Sunday, August 19, 2012

He's for us

Campaigning for re-election, Scott Brown's slogan is "He's for us."

So, who's "us?"  And who isn't?  

Implicitly, but clearly, the "us" in question is not the coalition of people who support Brown's Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren.  

Is there a subtle appeal to racism here?  Most African-American and Hispanic voters will support Warren.   (Not so clear about South Asian or Chinese-Americans.)  
Undoubtedly, most of Brown's support will come from white voters, and he probably does better among men than women (although he apparently got a lot of women's votes in 2010).   

My instinctive reaction to Brown's slogan is that it expresses an exclusionary view--you're with us or against us, you're one of us or you're one of them.  

But is that any different than what we liberals do?  Don't we separate the political world into "us" and "them?"  

We discount the legitimacy of the Republican coalition, because we believe that many, perhaps most of its members should not be such.  In What's the Matter with Kansas? Thomas Frank presented a Republican electorate that votes against its economic interests.  Those people--"those people"--should not be doing that, we believe.  

But why not?  Don't many liberals vote against their interests?  Don't we celebrate rich people who support Barack Obama in spite of, or even because, he would raise their taxes?  

And if some voters support Republican candidates because of social issues, is that less legitimate than those who voted for Democrats because of revulsion at the Iraq and possibly the Afghan war?  

Scott Brown's slogan seems to me to appeal to a certain anger or even rage.  And that is part of the Republican platform.  In her column today, Maureen Dowd quotes Tom Morello, a member of Paul Ryan's self-professed favorite band, Rage Against the Machine, as saying of the band's most prominent fan that, "I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta 'rage' in him.  A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment."  

I generally agree with that assessment, and I think that such feelings are wrong.  But when I say that, am I not assuming that working- and middle-class voters should sympathize with the cause of immigrants and women and gays?  That such voters should identify with workers, not management?  Yes, I am, and that's what I believe.

And yet, I ought to recognize that there is legitimacy in the beliefs of those who do not agree.  Not least because, as the shrinks say, your feelings are your feelings.  We don't need to be so morally relativist as to equate racism and sexism with color-blindness or sexual-equality to see that many of the disaffected who support the Republican Party (think of the Tea Party, for instance) have legitimate grievances, and that the narrative to which they attach themselves is at least plausible on the surface.  We may think that the story that Republicans are trying to feed the electorate does not go very far below the surface, but we cannot require voters to drill down; we can only attempt to persuade them to put in the work necessary.

And the task of persuasion is damaged by the elitism that treats members of the Tea Party and other Republican supporters who are not wealthy or members of active anti-choice and anti-abortion groups as being deluded.  We need to accept that if we have failed to reach those voters, it is our fault at least as much as it is theirs.  More, actually, because we want to reach them.

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