More thoughts on Lind’s Neo-Jacksonians
I apologize in advance for the liberal use of quotes in this post, but I wanted to add a few thoughts on the Lind piece I linked to yesterday. Lind makes the point that the reason for the pro-populist/anti-statists and the anti-populist/pro-statist alignments are a matter of the “ethno-religious” bases of each Party. He breaks down the demographics:
In the post-New Deal system that exists to this day, the Republican Party is a neo-Jacksonian coalition whose base consists of Southern white Protestants and, to a lesser degree, conservative white Catholic ‘ethnics’ in the Northern suburbs. The Democratic Party is based in big cities and college towns. Among ethnic and racial groups, its most consistent electoral supporters are blacks and Jews, followed by Latinos.
This fear on the part of Jacksonians, past and present, produces a combination of folksy populism with support for state and local governments, which are less likely to be captured by metropolitan elites who look down on Irish and Italian Catholics in the North and the Scots-Irish in the South.
“Southern white Protestants…” “Scots-Irish in the South…” Lind isn’t the first to call to mind the Albion’s Seed theory to identify current political alliances. In a column last February, Chuck Lane argued that the U.S. was really a 4-Party system:
You might even say that the four parties I’m talking about correspond roughly to the four political cultures first identified by historian David Hackett Fischer in his classic book Albion’s Seed. That book traced the main currents in American political ideology to the folkways and notions of liberty imported from four British regions that provided the population of early America.
East Anglia gave us the Puritans of New England, with their emphasis – ‘liberal,’ in today’s terms — on community virtue. The Quakers who settled the Delaware Valley established a society and politics built on problem-solving and compromise. Southern England gave us the Virginia cavaliers, founders of a conservative, aristocratic tradition. And the Scotch-Irish who settled the Appalachian backcountry produced a populist, anti-government, ‘don’t tread on me’ mentality.
Well, I don’t think “anti-government” is accurate. For one thing, Appalachia made up the backbone of the New Deal coalition. For another, there’s a difference between being anti-government and anti-centralization of government. But I get the point: Scotch-Irish = Tea Party. And they also make up a pretty big part of Lind’s neo-Jacksonians.
Jim Webb – who as I mentioned yesterday is the only self-ID’d Jacksonian-populist in modern politics – famously wrote a book on the Scotch-Irish , and has followed that up with high-profile op-eds and commentary about his people. In a 2008 Morning Joe appearance following a conversation among the hosts that Obama’s poor polling in the Kentucky primary was based on race, Webb asked for the opportunity to comment (at about the 4 and a half minute mark):
Black America and Scotch-Irish America are like tortured siblings. They both have long history and they both missed the boat when it came to all the larger benefits other people were able to receive. There’s a saying in the Appalachian mountains that they say to one another and that’s ‘if you’re poor and white, you’re out of sight.’… when I hear people say this [Obama underperforming in the Kentucky primary] is racism, my back gets up a little bit, ’cause that’s my cultural group. This isn’t Selma 1965. This is a result of how affirmative action, which was basically a justifiable concept when it applied to African Americans, expanded to every single ethnic group in America that was not white, and these were the people who had not received benefits and were not getting anything out of it. They’re basically saying, ‘hey, let’s pay attention to what has happened with this cultural group in terms of opportunity’… if this cultural group could get at the same table with black America, you could re-change populist American politics because they have so much in common in terms of what they need out of government.
Which, to me, sounds like a slightly more thoughtful way of putting Howard Dean’s 2003 (repeated) comment that:
White folks in the South who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back ought to be voting with us, and not them, because their kids don’t have health insurance either, and their kids need better schools too.
And a slightly less rhyme-y way of putting Bulworth’s observation that:
Ask a brother who’s been downsized if he’s getting any deal/ Or a white boy bustin ass til they put him in his grave/ He ain’t gotta be a black boy to be livin like a slave/ Rich people have always stayed on top by dividing white people from colored people/ but white people got more in common with colored people then they do with rich people.
The first two quotes were, at least somewhat, controversial. Webb has been called a nativist, a xenophobe, and compared to George Wallace for comments similar to this; Dean earned a bit of criticism from his primary opponents for his comment, and it created one of those “silly season” campaign flaps in ’03. Bulworth, by virtue of not being real, has escaped any such controversy for his comment. In other words, building a black-and-bubba coalition is both a long-standing fantasy of some liberal politicians and an ill-advised capitulation of multiculturalist progressive principles in other liberal quarters.
When rural Democratic strategist “Mudcat” Saunders, who coined the term “black-and-bubba” that I just stole, is labeled “knuckle-dragging dumbass hillbilly” (Saunders was photographed with a Confederate flag) , the conversation kind of ends. Just as careers (like Saunders’) have been made trying to unite the black vote with the Southern white/Scotch-Irish vote, careers have also been made trying to de-bunk the possibility. Recounting a run-in with Saunders at the ’06 Yearly Kos convention, Thomas Schaller wrote of the following as an unsolvable riddle:
How is it that working-class whites — especially those in the rural parts of the South who sit side by side with similarly situated working-class southern blacks at high school sporting events on Friday nights, shop at the same businesses on Saturday afternoon, attend similar (if different denominational) Christian churches on Sunday morning, and send their kids to the same public schools the following Monday — troop to the ballot box on the first Tuesday every other November vote and pull the lever for the Republicans while their black neighbors are voting overwhelmingly Democratic? The answer is complex but, of course, is rooted in race.
Schaller wrote a book advising Democrats to ignore the South completely and form a winning Democratic coalition of the northeast, mid-west, and New West. But while it is possible to win elections without the votes of white Southerners, it does nothing to reunite any kind of old Jacksonian (as opposed to Lind’s neo-Jacksonian, already united in the Republican Party) coalition, and it requires the Democratic Party to deliberately ignore one of the poorest populations in the nation. I’m about as comfortable with that idea as I would’ve been had I been a Republican at the dawning of their very own Southern strategy. Which is to say, sometimes principle is more important than strategy.
Moreover, with the Left divided on whether or not we even want southern whites/the Scotch-Irish in our coalition, it’s kind of hard to determine whether or not such a marriage is possible. Somehow, I don’t think running ads at NASCAR races is sufficient outreach, especially while casually insulting and demeaning the intelligence of the entire population is still fairly commonplace. Similarly, regardless of what some people say, a draft-dodging Yalie neoliberal cannot be classified as a populist simply because he talks Southern and bleeds empathy. Sometimes, the dissonance between insulting the demographic and desiring a coalition are laughably included in the same thought process, as in the case of one particular blogger earlier this year, who writes of the “racist traditions and phobias of [the Scotch-Irish] tribe,” that they are “natural haters of all that is scholarly or cosmopolitan,” the “right wing’s Rottweiler,” and a “race of hard fighting, hard working, losers.” A few sentences later is a call for progressives to reach out to said racist losers. Yeah, can’t imagine why those Scotch-Irish wouldn’t jump at the chance to join hands here…
So until we on the Left settle our own internal dissonance about the Scotch-Irish, Lind might sadly be right: there will be no peasants with pitchforks.