Thursday, November 04, 2004

more election waffle

I've been spending most of the past couple of days talking about the election, and - particularly - reading about it, and I have to say that there is an absolutely tremendous amount to say on this, and I feel slightly disappointed that I won't get the chance to compile all the links I'd like to, write all the comments I'd like to, and engage with as many people as I'd like to. I should point out, for any new readers, that this blog ostensibly exists as a slick marketing tool to promote my band, but things don't seem to work out so easily. Anyone who is here to read about Assistant, I'll get back on message soon, I promise. But it's at times like this when you think about the nature of blogging, and to what extent it is just me satisfying my ego, talking to thin air, or just working through thoughts which would otherwise just rattle around my head.

But if the election has made me suddenly introspective and mindful of my limitations, elsewhere there is some stunning writing about how things panned out in the US. Most of what I have said, or will say, has been influenced by the extraordinary variety of emotion and tone which can be found on the web right now. I think I should perhaps put together a list of the sites which have helped me understand things the best, but I've not time right now, so I'll just plough on with a few more thoughts about the election, with a general credit issued to all my fellow bloggers, who have been a revelation the last few days.

As I've said, I don't like the tendency to scapegoat 'the American', as if he is a homogenous artifact, a symbol of stupidity. Yesterday I wrote that we should not call Americans stupid as a kneejerk reaction, and I stand by that, but I read some stuff by Timothy Garton Ash in the paper today which made me want to qualify what I said. I think I tried to explain away much of America standing by their war president on the grounds that he made them fearful, that they felt threatened and voted with him on that basis. To some extent I think that's right, but the phrase I used was 'In any country the majority of people vote in order to protect their best interests' - and that they felt Bush was best placed to protect those interests. Well. I have also tried, where possible, not to turn this into a 'Christian thing'. I'm trying to be fair, here.

But Garton Ash writes,

"The gut reaction of so many American voters, like Ida Blair, [is] to put moral, cultural and lifestyle choices before anything else, including their own economic self-interest. Family values. No gay marriage or abortion. Gun ownership. God, motherhood and apple pie. I just heard on the television that married women voted overwhelmingly for Bush, single women for Kerry."

He's right. When I talked about best interests I guess I was talking about the (perceived) threat of terrorism, but it's undeniably true that in many other respects people did indeed make moral choices, not political ones. In that sense, it is to some extent a Christian thing, like it or not. And it confirms the grizzly suggestion that, with the voting so closely mirroring what went on in 2000, America has divided it's moral choices into party colours. This, obviously, makes the prospect of a Democratic revival (all the way ahead in 2008) even harder to achieve.

Garton Ash goes on to articulate the line which I've been pushing ever since I first saw the election maps yesterday morning.

"In fact, this election has shown that America is more divided than ever over essentials of politics and faith. It's one country, but two nations".

Well, he's right to an extent. The left and the right have never been so far apart in terms of the moral instincts at the heart of their allegiences. But he undermines his point (as I have) by defining the difference in geographical terms. While it's certainly true to say that the map of the voting patterns makes its own point (solidly democratic at the edges and in the North Midwest, and republican elsewhere, swelling the map with a great, red belly of conservatism - middle America and the South. I saw one map jokingly divide them into the 'United States of Canada' and 'Jesusland'), it remains misleading to set up this as the contrast at the heart of the country. The liberals by the sea and the rednecks in the heartlands.

I didn't get this until I saw the map below on the wonderful Boing Boing blog.


As David Brake, on his site (which drew my attention to the map) writes,

"There are still plenty of Democrats in most of the “red” states - just not enough to swing the election this time around."

There's no reason why the Democrats should give up on the red states. One wonders if it isn't true, though, that as history proved with Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, that they need a smooth talkin' Southerner to do it. Whence Michael Dukakis? Whence John Kerry...

That said, some of the allegiances just look so hard to reverse. Here's how society voted by church attendence, from the Guardian.

More than Weekly
63% Bush
36% Kerry

58% Bush
41% Kerry

50% Bush
50% Kerry

Few times a year
44% Bush
55% Kerry

34% Bush
64% Kerry

See how the numbers reverse themselves the less people pray. It's so clear cut it's almost a beautiful pattern, almost organic, almost natural. And what can we do about that? Well, we have to fight to reverse it, I guess. I still don't think we should call our American cousins idiots, but the fact remains that half the country is making choices of a kind which are, to anyone not cowed in deference to the US church or the neo-cons, profoundly disturbing.

*apologies to anyone who dislikes my use of the phrase 'we', there. Sorry, it sounds crap and naff, and self-aggrandising - especially from an Englishman who isn't in any way involved with politics. I am not trying to flex my blogging muscles, I just can't stop talking.

Incidentally: one interesting point from the always interesting Harry's Place.

"The much-vaunted "youth vote" went for Kerry, but it wasn't much of a vote. Despite "Rock the Vote," "Vote or Die," etc., only about one in ten of 18-to-24-year-olds went to the polls."

UPDATE: The above factlet is - in fact - false; see here for further details. Thanks to Tim, Andrew and David for putting me straight.


Tim Rutherford-Johnson said...

A couple of points: firstly, be sceptical about that youth vote figure - I read a comment somewhere (on Sasha Frere-Jones I think) that that youth vote figure is actually 17% of the total electorate were 18-29, _not_ 17% of 18-29 year-olds voted, but I've not verified this, so it could be either. If it's true though I hope they're all feeling extremely ashamed of themselves.

More importantly, one crucial mistake Kerry made, I think, was to allow Bush to fight moral issues from a religious perspective. On gay marriage, for example, all Kerry had to do was to ask whether Bush was in favour of civil unions, outside the church. Bush would then either have to risk answering yes, he was in favour - and probably alienate his core Evangelical support - or answer no, and expose himself as a straightforward bigot. Either answer would potentially have been very damaging - Kerry could, and should, have had a field day portraying Bush as the man who wanted to allow vile prejudice dictate future constitutional amendments, but he allowed it to remain a question of faith, one that he could never win.

BB said...

Re: distribution of the vote. Good point, that the state view of things obscures the truth. It's interesting to compare, say, Democratic Pennsylvania (PA) and Republican stronghold Texas (TX). PA has largely Republican counties, but is totally dominated by Philadelphia's huge Dem. majority. On the other hand, Texas has plenty of Dem. counties, mainly in the more Mexican areas near the border, but the cities and suburbs overwhelm them. Have a look at:

If you find a map of the USA where the colouring is done by county instead, there's a very different picture.

I think a Democrat would have to be more than just smooth-talking to win the South now. Civil Rights, and Republican targetting, caused the kind of political turnaround there that's never been seen in the UK. 1976 was the last time they did well, as this clearly shows:

(Bear in mind the Democrats are shown in RED on the older maps!)

Carter got nothing in the West, and even missed plenty in the North-East. It's an amazing change. Basically, the Democrats in the South are now largely seen - by the "whites" - as being against them and for the African-Americans, which is a supreme irony for the party that developed out of the Confederates. I don't think the racial divides have really gone away.

Quite interesting, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

According to the Associated Press:

"An estimated 9 percent of voters Tuesday were 18 to 24, about the same proportion of the electorate as in 2000, exit polls indicated. The youth vote accounted for 17 percent of turnout when broadened to the 18-to-29 age group, also about the same share as in the last presidential race."

According to

If you are interested in 18-29 year olds (are they really youth?) then Nationwide youth turnout was at 47 percent Tuesday, according to yesterday's press release from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).

Hope that helps, David Brake

Tim Rutherford-Johnson said...

In fact, it was at Philip Sherburne where I saw the larger youth vote figure. He cite this article:

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