Poor Dave “Mudcat” Saunder stuck his toe into the blogging waters recently, and it was bitten off by us piranha. Saunders, who works for the John Edwards campaign and is billed as “a firebrand critic of the lack of economic fairness in rural and working class America” was foolish enough to write:
I have bitched and moaned for years about the lack of tolerance in the elitist wing of the Democratic Party, or what I refer to as the “Metropolitan Opera Wing”. These are the people who talk of tolerance but the only true tolerance they ever exhibit is for their own pseudo-intellectual arrogance. …
… I am certain I will get personally attacked for this next statement, but in all honesty, I don’t care what the “Metropolitan Wing” of my party thinks. I don’t like them. The damage the pseudo-intellectuals have done to my party by abandoning tolerance, combined with their erroneous stereotyping of my people and culture, is something that brings out my incivility. In his column, Joe said, “…the smart stuff is being drowned out by a fierce, bullying, often witless tone of intolerance that has overtaken the left-wing sector of the blogosphere.” Amen. I must add that this same intellectual arrogance and intolerance overtook the party years ago, and for that very reason, my people in rural America left the tent.
As an Ozark Mountain girl now living in the shadow of the Big Apple I admit I’ve seen some stereotyping of my people and culture hereabouts. However, seems to me it goes both ways. “Metropolitan Opera Wing“? Please.
Mudcat was angry because of the uncivil way many of us treat Joe Klein. If you stroll down to the third comment (by “zota”) under Mudcat’s post, you can read exactly why Mr. Klein so richly deserves every drop of snark heaped upon him. I’m not going any further in that direction today.
Rather, I want to challenge Mudcat’s claim that “intellectual arrogance and intolerance” seized the Democrats and drove the rural folk out of the party years ago. When did this happen? I assume it was after Franklin Roosevelt, who was wealthy, patrician, and eastern. Must’ve also been since John Kennedy, who was wealthy and eastern, although perhaps not quite so patrician. Since then, the heads of the party have been mostly southern po’ boys — Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton.
Think about it. What has the Democratic Party done to piss off southerners in particular and not just all of us generally?
Peter Beinart — who has had his clueless moments in the past, I admit — writes in today’s Washington Post:
Since World War II, perhaps the Republican Party’s greatest political achievement has been to marry conservatism — once considered a patrician creed — with anti-elitism. The synthesis began with Joseph McCarthy, who used conspiratorial anti-communism to attack America’s East Coast, Ivy League-dominated foreign policy class. It grew under Richard Nixon, who exploited white working-class resentment against campus radicals and the black militants they indulged. It deepened under Ronald Reagan, who made government bureaucrats a focus of populist fury.
This is true. McCarthy liked to pose as the protector of the common man; his opponents were “eggheads” who didn’t understand the real world. In fact, McCarthy was a bully who viewed the real world through the bottom of a bottle.
Then in the Eisenhower-Stevenson presidential campaigns of the 1950s, Richard Nixon picked up the “egghead” theme and ran with it, even though Nixon was no more “the common man” than I’m an aardvark. Nixon called Adlai Stevenson an “egghead” more than once. To which Stevenson responded, “Via ovicipitum dura est.” Or, “the way of the egghead is hard.”
And may I say that I’ll vote for a guy who can ad lib in Latin over a grinning idiot, any day.
Anyway, it’s a matter of indisputable historic fact that the white rural South abandoned the Democratic Party in the 1960s and 1970s because of race. The national Dem party favored equal rights; rural white southerners didn’t. That, m’loves, is what pissed off the South. “Solid South” used to refer to the fact that southern states voted as a block for Democrats. Now they vote as a block for Republicans. Racism was the single biggest factor in this.
Mudcat says “this ‘intolerance’ is helping the Democrats lose national elections,” which begs several questions. Whose intolerance? To What? And which elections? We did rather well last November, as I recall. Matt Stoller argues that Mudcat is playing the classic role of “concern troll,” and I have to agree.
Harold Meyerson wrote this last December:
In case you haven’t noticed, a fundamental axiom of modern American politics has been altered in recent weeks. For four decades, it’s been the Democrats who’ve had a Southern problem. Couldn’t get any votes for their presidential candidates there; couldn’t elect any senators, then any House members, then any dogcatchers. They still can’t, but the Southern problem, it turns out, is really the Republicans’. They’ve become too Southern — too suffused with the knee-jerk militaristic, anti-scientific, dogmatically religious, and culturally, sexually and racially phobic attitudes of Dixie — to win friends and influence elections outside the South. Worse yet, they became more Southern still on Election Day last month, when the Democrats decimated the GOP in the North and West. Twenty-seven of the Democrats’ 30 House pickups came outside the South.
You can argue that “the knee-jerk militaristic, anti-scientific, dogmatically religious, and culturally, sexually and racially phobic attitudes of Dixie” is stereotyping. I do run into Democrats who can’t wrap their heads around the fact that there are white southern evangelicals who support civil rights, economic populism and the teaching of evolution. I know such people personally. I bet a few of ’em are opera fans, too.
But I can also argue that for many years mass media and political culture have conspired to keep the South stuck in a culturally backward time warp. Years ago Republicans learned to exploit the resentment of southern whites — a resentment that lingers from Reconstruction — to gain their loyalty. I’ll have more to say about the role religion plays in this in future posts. But the point is that exploitation of that resentment has nurtured cultural and social atavism in the South, and has caused too many southerners to cling frantically to ideas and values the rest of civilization left behind in the 19th century.
Harold Meyerson continues,
The challenge for Republicans — and for such presidential aspirants as John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney in particular — is how to bridge the widening gap between their Southern base and the rest of the nation. The persistence of Southern exceptionalism is clear in the networks’ exit polls, in which fully half of Southern voters identified themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians, while just one-third of the entire nation’s voters did so. It’s clear from the fact that in a period of broad economic stagnation, the populism of working-class Southern whites, like a record stuck in a groove, remains targeted more against cultural than economic elites.
“Cultural elites” as exemplified by opera goers?
Indeed, scratch the surface of some of our current hot-button issues and you find age-old regional conflicts. Wal-Mart’s practice, for instance, of offering low wages and no benefits to its employees begins in the rural South, where it’s no deviation from the norm. Only when Wal-Mart expands this practice to the metropolises of the North and West, threatening the living standards of unionized retail workers, does it encounter roadblocks, usually statutory, to its entry into new markets.
Let’s skip back to Peter Beinart:
Conservative populism is not dead. But with the war on terrorism no longer rallying the right-wing base, that base is turning — as it did in the 1990s — against corporations. The first sign came in February 2006, when the Bush administration provoked a populist hailstorm by supporting a Dubai company’s plans to manage six U.S. ports. The political backlash — stoked not merely by Democrats but also by conservative commentators such as Sean Hannity — combined distrust of foreigners and corporate elites. And in this way, it presaged the current, much bigger, conservative revolt on immigration. In the past two years, with Iraq going south, immigration has become the hottest issue among conservative activists. But unlike terrorism, it is a doubled-edged sword, wielded against pro-immigration Democrats but also against the pro-immigration corporate right, which largely funds the GOP.
Alas, the GOP has elitists in their midst.
In subsequent posts at the Time magazine blog, Mudcat backpedaled a bit and claimed that he is not anti-urban or a right-winger. And maybe he isn’t. His sin, as I see it, is that he hasn’t seen through the Big Lie about “elitism” the GOP propaganda machine has been dumping out lo these many years. And if he lacks the discernment to see that, what the hell’s he doing writing for the Time magazine blog?
* * *
Shifting gears just a bit — I admit (entre nous!) to the awful truth — I do go to operas at the Met once or twice a year. I love opera, and the “family circle” tickets are cheaper than most Broadway shows.
Mudcat has slandered opera fans by implying they are elitist snobs. The fiercest opera fans I have ever met have been regular working-class folks — construction workers, plumbers, clerks. I used to know a lady who worked the counter in a Paramus, New Jersey, department store and who saw every production at the Met. It was her religion. She had to get to the Met by bus because she was too poor to own a car.
But didja ever notice that many of the people who make a big bleeping deal about preserving “western culture” are often the same ones who want to eliminate government funding of fine arts? “Free markets” can’t sustain the fine arts; never could. The costs of producing world-class opera (or ballet, or even just plain old orchestras) exceed what the market could possibly bear through ticket sales. Even the Metropolitan Opera, which fills the house for every performance and mostly ain’t cheap (one nine-performance “season” ticket in a center “premium” seat is going for $3,240 next season) depends on donations and grants for half of its operating costs. All over America there are excellent orchestras, opera companies, etc. struggling along on a combination of ticket sales, private endowments, and government arts council grants, and still barely breaking even if they’re lucky.
Some people get all worked up about preserving “western culture” when they’re worried about undocumented and non-English-speaking foreigners of color sneaking into the country. But when it comes time to pay some taxes so that, somewhere, there’s a real live Verdi opera being performed, or the paintings of old masters are being protected from fading and rot, suddenly they’re a lot less concerned about “western culture.” They’ll pay for a fence, but not for “Falstaff.”
Long ago musicians, composers, painters, sculptures, etc. depended on the nobility for employment and sponsorship. Now that we’ve done away with monarchy, it ought to be up to We, the People, to chip in. So, yeah, almost 20 years ago some guy took a photograph of a statue of Jesus in a jar of urine, and his exhibitor gave him a little prize money paid in part by the National Endowment of the Arts (which I do not believe had anything to say about the awarding of the prize), and the Right still has the vapors about it. But without some tax support, a whole lot of illuminated Bibles and other traditional sacred art would be removed from public view and sold into private hands, and many’s the Christmastime production of Handel’s “Messiah” that would be canceled.