“Joe stated his case logically and passionately, but his perceived effeminate voice only drew big gales of stupid laughter.”
Marc Fisher wrote an interesting op-ed in the Washington Post this week.
For Working Moms, 'Flawed' Palin is the Perfect Choice
In it, he makes the typical argument that Palin resonates with people because she's one of the common people. But what I think is interesting is what it actually says about the other side. Here's the money quote:
"She's just as flawed as we are," Tweddle said. "It's not the fact that she's a woman but the way she does it all. And let me tell you: There're more American parents with unwed pregnant teenaged children than American parents with Harvard grads. She's real."
Things have gotten pretty twisted when going to Harvard and raising children who don't get pregnant has become a political liability.
There was another fantastic article linked to on Metafilter this week by Jonathan Haidt, a professor of psychology at University of Virginia who researches morality and emotion:
What Makes People Vote Republican?
It's a fairly dense essay, but one well worth reading. In it, one of the arguments he makes is that the moral structure that motivates Republicans can be divided into ingroup/loyalty, purity/sanctity, and authority/respect. He urges Democrats to understand how these themes motivate people to vote Republican and offers a prescription for how Democrats can turn them to their advantage.
The ingroup/loyalty foundation supports virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice that can lead to dangerous nationalism, but in moderate doses a sense that "we are all one" is a recipe for high social capital and civic well-being. A recent study by Robert Putnam (titled E Pluribus Unum) found that ethnic diversity increases anomie and social isolation by decreasing people's sense of belonging to a shared community. Democrats should think carefully, therefore, about why they celebrate diversity. If the purpose of diversity programs is to fight racism and discrimination (worthy goals based on fairness concerns), then these goals might be better served by encouraging assimilation and a sense of shared identity.
The purity/sanctity foundation is used heavily by the Christian right to condemn hedonism and sexual "deviance," but it can also be harnessed for progressive causes. Sanctity does not have to come from God; the psychology of this system is about overcoming our lower, grasping, carnal selves in order to live in a way that is higher, nobler, and more spiritual. Many liberals criticize the crassness and ugliness that our unrestrained free-market society has created. There is a long tradition of liberal anti-materialism often linked to a reverence for nature. Environmental and animal welfare issues are easily promoted using the language of harm/care, but such appeals might be more effective when supplemented with hints of purity/sanctity.
The authority/respect foundation will be the hardest for Democrats to use. But even as liberal bumper stickers urge us to "question authority" and assert that "dissent is patriotic," Democrats can ask what needs this foundation serves, and then look for other ways to meet them. The authority foundation is all about maintaining social order, so any candidate seen to be "soft on crime" has disqualified himself, for many Americans, from being entrusted with the ultimate authority. Democrats would do well to read Durkheim and think about the quasi-religious importance of the criminal justice system. The miracle of turning individuals into groups can only be performed by groups that impose costs on cheaters and slackers. You can do this the authoritarian way (with strict rules and harsh penalties) or you can do it using the fairness/reciprocity foundation by stressing personal responsibility and the beneficence of the nation towards those who "work hard and play by the rules." But if you don't do it at all—if you seem to tolerate or enable cheaters and slackers -- then you are committing a kind of sacrilege.
Unity is not the great need of the hour, it is the eternal struggle of our immigrant nation. The three Durkheimian foundations of ingroup, authority, and purity are powerful tools in that struggle. Until Democrats understand this point, they will be vulnerable to the seductive but false belief that Americans vote for Republicans primarily because they have been duped into doing so.
I would state it even more simply. For Republicans, morality is about what unifies us. It's about circling the wagons. For Democrats, morality is about what we aspire to. And actually, if you try and separate the historical context from each model of morality, neither way of thinking is necessarily superior. Haidt makes the point that Democrats aren't winning because, recently, they don't understand what's motivating people to vote Republican. I think Obama does it better than most Democrats (who do you relate better to, Obama or Pelosi?) but McCain and Palin (in the last couple weeks at least) are outdoing them. If the Democrats want to win, they need to play up the fact that they are basically normal people who have more in common with working stiffs than old "7 houses" McCain, while still trying to explain why it's okay to vote for the smarter candidate.
But how exactly do you show middle America that being smart is a good thing that makes you a better leader while not alienating those who don't self-identify as educated? As the right holds on to power by demonizing smart people with new ideas ("The Liberal Elite" I suppose), the more I believe this nation's survival depends on answering this question; Haidt offers a pretty good answer to this question.
The most dangerous element in American society today, more than the military buildup, the suspension of civil rights, the encroachment of religion into government, the failure of the mortgage industry, or the lack of affordable health care, is this disdain for intellectualism. Being a nationalistic flag waver doesn't lead to fascism nearly as fast as demonizing ideas does.