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November 28, 2005

The Triumph of Demographics

This morning I hear yet another example of how 'the Democrats don't get it'. It's true they don't, but for more subtle reasons than you might imagine. Let's put aside for the moment the fact that Democrats don't have new ideas, there's no really new ideas from Republicans either. The primary difference between the approach of the two parties is that one believes it can evangelize and convert and the other thinks it can re-energize a majority base. The problem that both parties have is that they are anti-modern with respect to the kinds of people they believe their ideas appeal to.

There's a new book out called Rednecks and Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music. Now before you read the excerpt, which party do you think appeals the most to Country & Western music fans? Correct. Now read it and notice the exceptions to what you thought.

s a snapshot of the range of political opinions held by country music artists "during the critical three and a half years between 9/11 and Bush's reinauguration, with only minimal editorial interruption," this entertaining if overlong collection of profiles is clear and effective. Entertainment Weekly writer Willman applies his magazine's breezy, irreverent style to explore the left- or right-wing leanings of his subjects, from heavyweights like the Dixie Chicks, Toby Keith, Steve Earle, Brooks & Dunn, Clint Black and Merle Haggard to newer, minor artists like the Drive-By Truckers. In spite of Willman's success in presenting these artists in depth, the results aren't too surprising: while there certainly is "a good chunk of Democrats" in the industry, "the stereotype that country music has become the house genre of the GOP isn't easily or persuasively disproven." Most fascinating are the moments when Willman gets the artists to let down their guard, such as when Toby Keith talks about his Democratic tendencies, Ricky Skaggs shows his genuine affection for his more leftist friends such as Rodney Crowell, and Travis Tritt discusses his duet with the left-wing rocker John Mellencamp and unintentionally shows that success still trumps politics in Nashville.

The fact of the matter is that it could go either way. There's no reason whatsoever to think that Willie Nelson should be a Republican, but demographically speaking, and that's how we're all speaking, we all tend to believe that Country = Conservative.

What we are not seeing by the Democrats is a fundamental challenge of the power of demographics. It's not because demographics are definitive, but it's because Republicans have mastered the art of the niche. Any evidence that they can gather that there is a demographic niche to be exploited over 'values' which don't actually change very much, they go after it. They have been on a rampage for decades in their efforts to become a majority party, and they have done so over matters of values moreso than ideas. Yet in doing so they have changed the way campaigns have worked.

Do Americans believe that the GOP is smarter than the Donkeys? Probably not. But we tend to believe they have more sense. The point is not for me to make a biased statement, but to illustrate that it's not ideas that are winning the GOP votes. They are not outthinking the Democrats, they are out-defining the Democrats. And by the time the Dems try to sell their ideas, for what they are worth, the defeat has already been conceded. There are huge swaths of America that Democrats won't touch, like Country Music fans and the South, because they have conceded that demographics are destiny. This is the same reason Democrats take 'The Black Vote' for granted.

The last president to look at all Americans as part of America and not of a niche and decided to appeal to all of them at once was Ronald Reagan. And that's why he crushed at the polls. The opponent he crushed the most? Jesse Jackson who was relying on the idea of a 'Rainbow Coalition' an assembly of demographics that would somehow gel into a majority.

The GOP retains the upper hand because, despite their niche attacks, they are still speaking towards the vision of Reagan which is that there will be one standard against which all Americans are judged, which is that of the successful upper middle class standard, the standard towards which so many Americans are aiming. The Democrats on the the other hand are trying to create a great coalition of many multicultural demographics and trying to find each and every reason to defeat the GOP. Where in principle the Democratic stance is anti-conformist and good, in practice it cannot keep from horsetrading with radicals which pollutes its appeal to Americans who honestly look towards upward mobility. Tookie's case is a perfect example. There's no reason whatsoever for any GOP candidate to support Tookie's clemency. It's not what the upscale demographic wants, therefore not what a standard American wants. The Dems have to represent the poor, gangbangers right in their demographic, and they are philosophically bound to stick up for the minority of Oddball-Americans who think Stanley Williams has something to teach our children.

I would hope that both parties stress that theirs are ideas which are so compelling that no matter what your demographic, they will appeal to you. Clearly the GOP is closest to that ideal, but it would be nice if they both tried harder.

Posted by mbowen at November 28, 2005 04:10 PM

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The last president to look at all Americans as part of America and not of a niche and decided to appeal to all of them at once was Ronald Reagan. And that's why he crushed at the polls. The opponent he crushed the most? Jesse Jackson who was relying on the idea of a 'Rainbow Coalition' an assembly of demographics that would somehow gel into a majority.

The problem with what is quoted is this: Jesse Jackson ran for president, banking on the Black vote and trying to get the white vote. He wound up getting a sizable portion of white voters, more than he expected. PUSH was already in existence at the time.

After his run, and using the results of his failed campaign, he started the Rainbow Coalition to signal that his support was more than just Blacks.

In short, you have it backwards. The Rainbow Coalition came out of a broader base support than people believed he would get.

Posted by: DarkStar [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 28, 2005 06:52 PM

I think if you want to say someone is whoring for votes, the finger probably shouldn't be pointed at the Republicans. Niche voters come in all sizes and shapes, and I don't see either party having a lock on them.

And I think Reagan trounced Jesse because Jesse parroted Farrakhan and tarnished the Rainbow (which contrary to the above post came into existance during Jesse's 1984 campaign, not afterward).

My position is echoed in the left-wing encarta.msn.com site. Just look up Jesse's bio there. And Reagan's.

Posted by: UncleSmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 28, 2005 08:58 PM

You are correct that neither party has any real new ideas, except to do whatever to take or keep power. I mean, are tax cuts real when they are not permanent, and are spending cuts real when they only slow the growth of spending?

Is it fair to say the Republicans take Christian Conservatives for granted? Certainly they take someone for granted.

By the way, since Reagan never ran against Jesse, it is incorrect to say he trounced him. And his two campaigns set the stage for the Clinton victory in 1992; the people who ran the Democratic Party from 1988 to 1992 ran Jesse's 1988 campaign.

Posted by: brotherbrown [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 28, 2005 10:06 PM

which contrary to the above post came into existance during Jesse's 1984 campaign

The Rainbow Coalition came into being in 1985.


Next, if it came to being during his campaign, chances would be good that it couldn't be a tax exempt organization.

My point stands.

Posted by: DarkStar [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 29, 2005 05:23 AM

Whether or not the Rainbow/PUSH was incorporated during Jackson's 1984 presidential campaign, it wasn't a sudden insight he got after he lost. Jackson's idea of running as a uniter of races was always the same, whereas Reagan would not speak to the races but to all Americans.

It is fair to say that Republicans believe they own Christian Conservatives and vice versa. Neither is true but people take the relationship for granted.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 29, 2005 07:46 AM

How interesting. DarkStar's quoted page has the founding in 1985, but Google Cache of the same page has it in 1984. Is there correction or revisionism going on here? I LOVE Google -- it never forgets ANYTHING.

For the record, here is the rainbowpush.org elements from Google Cache:
In 1984, Reverend Jackson founded the National Rainbow Coalition, a national social justice organization, based in Washington, D.C, devoted to political empowerment, education and changing public policy.

Cobb, your last post says it all.

Posted by: UncleSmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 29, 2005 09:49 PM

It goes even deeper than that, Cobb, the reasons democrats don't get it. What's happening is that when many white people listen to the dems, they feel like they are being accused of something, that only they are responsible for anything, and that they should not object to certain things, like crime, for instance, or that they are evil if they don't support more welfare. They feel like they are being told that their country is no good, that if there is anything wrong with their lives, it is the fault of some white man somewhere, and they should be resentful, and a whole host of things that go against what they really feel, although they may not be able to express all of it. Some feelings people are going to have, such as love of country and pride in it and those feelings are go beyond rationality. No matter how bad a country is or how badly a group has acted, it is loved by its own. If you go to Rwanda, you will not find that the Hutu are ashamed because of the genocide they committed. Compared to them, all americans are conscience stricken regarding our countries ills. So to expect americans to be against their own country is lunacy on the part of democrats. It's against nature and against reality for americans. All americans have to do is watch the news to see how superior this place is to just about every place. To be continually telling people their history is bad and they should be ashamed is a mistake. in the past both parties took it for granted that we should be proud and that in fact that feeling was needed in order to improve anything that needed improvement. now the dems, the media, and all liberals seem to hate the country. they seem to want the US to lose the war. Whether the war was a good idea or not, once you are in it, you have to support your country. This is the natural human feeling and even people who think the war was a mistake are made uneasy by the ill will and malice of those who seem to want the country to be hurt. This is just one example of what is wrong with the dems.

Posted by: Anita at December 2, 2005 07:15 AM