demographic change as political fuel


Freddie deBoer used to blog at, and may again someday. Now he blogs here.

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31 Responses

  1. Sam M says:

    “if white people and rural people lose their status of political privilege because of demographic change then they must recognize that this is the simple business of democracy. Democracy permits no privileging of one demographic or another beyond their quantity. Indeed, democracy is the privileging of number over every other consideration.”

    Just a question about terminology: Forever, white folks were in the majority and therefore yielded political power. Ths is what you call their “political privilege.” Yet now that other groups have the majority, or at least the plurality, you say that this is the way that democracy works, and that it will not allow privilege. Instead, the system prefers numbers.

    So it would seem that the power that rural white were wielding before was not “political privilege,” right? Rather, there were just more of them. That is: “Democracy permits no privileging of one demographic or another beyond their quantity.”

    This might be a quibble, but why is it that when the white, rural folks were dominant politically, you refer to this situation as one of privilege. But when other groups seize the reins of demographic power, you call that “democracy’?Report

    • Freddie in reply to Sam M says:

      I think this is just a semantic failure on my part. I don’t mean to suggest that there was something illegitimate about white political power at the time, only that there is something illegitimate in the illusion that it is an entitlement. Additionally, I of course don’t believe that minority politics are irrelevant or any such thing, only that no one demographic has unique access to political power because of tradition or similar.Report

  2. Very long post with a lot of good points so I will try to just answer the broad theme…

    While yes, I agree there is a certain reaction among the more radical elements of the Right to a perceived loss of dominance by white Christians of the Heartland variety (I’m not sold on the rural designation) I think characterizing this whole big debate as a struggle between those folks and a new urban, black President is an over-simplification. The main point of rebuttal I would make is that two demographics have grown very quickly in the last 50 years and they aren’t referenced in your post. Those would be suburban residents and Independents. I think there is a link between the two worth exploring.

    This isn’t 1945 with sharecroppers moving to Detroit to build cars in an urban metropolis. Today if rural folks are forced to leave the farm it’s for jobs in the suburbs. These are careers like administrative work in health insurance (bingo!) or light manufacturing of the non-union variety. Both non-union manufacturing and health insurance stand to be harmed by the administration’s proposals. Compound that with a clear urban preference in their policy proposals and you have room for resentment of a completely different variety than we had during the Bush years. On the other end of the spectrum we have urban dwellers who, when they manage to get their heads above water, move away from city cores with alarming speed. Once there they tend to integrate pretty quickly and their policy preferences change as well.

    While it’s easy to blame the current responses to the early moves of the Obama administration as some sort of latent white, Christian prejudice it would be more beneficial I think to look at the growing number of Independents. That number is higher than it’s been since polling on the subject started. That says that people may be moving away from both parties. Liberals showed a certain crazed disbelief during the Bush years as they lost voters. Those same voters may now prefer an Independent label, even if they were content to pull the lever for Obama in the last election. Fast forward to 2012 and who knows what the political landscape will look like as both parties may continue to alienate their traditional aliies.Report

  3. cole porter says:

    I think some pretty serious white christian on white christian sectarian political conflict still goes on in local politics all over the country, and it definitely was a huge deal nationally in the not-too-distant past. I’m not sure if one could locate in history when the Italian-Pole-Irish conflicts started to fade in comparison to the (more vivid?) white-black conflicts, or if it’s always been like that. But it’s not like the white christian farmers in “Notes on Virginia” were the dominant ethnicity from Thomas Jefferson until a few years ago. I don’t think you’ve cracked the problem of what these 9/12 people are about.Report

  4. brierrabbit3030 says:

    this was one of the silliest things i have read in a long time. Why is it that some people define everything via race. I’m sure some of these people might feel that way. But most of these people don;t feel “entitled” they just don’t want the country to go broke. Maybe not handing over impossible levels of national debt to their grandchildren, might play a role in this. Every time a group of people get together with a conservative meme, were back to race again. The idea that all these people have some subliminal racism against Barack Obama, is getting tired . Very tired.Report

    • EngineerScotty in reply to brierrabbit3030 says:

      But where were the tea parties when Bush was in office? It’s like people didn’t notice that the economy was in trouble until a Democrat was (almost) elected president–suddenly there must be fiscal restraint.

      Besides–calling for fiscal restraint is one thing. Calling Obama things like “socialist”, “traitor”, “Nazi”, etc.–when all of these things are manifestly untrue, is what puzzles us. I’ve no issue with those who argue that public policy should be to reduce spending as opposed to stimulus programs. But the sheer animus directed towards Obama (and Clinton) well exceeds what one would expect in a politically mature democracy when policy matters are the only subject of debate.Report

  5. Ryan says:

    “There must be an honest and thorough acceptance of the fact that rural people do not get extra votes”

    Unless they’re United States Senators.Report

  6. EngineerScotty says:

    At the ristk of hijacking this thread, I have another possible explanation for the hostility in US politics–both from the right directed towards Obama and Clinton (and Presidential contenders such as Kerry and Gore as well–both of whom are also regarded with scorn, despite the fact that neither is black nor has been caught with his pants down), as well as the hostility on the left directed towards the Bushes, Reagan, and Nixon.

    My thesis is this: There are two Major Moral Issues that dominate US politics like no other–and that many other debates, including healthcare, are in large part “proxy” battles over these two issues. More on that later.

    The 1960s and 1970s were, of course, seminal periods in the development of US political discourse. Prior to the 60s, the differences between the two major parties were predominantly economic. Both parties had progressive wings and conservative wings, and both parties housed a variety of opinions on foreign policy–whether it be internationalism, isolationism, active imperialism, or pacifism. While nostalgia for the good-old-days is perhaps exaggerated, the sort of hysteria in modern political discourse tended to be limited to the margins of US politics–Birchers, SDS and other leftist groups, etc. However, the period of 68 to 74 saw a fundamental re-alignment of US politics, as a) Nixon launched his Southern Strategy, leading to an exodus of racist Southern white voters from the Democrats to the GOP; b) the failure of LBJ and the death of RFK (and JFK earlier), combined with the war and the aforementioned exodus, led to the Democrats becoming a party with a significant pacifist and counterculture contingent, and c) Roe v. Wade, in 1973, being the catalyst for vastly increased theological participation in politics. In short, the Democrats became the party housing doves, minorities, and various elements of the “counterculture”, the GOP became the party of hawks, big business, and white Christian conservatives. And each party, and the ideological bloc which makes up much of its base, had a Grand Moral Issue on which it considered compromise unacceptable. What are these issues?

    Abortion and warfare.

    For many on the right, the issue which I think drives much of the current nastiness is none other than the abortion issue–even though the subject isn’t a matter of much debate in DC. Conservatives see opposition to abortion, which they consider a Great Moral Evil, as a moral imperative–and for many, any politician who is pro-choice is, therefore, a monster–the equivalent of Hitler or Stalin. Pro-choicers, who view the issue as one of civil rights or sexual politics or biology or theology, and attempt to reduce the issue to one of these, think it’s less of a big deal–but for many on the right, any claim to moral authority starts with opposing Roe; attempts to “reduce the number of abortions” via the carrot rather than the stick are insufficient.
    For many on the left, the issue is warfare. Many liberals view the waging of war (especially for cases which are not obvious self-defense) as a great moral evil, and feel as strongly about this as the right does about abortion. Just as pro-choicers fail to understand pro-life anger, many non-pacifists fail to understand what the big deal is, or try to reduce the issue to taking sides in a conflict (with the result that pacifists are frequently accused of disloyalty or leftist sympathies). But the left loathed Nixon for escalating the Vietnam War rather than ending it; they loathed Reagan for his confrontational nature toward the Soviets (and for supporting various insurgencies abroad), and they loathed both Bushes for invading Iraq–especially the latter, when the US wasn’t repelling an Iraqi invasion of its neighbors. For many on the left, Bush sending troops to Iraq is little different than Hitler sending the Wehrmacht into Poland–in both cases, a great moral evil has been committed. The current revelations of torture by US interrogators has made leftist anger towards the Bush Administration that much worse.
    In short, part of the reason US politics is so nasty is that both parties have reasons to regard the other side as not just wrong-headed, but as outright evil. And a common strain of US political culture is that evil is something to be opposed at every terun and be destroyed, not something to be reasoned with.

    The above is rather simplistic, of course–there are many factions with US politics which regard various other issues as moral imperative; but these are the Big Two. (And of course, there are many actors willing to exploit the moral outrage of others for their own ends). But it’s not unreasonable to suggest that US political discourse has been reduced to a battle between the baby-killers and the warmongers; that’s how many on each side see the other.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to EngineerScotty says:

      I tend to agree with this… though I think that the dynamic is slightly different. Instead of “do you think that abortion/war is the most important thing” it’s a question of “which offends you more: anti-war protestors or anti-abortion protestors?”

      If you heard that an anti-war protest resulted in a police officer having a cup of blood thrown on him, would your first thought be “I wonder what the officer was doing to get that response?” or would it be “I *KNEW* that those hippies hated cops!”?

      If you heard that an anti-abortion protest resulted in a police officer having a cup of blood thrown on him, would your first thought be “I wonder what the officer was doing to get that response?” or would it be “I *KNEW* that those Christianists hated any authority that wasn’t Fred Phelps!”?

      And one picks one’s party based on which group of protestors offends them more. Do you hate the hippies? Join the Republican Party! Do you hate the Christianists? Join the Democrats!Report

    • matoko_chan in reply to EngineerScotty says:

      Nah, scotty, you are wrong.
      It has always been about race and the horrorshow legacy of slavery, right from the beginning when South Carolina made Jefferson strike a condemnation of slavery from the declaration of independents.
      The growth of the federal government and the welfare state started when the feds were forced to deliver civil rights and safety net welfare to black citizens in the south. Granted that is an oversimplification, but that is why Jim Manzi’s pockets of Distributed Jesusland can’t work…..federalism is just cover for localized virtual chattel slavery….and not just of blacks.
      We already have pockets of federalists in this country….one of them was called Yearning For Zion. Abortion isn’t a moral issue……it is a control issue, Scotty.
      It is part of the virtual chattel slavery of women and children so admired by the teabaggers.
      Hayek, Oakeshott, Burke, all just specious bullshytt cover so soi-disant conservatives don’t have to acknowledge that they are making treaties with the racist troglodytes that have always comprised the majority of their base.Report

      • matoko_chan in reply to matoko_chan says:

        Also Kling is wrong too.
        I would just like to point out that this country was CONCIEVED, DESIGNED, and IMPLEMENTED by elites, and that in a meritocracy, we ALWAYS select some stripe of aristoi, either natural like polymath Thomas Jefferson suggested (see Barack Obama) or artificial (see George Bush Presidentsson).Report

  7. E.D. Kain says:

    I think you’re basically right, Freddie. This is much more a cultural reaction than a political one, first of all. The invocation of Reaganisms and anti-government sentiment is merely the manifestation of this sense of loss – the easy way out, as it were, packaged in valid but more tangible fears about government takeover. The sad thing is, the real intrusions of government into the private sphere are ignored or misunderstood. Instead we are given a blunt caricature of dystopian, socialist Obamerica. My only hope is that as the Teapartying wanes, some other better, more responsible and practical conservatism will wax.Report

  8. ThatPirateGuy says:

    I’m 28 and from Memphis, TN. I grew up riding in my dad’s truck as he listened to rush. I read “the way things ougth to be” by the bloviator when I was in middle school. Then I started to grow up and I realized that the republican party and the movement that drove it hated me. Because I am not and do not want to be a Christian or a member of any religion. Because I wanted my fellow students to learn about evolution and safe-sex. I learned that rush didn’t care about facts or science and neither did republican office holders.

    For this I turned to the democratic party, I still occasionaly hear pathetic, rude, and terrible statements from some democrats but by and large they don’t use me and the people I know and love as boogieman. I don’t hate the social conservatives I just want them to have zero and I mean zero influence in the laws of my country. Obama was the first politician I ever actually liked. Part of that is the fact that he publicly sees me a a person not a cartoon villain. This is a huge part of the “culture war” and one that I think the right is losing.Report

    • “I grew up riding in my dad’s truck as he listened to rush.”

      Am I the only one that was thinking “Today’s Tom Sawyer, mean, mean pride” when I read that?

      So here’s my completely different story: I grew up in Louisville, KY riding around in my dad’s truck as he listened to Hank Williams Jr. and George Strait. He voted Democrat and was a pro-union welder. So of course when I turned 18 I registered as a Democrat as well. But then I worked for a union company and saw how corrupt the union was and got tired of my dues being piped into the DNC. I went to college and started hearing serious liberal ideologies and something in my head made me think it was flawed. Then I started actually paying attention to the Clinton presidency which was now in year two. By the time he got impeached I was changing my party affiliation to Republican. For me, the Republican party celebrated getting off my ass and making something of myself, which I did, despite having no help from my family with college and having a child at 19. Have they disappointed me since then? Lots of times. Sometimes I vote Democrat, sometimes I don’t, but at at the end of the day, the message of conservatism appeals to me. So…you can see how we all have our own story to tell.Report

      • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:


        That is why I referenced republican office holders. Living in memphis with my hobby of wargaming I regularly hang out with conservatives and we have zero problems with each other.

        I like the promotion of responsibility that I have heard from some conservatives. I really do, but I don’t like the anger I hear from the likes of rush towards those that tried and failed. Hard work is pre-requisite to success but no guarantee.

        Frankly i would love to feel like I had a choice between the two parties. I would love a conservative movement that didn’t see me as an enemy, I can’t say vote for them but I would consider it.

        Nice to meet you MikeReport

        • This is a line of thought I hear a lot from liberal-leaning folks these days. They truly think Rush and Beck define the party or worse, conservatism. I disagree. That would be like me saying the Keith Olbermann or Chris Matthews define Democrats. Yes, of course Rush has a much larger audience, but so does Survivor and John & Kate Plus Eight. I think there are a whole lot of folks like my wife who listen to Rush because he can be entertaining and occassionally insightful, but hey also take him with a grain of salt. I’ve been a conservative for over 10 years now. I spend a LOT of time on conservative blogs, chatboards, etc and talking to my conservative friends via email, etc. I rarely every hear someone say, “Well Rush says…” To be quite honest when a fellow Republican/conservative mentions Rush or especially Glenn Beck I sort of tune out everything that comes after that, and I suspect most Republicans are in that camp.

          If you look at Democrats circa 2001-2002 they were a party that was flailing in the wake of losing so much power. One could have said at that moment that Air America might have been the loudest voice on that side of the aisle. But as the Iraq war came about and it was no longer forbidden to criticize the War on Terror, Democrats found a more coherent and *choke* principled voice that was finally best articulated by Obama.

          I have some liberal friends who like to promote the notion of Glenn Beck being the voice of the GOP simply because it benefits the DNC politically for people to think that. I don’t get that you feel that way. So I’m curious why you think the party ‘hates’ you? That’s a pretty strong word when a better choice might be ‘disagrees with’.

          Good to meet you too TPG.Report

  9. Ryan Davidson says:


    I return to commenting here after some time off, once again impressed by your analysis. I’m not the “Ryan” that’s currently posting here, nor is he the “Ryan” that posted on your old blog about two years ago. That was me.

    I think you’re largely correct, especially on your point that race is seemingly becoming something of a proxy for culture. I think we’re only beginning to expose fundamental fault lines in the country’s intellectual and cultural makeup, and I don’t think that many of these divisions can be bridged very easily. The race issue is a smokescreen, something people latch on to because it’s easy to explain. “They don’t look like me!” is a lot easier to get, intuitively, than “We have different beliefs about the fundamental nature and meaning of values,” and as most Americans aren’t capable of articulating much about why they believe what they do, dialog all-too-frequently revolves around proxies.

    And I’d definitely agree with you that the default “American” culture has, for almost 300 years, meant “white, rural (or at least small town), Protestant”. As a majority of the people in the country fail to be at least one of those things, it’s probably high time for that to change.

    I’d throw in one other point for your consideration though. I think you’re perhaps overlooking the effect of religion here. I’m not really talking about “organized” religion here, as most American religion isn’t all that organized anymore. I’m talking about a conflict of sets of beliefs that are held religiously. Everyone has them, and the fact that they aren’t formalized in a discrete creed doesn’t make them any more commensurable than those that are. Less so, actually, because the way things are now, most people aren’t even all that conscious of their religious beliefs, leading to unpredictible and disproportionate responses. Ultimately, I think this is the only way to explain the ongoing political strife which besets our country.

    And as a point of clarification, I find the religious beliefs of both major factions here to be abhorrent. Just because I think this is a fundamentally religious conflict doesn’t mean I have to like either of the “religions” involved.Report