Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Disappointment in American Electorate

Any straight-up comparison of the two major political conventions should convince even the tepidly interested potential voter that Republicans are in serious trouble. However, after weeks of canvassing for Senate Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren in Massachussetts and  carefully attending to the words of "Blue Dog" working class folks in Fall River Massachussetts (a single-industry textile town for many years which, unlike Detroit, could not rebound after the collapse of that particular single-industry),  I am convinced that  many people are convinced by "fluff" and not "policy" and are strongly anti-intellectual to boot.

Elizabeth Warren's opponent, Scott Brown, won the so-called Kennedy seat after the last lion passed away and a special election was held. His Democratic opponent at that time, Martha Coakley, was and has been a superb attorney general for the state of Massachussetts - but her campaign was feckless  (reflecting the complete arrogance of the Democratic party who assumed that all she had to do was breathe and then glide into office); her Achilles-moment was when she referred to Curt Schilling as a "Yankees fan" (when he was the winning pitcher in the Red Sox route to the World Series championship - against the Yankees no less). Her ignorance was unforgiveable even though it had nothing to do with policy. 

Warren's campaign has focused very heavily upon policy esp. the notion that the tax structure in this country favors the very wealthy and that the hedge fund boys have gotten away with murder.  His has focused entirely upon his canvas workingman's coat and his small GMC truck. She has addressed issues of  substantive importance while he has studiously avoided identifiying himself as a a Republican, or talking about the Republican national platform, or focusing on specific policy issues. 

He runs away from his own party..but features a winsome smile and six-pack abs while signing Grover Norquist's "no tax" pledge and voting for Republicans most of the time. It seems clear to me that two factors are involved in his success to date: a) a clear pandering to a strong strand of anti-intellectualism (you know, the traditional "effete liberal" Spiro Agnew type of criticism which plays well among many white male Irish Catholics disposed to vote against a Harvard University white female professor); and, "localism" (rather than nationalism) in his discussion of key issues. Brown will happily talk about protecting the fishing industry in New Bedford while acting as if the depletion of fishing stocks is not a real problem. 

So..what do we learn about electoral politics from this case study??  In my view, you must relate local problems to the national condition (see C.Wright Mills The Sociological Imagination). Bill Clinton did this superbly in his speech. So did Tip O'Neill who made Reagan's presidency successful. You must also figure out ways of relating  "character issues" to policy. Clinton is eminently successful in doing that; most Dems. are not.

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