Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega
Chicago, Illinois, USA
September 11
A (Sometimes) Respectable Negro
Editor and Founder of the blog We Are Respectable Negroes He has been a guest on the BBC, Ring of Fire Radio, Ed Schultz, Joshua Holland's Alternet Radio Hour, the Burt Cohen show, and Our Common Ground. His essays have been featured by Salon, Alternet, the New York Daily News, and the Daily Kos. The NY Times, the Daily Beast, the Utne Reader, Washington Monthly, Slate, and the Week (among others) have featured his expert commentary and analysis on race, politics, and popular culture.

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Editor’s Pick
APRIL 1, 2011 2:51PM

Red State USA: Poor, Scared, Less Educated, and Left Behind

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In college, one of my sociology professors observed that the real divides between red and blue state America weren't necessarily ideological. He joked that you can look at the rise of Meth use and rates of church attendance on a state by state level and that will predict voting patterns just as well as party identification. Funny, it seems that he may have been onto something.

Gallup has released some new polling data which suggests that America is become more and more "conservative." Political scientists and others have long discussed how the electorate is polarized and that voters are "sorting out" by party affiliation and ideology. The results of this are plain: the noxious tone of our political discourse; the naked appeals to eliminationism by the Right; and a sense that the other side isn't just wrong, no, instead they are evil.

Using Gallup's information, The Atlantic's Richard Florida generated some great graphs which showed that the march of Conservatism across America is correlated with a number of variables including religiosity, poverty, education, and the income level of a given state. All in all the data is compelling. But it is not surprising. Moreover, there are also a few qualifiers to Gallup's findings that America is becoming a more "conservative" that need to be highlighted.

1. Primarily, it has long been noted that Americans are not very ideological--here meaning a coherent schema of political values and beliefs that is internally consistent. While the American electorate is certainly passionate (the ear damaging shrill tones of the White populist Tea Party being people's evidence number one), they do not necessarily hold beliefs that are stable across issue positions.

2. The survey asks respondents if they self-identify as "Conservatives." Again, this is open to slippage as many people for a variety of reasons may label themselves as such. But, these same individuals may vote for the Democrats or identify on issue positions as being more Left/Progressive. And on specific issues (a set of data points that give a better sense of the real lay of the political land) the positions and personalities of the New Right Tea Party GOP are increasingly unpopular.

3. While the media is fascinated by the frame of "Red State versus Blue State", the real action is occurring on the county and regional level where the central cities are becoming more blue and the suburbs and rural parts of many states are becoming more red. Hence the notion of a "purple America." Quite simply, Americans are living in communities where their values are reinforced. Thus the irony that in an increasingly globalized world, with instantaneous information available at one's fingertips, a good number of people are seeking similarity and confirmation, as opposed to a richness of diversity in ideas, values, and beliefs.

However, the Atlantic's analysis is spot on and frighteningly prescient in the following observation.
Conservatism, at least at the state level, appears to be growing  stronger. Ironically, this trend is most pronounced in America's least  well-off, least educated, most blue collar, most economically hard-hit  states. Conservatism, more and more, is the ideology of the economically  left behind.  The current economic crisis only appears to have deepened  conservatism's hold on America's states...
Liberalism, which is stronger in richer, better-educated,  more-diverse, and, especially, more prosperous places, is shrinking  across the board and has fallen behind conservatism even in its biggest  strongholds. This obviously poses big challenges for liberals, the Obama  administration, and the Democratic Party moving forward.
But the  much bigger, long-term danger is economic rather than political. This  ideological state of affairs advantages the policy preferences of  poorer, less innovative states over wealthier, more innovative, and  productive ones. American politics is increasingly disconnected from its  economic engine.  And this deepening political divide has become  perhaps the biggest bottleneck on the road to long-run prosperity.

This is the formula for a reactionary politics that does not serve the collective good. Here, the tail wags the dog and the most frightened, least resourced, and most backward voices rise out of the polity. Elites who have long been disconnected from the masses manipulate this anxiety into a politics that serves to gut the social safety net and chase down the chosen bugaboos of the Right--the "evil" unions, "liberals," "intellectuals," teachers, Muslims, immigrants, racial minorities, gays and lesbians, "overpaid" public employees, and/or anyone who is not a "real American."

In the end game, the authoritarianism infused White reactionary Tea Party AstroTurf politics of the New Right are the road to inverted totalitarianism--an order that rises out of a failure of democratic politics, a collapsed and exhausted economy, a triumphant corporatism, and the false promises of popular Conservatism.
Conservatives and the Right-wing echo chamber will be crowing about their success in light of Gallup's findings. They will scream that Conservatism is on the march and that Gallup's polling data is a vindication of their ideas. Those who live in the reality based world can easily foil those claims. But, the cries of victory will appeal to the true devotees nonetheless. Sadly, the foot soldiers of Conservatism do not understand that they are winning a Pyrrhic victory, one which indicates a deep and systemic rot in this country, as opposed to a triumph of ideas and values that can lead us through the decline of empire and towards a brave new future.

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Polling is always a squishy measuring device, although you may be right about some vestigial swing to the dark side of American politics. Think of the media onslaught of F¿x News, and think about the destruction of our industrial capacity in the Rust Belt.

However, current opinions are in many respects lagging indicators as far as the current economic climate is concerned. With the giant sand box for the kindergartners in DC taking axes to such frivolous things as unemployment insurance, with the prospects of attacking things like Social Security, it´s just a matter of time before the American public as a whole starts looking at the TV with a slightly different pair of eyes.

And when the shit hits the fan in the next depression (as it will) then it will be red America no more.
The data if fascinating. Your write-up is excellent. Watching this thing develop is like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

ONL may be right about the big U-turn coming. I am more inclined to say that the future is entirely unpredictable.

The thing is, the states with the "most frightened, least resourced, and most backward" electorate still get two Senators just like every other state.
The transition of the USA into a third world country with enclaves of the controlling wealthy and the rest consisting of uneducated and poverty stricken masses seems to be progressing nicely. Religion and scapegoating some minority or other and the nonsense of entertainment and sports should keep the general public distracted from the descent into general misery. It may take a bit longer but as long as Americans believe they are free without the actuality the goal should be attained inexorably.
But how is "better educated" defined? If it is just by college degrees, I admit that even though I have one, I am not impressed. I hardly assume someone is well-educated because they went to college . In fact I've never met, and I've worked with many respected professors, anyone with a Ph.D that was as well-educated overall as I am with my lousy BA or my father was with his high school diploma. (In this, I am speaking of a general pool of knowledge on many issues or at least on most historical and cultural and political issues that would seem to be what this author may want in the average voter who is "well-educated".)

Hate on the Right? Maybe so. But please, Bill Maher calls Sarah Palin a "t**t, George Bush was called a war criminal (although this did not extend to all of the Democrats who supported the Iraq war), and Republicans are routinely mocked as morons or worse. I think there is plenty of hate to go round on the Left as well.
The irony is that the Conservative working class continually votes against their own interest, and I am left with only one constant to account for this: racism. Certainly, the gurus who formulated and perpetrated the Southern Strategy understand this, even if those they dupe don't.

One of the easiest markers for voting trends is, ironically, transfer payments. Republicans are most likely to win in states that receive the most in Federal funds. That irony utterly escapes working class Conservatives -- but you can bet legislators who spout a cut, cut, cut agenda are certainly aware of that fact. I think Washington ought to give them their wish.
One reason a plurality identify as conservative is it's the dominant political presence in media and in numbers, but is not a majority belief. To a degree, it's like early presidential polling where name recognition is more determining than a true affinity for the candidate's beliefs. There are, as you say, different measures used in considering oneself conservative, and without doubt that accounts for what I assume is a fairly small percentage of people who aren't "mainstream" conservatives in the Fox News, Rush-Beck and/or religious-driven sense.
Economically, and insomuch as a word like "left" is sufficient, a majority are left. Keep in mind that a majority are also, politically speaking -- "not the right-wing."

Countering this rightward fear and loathing drift would be easy if the Democratic Party "New Democrats," like Obama, would offer a true economic populist narrative. Unfortunately, they're possibly distrustful of the majority -- thinking that despite a populist agenda the corporate money-driven campaign would overwhelm their voters/potential voter's appreciation for being represented come election time.

Or, the New Dems are too isolated in a closed-loop belief they really ARE doing something positive for the majority (I doubt that is true).

Or they are too satisfied with the status quo system. Everybody gets a payoff --regardless of winning or losing party control-- so nobody gives a damn.

Easiest counter-measure? Compel the Democratic Party to shed the "New" and way out of step "pro-growth" label and start representing that so-called economic "center-left" majority (I prefer, simply, The Majority). In other words -- go back to being Democrats.

A consummation devoutly to be wish'd...for what it's worth.

Interesting and thought provoking article. Nice work.
Your comment that Americans choose similarity over diversity is very true, but a lot of that is driven by the autonomy that local governments have, compared to other countries (like England, which is very centralized). Values are reflected in the budget priorities and rules of the town. Does the town have higher taxes and better schools or not? etc.

We really do have to do something about education. No Child Left Behind left it up to the states to set standards and the best states require their students to be two grades ahead of the worst states. We then cheer when Colorado students meet the standards. Who cares if by Massachusetts standards, they're failing dismally?
a useful post, if only to create discussion. the rich buy the poor, with 'guns and religion' in one form or another, or the rich would have been extinct long ago.

there is a critical mass effect which i think may carry america all the way to a genuine authoritarian state, which will not be so different from the current stage of decaying elective oligarchy, just more obvious.

it may not matter, the inability of american society to deal with pollution and resource exhaustion is likely to bring such catastrophe as to make fine gradations of politics trivial.
I think where Liberals make their mistake is assuming that the business owners, wealthiest, most successful people in this country are just a bunch of idiots. I think they also underscore their argument by thinking that people that want freedom over tyranny are a bunch of losers. The founders of this country would be considered tee partiers. The founders despised government and set it up to limit its' scope on the American people. Conservative believing in the constitution does not make them radical, it makes them great Americans. People are mostly self sufficient, honorable people looking to live their lives. The more the government controls your life, the more people revolt. This country would be better off without all the social engineering. Everything tried by the left is a failure. Social Security is turning into a ponzi scheme, Medicare is broke, Welfare is a disaster, over a 1000 businesses have asked to opt out of the new health care system, unemployment is becoming a new social program, taxes go up and services go down, education has gotten worse not better, unions are destroying what is left of government and private industry. The worst is that Obama complained about Bush's spending and to show him how to do it has added 3 trillion in new debt. Obama said he was against wars but has expanded one and started another. All of the things I have brought up are what is causing the country to become more conservative. There is no urgency on the left to fix any of it. The worse thing the right offers is big business. These are the same businesses that offer the best jobs in this country and have created more wealth for more people than anywhere else in the world. Are there bad businesses, yes, but to demonize all business as bad, is foolish. If business goes away you will have no money to give to the poor. By the way, the best friend to the poor is the rich. They donate more money to charities than anyone else. They are the real hero's for many of the countries most disadvantaged people. You can think conservatives are less educated and not as smart, but the conservatives are the doers and the rest teach or suck of the system. Lets leave it at that.
rushd shows up to affirm the validity of the "less educated" designation. It's not necessary, but it's better than a mere picture.
We can blame part of that on the Democrat Party's abysmal record at marketing its ideas as a coherent political philosophy, but I believe there are a couple other points to be made.

Fear pushes people toward morality (or what passes for it), and the GOP has done a good job of owning the moral high ground, no matter how immorally individual Republicans may act. And what Republicans call "morality" does pay benefits, in economic success, over the shorter term. Delaying parenthood until one reaches a level of financial success and limiting it afterward, forming and maintaining stable relationships, establishing peer groups through churches, jobs and children's schools rather than bars, acting in a way that can be termed "fiscally conservative," voting no on higher taxes — all those things do make life easier to a certain extent, and many of them actually are consonant with Democratic positions. But the Dems have let the GOP claim them, and thus more and more people believe that Republicans best represent their interests.
Well Paul I am glad I'm not as smart as you. I would just be another overeducated idiot that has amounted to nothing. **ck off
Don't set your goals that high.
Anyone who says the founders would be tea partiers should be satisfied with mentally outperforming a houseplant.
In that, I wish you luck.
A very interesting article. Seen from a European perspective, there is no doubt that many here look at the present situation in US with a certain amount of worry and apprehension. The Bush Presidency in way served to regress a certain part of the US, culturally, and politically. When Barak Obama won the election we all hoped to see progressive thinking going back into US politics. However, faced with the disastrous state of the country he inherited from the Bush Era, 4 years proved to be insufficient to redress the economic disaster left by the Bush administration. 2012 is just around the corner, and we all hope that he wins a second term, as a new Republican Presidency would be a disaster for the world as a whole.
Yeah I guess your right Paul, the founders were not interested in limited government, freedom, low taxes. I guess they were more like you. They wanted social engineering, redistribution of wealth, world government, lack of freedom, high taxation, trillions in deficits, and every social program under the sun. I guess that is why all that is in the constitution. Your government is the same British government we fought and won to get our independence from. We are not a socialist republic we are a Representative republic. It has its' downside because dumb as* libs like you can get elected and make things worse. But it works. The libs seem to forget that as in Wisconsin, Ohio and in other places. The European's are going light speed to be like us because they have seen this ideology fail. America on the other hand is trying to prove them wrong that it actually can work to spend trillions to have a perfect socialist utopia. You are the cancer in our system and if it spreads more we will all be worse off. I give this country a couple more years and then the real fun begins. I can't wait to pay 20-30% on a loan again and pay $20 for a loaf of bread. The only thing saving this country is the economy is so bad. If it heats up we are finished.
You don't know the first thing about the Founders, the Constitution, American history or anything else worth knowing.
Your problem is you think you can fake it to somebody besides yourself.

Now, why don't you write a post and spill some of your "knowledge" upon all who will read it and overlook the misspellings to enjoy the ideological clucking of an inverted commie aparatchicken.

By the way, send me those right wing airhead radio ranters so I can thrash them in public. I can't get past the call screeners.
My Constitution says the purpose for govt is to provide for the common defense AND promote the general welfare. Yes, ladies, gentlemen and conservatives, WELFARE is written into the Constitution.

Those darned ol' Founders, trying to have it both ways.

Indeed, 'rushdman' is an excellent example of what this post is about. As I said before, his written English is at par with his intellectual abilities. In other words, it is mediocre. If he can’t write a single coherent sentence, we’re not expecting him to understand the philosophy followed by the Founding Fathers. I was going to put a link to the article “The Constitution as a Libertarian Myth,” but the website is currently down.
It's all terribly sad. Thomas Frank, in his 2004 book "What's the Matter with Kansas" was already talking about it. In it he describes how the neoconservative right has implemented George Orwell's concepts via a neverending war over culture and values. They've become very good at it and, teaming up with the rich, they continue to distract all of us from the fact that they continue gobbling up more and more of the limited wealth of the nation while those on main street continue to fight over the bones.

How long can this game play out? Longer than I ever thought it would. However, success does carry its own seeds of destruction. Anyone looking forward to 2020? It's gonna be a ride!
2020 will be waaaaay too late. We all better hope Democrats win back the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in 2012 -- admittedly an audacious hope -- or the Conservative chopping block will have reduced govt to the point that Grover Norquist and the Koch Bros will get their wish -- govt made small enough to drown in a bathtub.

Setting aside high-blown but foolish Libertarian theory, I wonder if any hard-core conservative comprehends what that means in reality? Certainly, there's no evidence any conservative commenter on OS comprehends the consequences. In the jungle Libertarians so fervently wish for, the rich will not be role models but targets.

The Founders, men of property all, understood the consequences, which is why the opted for govt of, by and for the people - - with reasonable limitations. But if the people aren't placated, that is if they no longer believe they have a say in their affairs, and they no longer perceive the possibility of a brighter future for themselves and their children, the Tree of Liberty will be watered with blood, as Jefferson ominously warned.

Say what you will, conservatives, but to a man, the Founders would be appalled at our rush toward a corporate oligarchy.
Can there be any doubt about conservatism and those subscribing to it when you have candidates who demonstrate openly their lack of knowledge? When you have Palin, Bachmann, O'Donnell, Angle and some of the other candidates that (fortunately) didn't make it past the primaries but people have still supported for public office and some even have supporters who think they would be a good president! I'm sorry, but I want my president to be educated, to know American history and to know a bit about the world. I sure as heck don't want them trying to rewrite history like Palin and Bachmann, especially Bachmann, is trying to do. I don't expect someone to know every historical date in American history but I sure want the want them to know the fundamentals. That includes knowing the "founding fathers didn't work tirelessly to end slavery"! I am often horrified by the lack of knowledge of basic American history or even civics that we see at tea party rallies and other political gatherings. Even worse is watching something like “Jaywalking” on the Tonight Show. I cringe and feel embarrassed that so many know so little about this country and its government and history and even less about the world in general.
When I see the support someone like Palin or Bachmann has from working people on the lower end of the income scale, even with the lack of knowledge the politicians have shown; I have to wonder- do these people really think someone who is not smart or well educated should be president? I'm not talking about street smarts, but actual knowledge and intelligence. I wouldn't want any of them in the oval office for any reason. It is not just because they are Republican- there are Republicans I can respect even as I disagree with them on policy, but these people are scary. They are good at being divisive but they have shown nothing that makes one think they are presidential material. And yet the working poor send them dollars every month and want them to run for the presidency.
I am not among the "elite", we are working people. As a child I had a very close relationship with poverty. Yet I can never support someone who I don't feel is at least as intelligent as I am, but preferably more so as well as having a better education than I have. I don't want a buddy or "someone like me"; I want a president we can know is a thinking person, one who can lead us and won’t be an embarrassment to us with the rest of the world.

@ rushdman - Instead of charity, I would prefer the wealthy all pay their fair share of taxes, those with businesses pay a living wage to employees and provide benefits to their employees that the employee can afford. Instead, it is all about making more money for those at the top- even when they wouldn't be there without all those at the bottom. Instead, the rich keep getting richer and the gap between those at the top and the rest of us continues to grow by leaps and bounds. It has never been as bad as it is nowadays and it does not help the lower and middle incomes to flourish. Wages have been stagnant for too long and yet costs continue to rise and the wealthy don't pay their fair share. Numerous wealthy Democrats have said they should be paying more taxes but the wealthy Republicans will fight to the death to hold onto all theirs. At least- they'll fight 'til the death of the poorest who lose out under their policies and penny pinching.
As an ignorant Canadian, with universal government-paid (not "run") health care, regulated banks and pretty good safety nets, I don't get the USA, and especially don't get the worship of the constitution and the founding fathers. It's sort of like worshipping that even older document, the bible, and the crazies who put that together. What are the current problems? What are possible solutions? What have other countries for chrissake done? How about getting everything truly up to date in Kansas City?
"You don't know the first thing about the Founders, the Constitution, American history or anything else worth knowing."

I guess the founders fought a war to seperate from Britian because they wanted more socialism. Good arguement

"Your problem is you think you can fake it to somebody besides yourself."

I don't fake anything. I can look at the numbers the government gives us and know this country is screwed thanks to idiots like you.

"Now, why don't you write a post and spill some of your "knowledge" upon all who will read it and overlook the misspellings to enjoy the ideological clucking of an inverted commie aparatchicken."

Is this some of your elite professor dibble. I was taught my spelling and grammer by idiot teachers like you. I have a degree, but not in Liberal Art but in Business. Something useful. I always see this argument when people like yourself have nothing to say. Your febal attempt at an argument is as small as your ideas.

"By the way, send me those right wing airhead radio ranters so I can thrash them in public. I can't get past the call screeners."

The right will always win in the arena of ideas. Thats why more people are becoming conservative. Without your liberal propaganda media to support your lack of ideas, your scam on the American people is starting to show. The left's domination is coming to an end. Speaking of ideas, I am still waiting to hear the lefts ideas of how to balance our budget. All I hear is crickets. $1.5 trillion this year. Way to go Obama you are saving the poor by making everyone poor. How's that war on poverty working out. They have spent trillions on it and we have more poor people today than when it started. How about education. We spend trillions more than we use to and it has gotten worse. How about our road system. We spend billions more and the roads are worse. We keep paying more and getting less. True socialism at work. About the wealthy not paying their share. Two teachers that are married would be in the top ten percent of wage earners in this country. Those evil rich. The top 1% pay 38% of the taxes and the bottom 50% pay 3%. If you get your way by destroying the rich in this country who is going to pay the check to that bottom 50%. I guess you will. Have fun.
"@ rushdman - Instead of charity, I would prefer the wealthy all pay their fair share of taxes, those with businesses pay a living wage to employees and provide benefits to their employees that the employee can afford."

I can see how the government does this so much better. Medicare - Broke, Social Security - Broke, War on Poverty - Failure, Our country - Broke, Unemployment - 9%, our new Government Heath system - will be broke. Good luck with that government thing. Also who is not getting a living wage. Even the people working at McDonalds make enough to live off of. If they are trying to support a family with it then they are just plain stupid for having a family they can't support. That person votes Democrat. Gimme those handouts. No personal responsibility. Plain and simple.
The rich don't pay their fair share of taxes? Well, check this out:

Larry Elder
Pass the Advil on taxes | "The Associated Press ran a rare article explaining exactly who pays the federal income taxes. They state that the top 5 percent of income earners pay more than 55 percent of the total federal income taxes. (To be eligible for the top 5 percent, one must have an annual income above $120,846.) For people who believe the "rich" hire fancy accountants and lawyers to avoid paying taxes, this news comes as quite a shock. "
Sorry, but the rich don't come close to paying their fair share. It's simply shortsighted -- or deliberately obfuscating -- to say "5 percent of income earners pay more than 55 percent of the total federal income taxes".

That calculation, if true -- and given the omnipresent Enronian accounting used by the very rich, who can be sure? -- obscures the fact that the other half of the population pays all sorts of other taxes -- state and local income tax in most states, property taxes, gas taxes, excise taxes, etc, etc, etc. No, I'm afraid the poor and the middle class have a tax burden to bear as well.

Basic elementary school arithmetic ought to make it plain that those who hog the bulk of the wealth are the only ones capable of giving back a portion of their income back to feed and sustain the system that makes it possible for them to earn all that obscene wealth in the first place. Certainly, they have a much vested interest in maintaining the system than do those who have next to nothing -- but apparently. conservatives are too dense to figure that out.

But, hey, I'm all for going back to the future, as conservatives seem hellbent to do; let's go back to the fabulous Fifties, America's Golden Age, when the maximum tax bracket was 92%, and the avg tax burden of the wealthiest Americans was around 50% of income. And by the way, the wealthiest Americans were far less wealthy than than now.

Oh, and let's not forget that during those same Fabulous Fifties, unions were at their strongest, too.
It is evident to me that many Americans are taking a Libertarian turn to the right. Smaller government and protecting our Constitution is alive and well. We have witnessed the art of circumventing our Constitution for decades and it's time to put a stop to it. The voters are rebalancing, doing the math, and want to see their tax dollars spent wisely. When we see Donald Trump second in the polls in our country we know what America is thinking....never underestimate the voters when leadership doesn't exist. Obama literally brought America to her feet.