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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Do Democrats Need To Learn Some Respect?

If you are a Democrat, let me ask you a question. Do you truly, in your heart of hearts, respect the beliefs of a religious fundamentalist, someone who has a strong relationship with their church, opposes abortion, has doubts about evolution, and so on? If you found out your child had these beliefs, how would you react? Would your first inclination be to try to change their beliefs, to explain through gentle (or not so gentle) persuasion why other beliefs - your beliefs - are better? Or would you fully respect the beliefs as much as you do your own?

Having faced this myself, and having handled it poorly, my first reaction was to try to change the beliefs, to argue why my way of looking at the world was better. The result? I gave the impression, probably a true impression at the time, that I did not respect, and even had disdain for the beliefs I was arguing against, particularly those with religious roots.

But over time I hope I have learned something. I think my way of viewing the world is best, or I'd change it, but that doesn't mean I have to look down my nose at anyone who holds different beliefs, and I hope I no longer do - my position is not necessarily better, and I certainly cannot prove that it is.

Do you truly respect those with fundamentalist views? How do you really feel about bowling? Or about people living in trailers? Are you one of those who thinks life outside of big cities must be boring? Not as culturally rich?

If you don't truly respect the lifestyle and cultural beliefs and traditions of the religious or the working class, why do you expect them to vote with you? Maybe I'm wrong and Democrats do, in fact, have the greatest respect for alternative value systems and lifestyles, but sometimes I wonder. But if you really do believe that your beliefs are better than theirs, is it any surprise that identity politics - the politics of resentment - works?:

Democrats must learn some respect, by Clive Crook, Commentary, Financial Times: This article is not the first to note the cultural contradiction in American liberalism, but just now the point bears restating. The election may turn on it.

Democrats speak up for the less prosperous; they have well-intentioned policies to help them; they are disturbed by inequality, and want to do something about it. Their concern is real and admirable. The trouble is, they lack respect for the objects of their solicitude. Their sympathy comes mixed with disdain, and even contempt.

Democrats regard their policies as self-evidently in the interests of the US working and middle classes. Yet those wide segments of US society keep helping to elect Republican presidents. How is one to account for this? Are those people idiots? Frankly, yes – or so many liberals are driven to conclude. Either that or bigots, clinging to guns, God and white supremacy; or else pathetic dupes, ever at the disposal of Republican strategists. If they only had the brains to vote in their interests, Democrats think, the party would never be out of power. But again and again, the Republicans tell their lies, and those stupid damned voters buy it. ...

Because it was so unexpected, Sarah Palin’s nomination for the vice-presidency jolted these attitudes to the surface. Ms Palin is a small-town American. It is said that she has only recently acquired a passport. Her husband is a fisherman and production worker. She represents a great slice of the country that the Democrats say they care about – yet her selection induced an apoplectic fit.

For days, the derision poured down from Democratic party talking heads and much of the media too. The idea that “this woman” might be vice-president or even president was literally incomprehensible. The popular liberal comedian Bill Maher ... noted that John McCain’s case for the presidency was that only he was capable of standing between the US and its enemies, but that should he die he had chosen “this stewardess” to take over. This joke was not – or not only – a complaint about lack of experience. It was also an expression of class disgust. I give Mr Maher credit for daring to say what many Democrats would only insinuate. ...

Voters in small towns and suburbs, forever mocked and condescended to by metropolitan liberals, are attuned to this disdain. Every four years, many take their revenge.

The irony in 2008 is that the Democratic candidate, despite Republican claims to the contrary, is not an elitist. Barack Obama is an intellectual, but he remembers his history. He can and does connect with ordinary people. His courteous reaction to the Palin nomination was telling. ...

The problem in my view is less Mr Obama and more the attitudes of the claque of official and unofficial supporters that surrounds him. The prevailing liberal mindset is what makes the criticisms of Mr Obama’s distance from working Americans stick.

If only the Democrats could contain ... their consequent distaste for wide swathes of the US electorate, they might gain the unshakeable grip on power they feel they deserve. ...

The Palin nomination could still misfire for Mr McCain, but the liberal reaction has made it a huge success so far. To avoid endlessly repeating this mistake, Democrats need to learn some respect.

It will be hard. They will have to develop some regard for the values that the middle of the country expresses when it votes Republican. Religion. Unembarrassed flag-waving patriotism. Freedom to succeed or fail through one’s own efforts. Refusal to be pitied, bossed around or talked down to. And all those other laughable redneck notions that made the United States what it is.

I'll just repeat something I said recently in talking about how to frme responses to Palin's nomination:

The group the [Republicans are] appealing to doesn't want Washington's money, though that never hurts, they want respect. I think it's that simple, and responses that don't give this constituency the respect they believe they are due will likely be counterproductive.

So tell me why I'm wrong, why Democrats do have respect for the group of voters they are trying to attract, but have been frustrated in doing so, or why the question is not properly framed. I'd be happy to be convinced I'm wrong.

    Posted by on Sunday, September 7, 2008 at 12:24 PM in Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (2)  Comments (176)


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    » Avoiding Those Who Aim to Corrupt Your Mind from Pacific Views

    Mark Thoma has been having a conversation about being opened minded and whether Democrats need to look at how they treat small town Americans. An interesting point about what it means to be respectful and willing to listen to others... [Read More]

    Tracked on Sunday, September 14, 2008 at 12:52 PM

    » Avoiding Those Who Aim to Corrupt Your Mind from Pacific Views

    Mark Thoma has been having a conversation about being opened minded and whether Democrats need to look at how they treat small town Americans. An interesting point about what it means to be respectful and willing to listen to others... [Read More]

    Tracked on Sunday, September 14, 2008 at 03:01 PM


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