don't suggest that Democrats should oppose abortion, but they criticize Kerry for failing to address Catholic concerns the way Clinton did when he called for making abortion "safe, legal, and rare." Ernie says Catholic prelates tell him, "We don't expect Democrats to overturn Roe v. Wade, but give us something. Something that we can cite when the right wing attacks us." He adds, "They feel that they helped build the labor movement and the Democratic Party, and now they feel jilted."

Thomas Frank has written eloquently, if not somewhat misguidedly, about how middle-income and lower-income white social conservatives do not vote their economic interests but rather their cultural concerns. Frank does not quite grasp the notion that for many Americans values issues trump economic concerns. Apparently, that dynamic is also having resonance in minority communities as well.

Ultimately, the donkey is going to have to decide whether he prefers the Hollywood version over the real West Wing. At this moment, the Moose is far from convinced that the donkey gets it.

More grits and less Ben and Jerry's.
-- Posted at 8:16 AM | Link to this post | Email this post