Thursday, April 01, 2004

Notes From Blue America

The problem with musing over a blog post in your head for a couple of days without writing it down is that, before you get around to actually putting pixels on the screen, Matthew Yglesias comes along and pretty much writes your post for you.

Matt, like everyone else, is revisiting David Brooks' goofy but influential article about Red vs. Blue America in the light of Sasha Issenberg's article pointing out that Brooks made up a lot of his "telling details." In case you haven't read Brooks' article, or don't want to wade through it, he contrasts Montgomery County, MD and Franklin County, PA to come up with the thesis that "Red America" (made up of states which went Bush in 2000) is full of modest, middle-income, salt-of-the-earth just-folks who love Jesus and their country, whereas "Blue America" (made up of states which went Gore in 2000) is full of latte-sipping, Pottery-Barn-shopping, godless Commie intellectuals. Or something like that.

Matt wrote the post I intended to write, because he - like me - lives in the bluest of Blue America. Not Brooks' hallmark example of Montgomery County, which went a lukewarm 62.5% for Gore in 2000. My city went 82.9% for Gore. Matt's city went 85.1% for Gore. This is some Blue America, all right. How come Brooks didn't come visit us? Probably because it would've spoiled his thesis. Matt says:
Brooks chose Montgomery Country, Maryland -- specifically, Bethesda -- as his exemplar of Blue America. We're given no reason, however, to think Bethesda is actually typical of the region he's trying to profile. If he'd picked, say, Silver Springs or the Bronx or my particular slice of Blue America (Columbia Heights in the District of Columbia) he'd have found a very different story -- lots of working class African-Americans and Latinos, many churches, and no Pottery Barns. Brooks lives in the area, so it surely hasn't escaped his attention that the bluest state of them all -- Washington, DC -- is, outside of a few neighborhoods, nothing like Bethesda.
Similarly, if I took you on a tour of my Blue America city you'd see neighborhoods featuring little hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving lake trout and fried chicken, storefront churches preaching obscure variations on the Gospel, stores advertising cheap pagers and cell phones, and check cashing businesses serving - and usually ripping off - people with no bank accounts. Those neighborhoods are just as Blue in their voting patterns as the neighborhood I live in, with its Thai restaurants and gay bars and many, many churches. Hell, they're probably Bluer.

But that doesn't really fit in with the "liberals are effete snobbish millionaires" argument Brooks - and the Republican Party - likes to push so much, so let's go back to ignoring the existence of working-class urban Democrats and union households and single working moms who don't have the time or the money to cart a minivan full of kids to a soccer field somewhere and thus don't deserve to be an electoral demographic. Let's forget about the fact that no modern Democratic candidate has felt that he could do without the support of black churches, because everybody knows that Democrats are ungodly. Let's forget about the data (courtesy of Matt) indicating that Gore won big among people without a high school diploma, as well as people with graduate degrees, because everyone knows that Democrats are a bunch of overeducated snobs. Let's forget that Gore won big among people who made less than $30,000 a year and Bush won big among people who made more than $100,000, because everyone knows that Democrats are a bunch of limousine liberals.

Hey, this is easy. Maybe *I* could be a public intellectual.