Take a look at the picture above. What is its most striking aspect? On first glance, it's a picture of people, of all ages and sizes, but one colour. And they don't look happy at all. They look somber, miserable, somewhat angry and sad. On first glance, I'd say they were all working class - good, sober, honest people, most with a high school diploma, some with a few years of college. The elderly chap in half-face on the left to the rear looks as though he may have been a high school teacher in his prime, but he doesn't look too happy either. Most are elderly.
They are all Republicans - specifically, they're Republicans attending a rally for Newt Gingrich, the Republican candidate variously known as either "Mr Cheerful" or "Mr Angry", depending on the day of the week and the President's activity of the day.
This was the picture used to illustrate Jonathan Chait's latest article in New York Magazine, entitled "2012 or Never: The Republicans' Last Chance to Stop History." You can read the article in full here.
There is, however, one paragraph near the beginning of the article that cut me to the core:-
The Republican Party had increasingly found itself confined to white voters, especially those lacking a college degree and rural whites who, as Obama awkwardly put it in 2008, tend to “cling to guns or religion.” Meanwhile, the Democrats had increased their standing among whites with graduate degrees, particularly the growing share of secular whites, and remained dominant among racial minorities.
The first sentence particularly resonates with me. I don't know where this Gingrich rally took place. The faces could be the faces of people anyplace from South Carolina to Ohio to Iowa, even California. But, judging by the ages of most of the people in the photo, I'd say it was a safe bet that, if they were of voting age forty years ago, most of them were Democrats. They, or their parents probably voted for Kennedy. They probably voted for Johnson in 1964.
Somewhere along the line, someplace between 1972 and 1980, they started voting Republican.
These are the elusive working class white demographic that many in the Progressive tranche of the Democratic party have written off as too hopelessly entrenched in racism to be worth approaching. Yet these selfsame people have been proven, time and again, to be voting against their interest. The newly re-formed Democratic party under the aegis of George McGovern, effectively, ignored these people, and the Republicans were there to pick up the pieces of a demographic which thought itself singularly disenfranchised - and if they didn't, the Republicans made sure they did, and offered themselves as the party who would look after their abandoned interests. Did they racebait? Sure.
In 1969, Kevin Phillips, then an obscure Nixon-administration staffer, wrote The Emerging Republican Majority, arguing that Republicans could undo FDR’s New Deal coalition by exploiting urban strife, the unpopularity of welfare, and the civil-rights struggle to pull blue-collar whites into a new conservative bloc. The result was the modern GOP.
These people are being driven by fear, fear instilled in them by party rhetoric from politicians who have no new ideas, but plenty of the sort of theories which worked so spiffingly back in the 1950s and the 1850s, but wouldn't do these poor people any good at all, except to get someone they perceived to be an illegitimate President with a funny-sounding name who may or may not be a Muslim out of the Oval Office and out of their lives. They'd bet their Medicare on it. And they will.
The picture saddens me, because I grew up amongst people like this. I'll see these sorts of faces every day for the two weeks I'll be in Virginia in May. I actually have two cousins who haven't spoken a word to me in the four years since Barack Obama was elected President. And both of them have graduate degrees, but somewhere along the line, they've started believing in Creationism - or "Intelligent Design" as they call it.
I want to talk to these abandoned Democrats. I long for someone with the simple eloquence to show these people, undeniably, how perfidious these Republicans are who pretend to act in their interests - from the snake-oil salesman son of a slumlord, Eric Cantor, to the jumped-up poor white Jim DeMint, right on up to
The problem is, these people are so entrenched in Republican rhetoric that it's going to take time - maybe even forty years, because that's how long it took the Republicans.
These people want their country back; well, I want the working class back in the Democratic party. And that's why I pity these poor people in their misguided belief that the Republicans have their interests at heart. Because they don't.