Monday, October 06, 2008

Enough with the volksiness

A Slate writer refers to herself as "one of those average folks in Middle America to whom Palin is speaking." It's unclear to me how the simple fact of living in Ohio would negate the seemingly more important quality of this writer, namely that she is a writer; that it's for Slate and not a folksy local paper doesn't help. In the parlance of the season, she ain't average.

Rachael Larimore goes on to ask, rhetorically, "what does Sarah Palin have to gain from reaching out to East Coast elites [...]?" Well, Florida, for one. Politicians speak in coded language; many Jews hear 'small-town values' and interpret that anti-cosmopolitanism to mean anti-Semitism, just as many gays will interpret the same language as homophobia. This doesn't mean declaring Palin an anti-Semite or a homophobe (her "tolerance" of gays notwithstanding), but it means a shift towards the Dems for anyone attuned to the 'Volk' in 'folksiness.' Think of it like this: our Florida voter might be 30% convinced Sarah "we love Israel" Palin hates Jews. That's not enough to call her an anti-Semite, but it's enough to be pushed towards voting for Obama.

It's not so much that Palin needs to reach out to elites, as that she loses as much as she gains by presenting the nation as split between real Americans and the rest, 'the rest' composing those who live on the coasts (of the continental U.S., presumably); anyone who works in media; anyone who works on Wall Street; anyone who wants to make lots of money; anyone who grew up in/lives in a big city... and it continues. In Palinland, there's a tiny coterie of insiders screwing over the wholesome folk. However, if you include everyone on a coast, in a city, and so on, you're looking at not just elderly Florida Jews, not just Harvard grads, but much of the U.S. population, not excluding swing voters, moderate Republicans-turned-swing voters, and so forth.

9 comments:

Petey said...

"However, if you include everyone on a coast, in a city, and so on, you're looking at not just elderly Florida Jews, not just Harvard grads, but much of the U.S. population, not excluding swing voters, moderate Republicans-turned-swing voters, and so forth."

But as the 2004 county level map shows, you can get to 270 pretty easily while losing the coasts and cities overwhelmingly.

(For the purposes of American politics, the coasts are defined as the entire West Coast, the East Coast north of the Mason-Dixon line, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi river.)

Palin is a net winner for McCain, not a net loser. McCain lost the election on the economic crisis, not on Palin's cultural polarization.

Anonymous said...

With the market down 500 points today none of this matters

Phoebe said...

Oh, Anonymous, if it doesn't matter, you wouldn't have read it. Go back to the WSJ if you see fit.

Phoebe said...

Petey, you write as always with such confidence. But won't some salt-of-the-earth-demographic voters be for Obama, regardless of the economy? Wouldn't Palin need to get a good number of coastal elites to compensate for however many Joe Six Packs would vote for Obama?

Jillian said...

I cant figure out whether or not I buy your argument about Palin snuffing elites. The first thing people think about when they hear "small town values" isn't homophobia and or anti-Semitism — it's common courtesies, taking care of one another, and a strong families. Maybe some people think of religion, but outside the media echo chamber, I don't think that translates into them thinking of religious zealots and discrimination.

Like I said, though — I'm not sure.

Petey said...

"Petey, you write as always with such confidence. But won't some salt-of-the-earth-demographic voters be for Obama, regardless of the economy"

Sure. 26% of the good voters of Utah voted for John Kerry in 2004. You can generally get at least a quarter of folks in any community to agree with the minority viewpoint there. Similarly, McCain/Fey will likely win a quarter of NYC this year.

The problem is that Obama would've had trouble getting over 48% in Ohio minus the economic meltdown.

"Wouldn't Palin need to get a good number of coastal elites to compensate for however many Joe Six Packs would vote for Obama?"

In a neutral year, no.

You can rule Washington with if you get solid enough majorities inland.

Phoebe said...

Jillian,

The way I see it, the question is not whether Palin is or is not anti-Semitic, homophobic, etc. It's a) whether the relevant communities perceive things this way, and b) whether their association of her with bigotry is based on something other than smears. Traditionally, anti-cosmopolitanism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia (and xenophobia, phobias generally) have gone together. One of Jews' main faults, according to modern anti-Semites, is being 'cosmopolitans,' even if actual Jews do not always live in cities, speak many languages, etc. This is reason enough for even American Jews who do live in small towns to be suspicious of anti-city talk; analogous cases can be made for gays, etc.

Leaving aside specific marginalized groups, the notion that strong families are a particularly small-town phenomenon is off-putting and based on what, exactly? In other words, I don't especially enjoy politicians praising the rural over the urban; nor should they do the reverse. Once in office, they'll have to represent the whole spectrum.

Jillian said...

Phoebe — A trifecta of anti-cosmopolitanism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia sounds pretty ugly. But are these things all that rampant today? I wish I knew more about the modern anti-Semites you speak of. I read reports of anti-Semitism abroad, but not here. Maybe it does exist, and certainly, its legacy has some effect. But my perception is that "American Jews who do live in small towns" are NOT suspicious of anti-city talk, in today's culture. I knew quite a few Jews from small towns when I went to school in North Carolina — where small towns are not only small, but southern — and we had a conversations about how none of them had experienced anything discriminatory.

My expectation is that more cosmopolitan areas would be even better. Now, my father experienced anti-Semitism in backwoods Florida in the 1970's, but only a really small bit of it, and my Grandparents did, more than my father. But does that have a real impact on their politics today? From my vantage point a) the relevant communities don't perceive things this this way, and so b) isn't an issue.

Then again — my relevant communities are not yours. I have not yet combed your past writings on this issue — maybe I should!

Also, I agree with you on your last point, about how strong families being unique to small towns is off-putting. On one hand, I think "small town values" is a turn of phrase, and that she's not actually trying to fight the urbanites. But it certainly comes off that way.

Phoebe said...

"But are these things all that rampant today?"

It's hard to say. But for gays, along with Jews of an earlier generation (i.e. the much-maligned Florida elderly), I'd imagine much of the small-town-values rhetoric comes off as coded language. For those not tuned into the history of anti-cosmopolitanism equaling anti-Semitism, obviously there's no feeling of being discriminated against as a Jew when a politician speaks odes to life working the land.

Here's a way to look at it. If someone black, unfamiliar with the history of 'articulate,' hears Obama referred to as such, this person will not think he heard a racist remark.

But overall, it's fair to say that the charming mix of populism, anti-cosmopolitanism, and anti-Semitism that sit where extreme-right and extreme-left converge has been more of an issue in Europe than in the States. This explains why American Jews will not be terribly frightened, as Jews, of Sarah Palin. As Americans is another story.