Kristof on the Heartland
Along those lines, let's consider Nicholas Kristof's most recent column from the New York Times:
I'm writing this on tenterhooks on Tuesday, without knowing the election results. But whether John Kerry's supporters are now celebrating or seeking asylum abroad, they should be feeling wretched about the millions of farmers, factory workers and waitresses who ended up voting - utterly against their own interests - for Republican candidates.
Here's Kristof from later in the column:
One-third of Americans are evangelical Christians, and many of them perceive Democrats as often contemptuous of their faith. And, frankly, they're often right. Some evangelicals take revenge by smiting Democratic candidates.
These two quote are very revealing. Specifically, they reveal that Kristof is as contemptuous of evangelical faith as the elitist Democrats he is criticizing. If he really took evangelicals seriously he would not suggest they are voting against their own interests by voting for Republicans. Electing candidates who will enact culturally conservative policies IS in their interests, as they see it. The idea of voting for someone who, in their eyes, sanctions murder in the form of abortion and stem-cell research because that person will enact policies that will aid them financially is horrible.
He concludes with:
“The Republicans are smarter,” mused Oregon's governor, Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat. “They've created ... these social issues to get the public to stop looking at what's happening to them economically.”
“What we once thought - that people would vote in their economic self-interest - is not true, and we Democrats haven't figured out how to deal with that.”
Bill Clinton intuitively understood the challenge, and John Edwards seems to as well, perhaps because of their own working-class origins. But the party as a whole is mostly in denial.
To appeal to middle America, Democratic leaders don't need to carry guns to church services and shoot grizzlies on the way. But a starting point would be to shed their inhibitions about talking about faith, and to work more with religious groups.
Otherwise, the Democratic Party's efforts to improve the lives of working-class Americans in the long run will be blocked by the very people the Democrats aim to help.
Kristof is simply being naive here. It's not a matter of appealing to middle America. It's that middle America is chock full of people who vote solely on cultural issues. They will not vote for candidates who believe in a strong separation of church and state. Period. There's nothing Democrats can do to bridge that gap, short of moving so far to the right that they beomce genuinely indistinguishable from the Republicans.
Yes, Clinton managed to do it. But, frankly, the country is more conservative now than it was when Clinton was running. And Clinton had the help of Ross Perot and a famously inept candidate in the form of Bush 41. The simple fact is that Democrats will continue to do poorly in the South and lower Midwest because their ideas are unpopular there. It's that simple.