Wednesday, January 12, 2005

If These Issues Are So Trivial, Why Don't You Change Your Views?

Some good logic from James Taranto.
Fresh from his re-election victory, Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin "went looking for a warm place to golf" and ended up in an exotic land called Alabama. In case you haven't heard of Alabama, it is one of those "red states" that President Bush carried (by a margin of better than 25%). In an op-ed for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feingold discusses what he found there.

Well, sort of. He doesn't recount any actual encounters with locals, except for the cashier at the Bates House of Turkey, a restaurant that sells Bush bumper stickers. ("We're Democrats," Mrs. Feingold tells the cashier, who thanks them for "not leaving like some people do when they see those stickers.")

Otherwise, Feingold's report from Alabama consists entirely of generalities. It seems Alabamans are really poor: The senator "heard repeatedly of the difficult struggles that so many working families are enduring in both urban and rural areas." And in considering why the state votes the way it does, Feingold detects what the Ayn Rand Institute calls "the ugly hand of altruism":

I can only be humbled by their sacrifice.

But because I am a lawmaker and a student of history, I also know who has been asking them to give so much.

And I can only wonder how many more generations of central Alabamians will say "yes" when the increasingly powerful Republican Party asks them to be concerned about homosexuality but not about the security of their own health, about abortion but not about the economic futures of their own children.

As my wife and I drove through Greenville that night, I thought how fundamentally unfair this all is in order to support an increasingly radical conservative movement.

Of course it is a familiar Democratic trope that red-state voters are impoverished, bigoted bumpkins who vote against their own economic interests because the GOP fools them into caring about trivial matters like homosexuality and abortion. A best-selling book, "What's the Matter With Kansas?," laid out the case last year.

In truth, the argument is so full of holes that a Green Bay Packers fan could wear it on his head. For one thing, there is at the very least a tension between the stereotype of the GOP as a party of impoverished dupes and the other Democratic stereotype of the GOP as the party of the rich.

It appears that the latter stereotype is closer to the truth. The 2004 exit polls found that John Kerry outpolled President Bush by 63% to 36% among voters making less than $15,000 a year and 57% to 42% among those making $15,000 to $30,000. Among those in the $30,000 to $50,000 range the two candidates ran nearly even (Kerry 50%, Bush 49%), and Bush led 56% to 43% among those making $50,000 a year or more.

So the Democrats actually are the party of the poor. The problem is that there aren't that many poor people in America, or if there are, they tend not to vote. Only 8% of the exit-poll participants were in the under $15,000 group, and only 45% made less than $50,000.

But for the sake of argument, let's assume that the economic portion of Feingold's analysis is correct--that lots of poor people vote against their own economic interests when they cast ballots for Republicans--or at least that he actually believes it. If Democrats care so much about the "downtrodden," and if the GOP is playing on their false consciousness by emphasizing things that don't matter like abortion and homosexuality, why don't the Democrats simply adopt pro-life and antigay positions, so that they can win office on their superior economic programs and actually do something for these fortuneless folks?

The question answers itself, doesn't it? Russ Feingold would never endorse, say, the Human Life Amendment or the Federal Marriage Amendment, because they are against his principles. Indeed, we're guessing he has enough integrity that he'd rather lose an election than change these positions.

In other words, when Feingold writes disparagingly of Alabama voters' concern about homosexuality and abortion, it isn't because he regards these as trivial matters. Rather, it is because he does not respect the views of those who disagree.
The Journal Sentinel speculates that Feingold's Alabama trip may presage a 2008 presidential run. Given his condescending attitude toward red-state voters, Republicans can only hope so.

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