why won’t Red-State poor folks (“working class,” as they like to say) vote for Democrats?
Taranto argues that part of the problem is the arrogance of the national party, which labels people as “working class,” as if to separate the poor from themselves. Certainly, mountain folk don’t like being looked down upon any more than anyone else.
But I think the real answer is this: Red-State poor do synchronize their voting with their economic interests. They simply don’t agree with national Democrats as to where that interest lies. The national party doesn’t understand how wealth is created in the Red States, and so it adopts an agenda that is dead-set against what poor people actually want. The worst thing that can happen for the poor is for national Democrats to get their agenda enacted — the period of time Noah cites began with Bush I’s tax increases, and continued through the Clinton administration’s “reforms.”
The problem with convincing the Red States to adopt a Democratic platform on Social Security isn’t that Red Staters are too ignorant of economics to understand the issue. Economic education in schools may be poor, but life experience teaches the poor a lot about what it means to budget. Red State poor understand better than anyone the business of budgeting, which is why Social Security has such low expectations for them.
What Red State “working class” people want is not social programs, which are a bad bet for them. They pay tons of money into FICA, for example, and expect no return — everyone who has ever written a personal budget can see that there’s just going to be too many people drawing checks versus too few working. The Red Stater may or may not know the history of Democratic Socialism: that it was developed in Europe as a means of social control of the poor, a political program designed to pacify people so that they wouldn’t give over to Communist revolution against the established governments. The Red Stater can see the effect, though, whether or not he knows the history. Government programs provide enough to keep you alive, but they don’t offer any hope of living your dreams. The poor man has every right to his dreams, and in America, every reason to expect that he can get there if he does his best.
I think of my old neighbor Caroline, from Alabama to start with, who opened a barber shop. She also sold beauty supplies. Then she bought a tanning bed, and offered that service. Later she had a guy open a cafe in one corner of the shop, so people could stop in for lunch. Caroline was exactly the person Noah is thinking of: from a very poor background, with limited education. She knew what was best for herself, though, far better than Noah or national Democrats. What she wanted was a tax code that would favor her efforts as a small business, let her take on hands, and help her grow her personal wealth. The last thing she wanted was to have people paying higher taxes for some program: it would take money out of their pockets that they could be spending on her tanning salon or beauty products.
Her economic interest, in other words, was exactly what she was voting for. She didn’t have much education, but she knew where her bread was buttered. So she joined small business associations, put some of her money into political donations, joined the NRA, and became a real force for Red State politics.
Drive through any of these states, and there are a thousand little barber shops along any highway of any length. There are garages and auto body shops, landscapers, cabinet makers. These aren’t fools who don’t know how to synchronize their interests with their politics. They’re people making a rational call on how to improve their lives. They don’t want to be given a handout. They want you to get out of the way.
The evidence can be seen in a few graphs, available thanks to TaxProf. Here is the graph of median national incomes, compared with the Red/Blue map: Democratic states are richer. Here is the map of “Tax Friendliness.” Red States elect people who will promise lower taxes. Same with the economic freedom map. And lest people think that this is Red State selfishness, an unwillingness to help the poor, it is also the same with the charitable donations map.
Put that all together, and here’s the real picture: the national Democratic party is the party of the rich, not the Republicans. The national Democratic party is the party of social control of the poor. The Republican party actually favors the interests of the “working class” — of the literally working poor.
My guess is that they’re scratching their heads because the party is led by John Kerrys, who have never been poor themselves. It sounds like a great deal to the Kerrys of the world — hey, I’ll give you money out of my pocket, me and my rich friends! Why won’t you vote for us?
It’s not foolishness. The working poor understand the cost of that handout better than the folks in Washington, Boston, or Hollywood. They know where their interests lie. The Red States are Red because they are poor, not in spite of being poor.
The Democrats have been involved in the politics of class warfare for so long they have lost all common sense. All we have heard from them for years is the same old hate rhetoric and their party is collapsing even farther with the likes of Dean, Pelosi, and Boxer running the show.
You look at the voter map of the 2004 election and even the Socialist State of California is mostly red, except for the coast.