I read with interest Katrina vanden Heuvel's weblog in which she laments the recent decision by Alabama voters to vote down a referendum that would shift taxes from the "folks" to under-taxed business interests. I'm from the south, so I'd like to offer an explanation for this oddity.
Two reasons why this happens:
1) Ignorance. You mention this, and it's just a sad fact. So many people really do not know what the hell is going on. Noam Chomsky said it best in one of his interviews that the powerful simply want the mass of folk to stay dumb and complacent. As long as we watch our sports and soap operas, and eagerly follow the J Lo/Ben romance, they are satisfied that we will not cause too many problems by asking questions and actually being concerned. As long as most of us are mindless consumers everything is a-okay. And lest we forget, Alabama isn't reknowned for its educational system.
2) Who actually votes? I'd be willing to bet that most of the voters in this Alabama referendum could care less about most government services. They are the well-off, the affluent, the very business owners who do not want increased taxes on their business interests. A key point: it's the average folks (those outside of the power bases) that distrust and remain wary of politicians, and sadly, so many of these folks never vote. The rich and powerful slap backs and work deals with the pols. They keep them in their pockets. As long as people have their National Enquirer, cable TV, and porn, that's probably the way it will stay. Think about how things are going now: if you criticize the Bush Administration, especially on the War on Terror, you are damn-near branded a traitor, unpatriotic, and not worthy to be critical of our national policies. Believe me, I'm a soldier in the US Army.
James O. Hacker, El Paso, Texas
I am a white male born and bred in Leon County, Florida, eighteen miles from the Georgia line. I don't drive a pick-up truck with a gun rack in the back and I have never shown the Confederate flag but I wear a Seminole baseball hat, hoop and holler every fall for the FSU football team and would defend to the death the red clay foothills of the Appalachians that form this corner of what is known as the "South."
I just read "Alabama on my Mind" by Katrina vanden Heuvel in the November 10 edition of Editor's Cut. I do not have a direct answer for why people in Alabama voted against what vanden Heuvel considers their best interest but I hope to offer a clue as to why vanden Heuvel and others of her political persuasion remain perplexed by the voting ways of southerners, westerners, hunters and other residents of "red" America (Bush country).
After Howard Dean's recent reiteration of his aspiration to bring under the Democrat's tent the guys who drive pick-up trucks with confederate flags in the back windows, I heard vanden Heuvel on MSNBC's "Hardball."
She described the confederate flag with the same terminology as Mr. Dean as he tried to recover from what he called a clumsy attempt to appeal to voters. "The confederate flag is a loathsome symbol," she said.
Now, ain't that a sure fire cure for clumsiness?
This choice of words reveals a misunderstanding of white men in the South and of people in general, a misunderstanding that speaks volumes about why Democrats, the party of the people, have performed so abysmally since Nixon first adopted the Southern Strategy, in leading and maintaining the prominence in Presidential politics of Republicans, the party of the rich.
I do not dispute that the flag is justifiably rejected by many African-Americans whose ancestors suffered terribly under it and who encounter daily the legacy of slavery in their lives today. They stand on proven ground when they advocate that the Confederate flag not be flown over their state capitols. Nor will I argue that those who show the flag do not have tendencies, or worse, toward racism.
But southern white men do not normally put that flag in the back of their truck to recruit Ku Klux Klan members, advocate racist policies or proclaim that they are white supremacists.
They show the Confederate flag to make the statement "I am a man." "Look at me," they demand. "Look at my pick-up truck, my gun-rack, my flag that symbolizes as few symbols can: DEFIANCE."
"The South will rise again," they say. "And the federal government will never, ever be able to extinguish its spirit, a sprit worthy of honor because it is associated with being a god-fearing man who protects his wife, takes care of his children and makes sacrifices for the good of his family."
Conversely, that flag in the back window says of the truck owner you can tax my property, my income, charge me fees to hunt and drive my truck, educate me and mine poorly, deny me good jobs, regulate me to death, and demean me every which way but it will not work. Because you cannot rob me of my manhood."
That flag says something else, too. It says, "whenever a politician (or a pundit on television advocating for a group of politicians) tells me that my manhood is "loathsome", you can bet your bottom dollar, he'll never get my vote. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER."
Unfortunately for Democrats, George W. Bush and most of the Republicans have an intuitive grasp for what those who wave the Confederate flag intend to communicate.
And like it or not - no matter vanden Heuvel's intellectual or emotional take or Howard Dean's instinctive appeal compromised by offensive apology - their intuition will continue to attract votes.
Barring failed Bush economic policies or handling of Iraq to propel a Democrat into the Presidency, the office will remain an elusive goal for Democrats if they cannot read the obvious central message of a flag from a war that ended more than a century ago and refrain from labeling as loathsome its messenger.
Ain't it the truth?
Trent Malone, Tallahassee, FL
In "Alabama on my Mind" Katrina vanden Heuvel addresses the seeming paradox that many (mostly) poor white Southerners are voting for Republican candidates at a time when they are experiencing rising inequality and a loss of social services.
Although I think part of the explanation is ignorance of the tax codes and a basic distrust of government, I think the general trend towards voting Republican in the South is entirely consistent with rationality. The majority in the South want no gun control, are strongly in favor of the death penalty, extremely opposed to abortion, and want a "tough guy" foreign policy instead of a multilateral approach. And they are willing to trade a little inequality in order to vote for people who they know won't waffle on these issues.
We on the left must not be tricked into believing most of those people are somehow dumb and confused- they know what they want and the Republicans give it to them. Until Democrats realize this they are going to be wasting a lot of time and effort trying to figure out why people are voting Republican instead of putting forth an alternative platform that can captivate the rest of the country.
Jason Scorse, Monterey, California