T Nation

Democratic Cultural Detachment


#1

Interesting take from a liberal Democrat, a housewife, interested in traditional values and why the Democratic party loses elections of late:

We're Here, We're Square, Get Used to It
Why the Democratic Party is losing the housewife vote
By CAITLIN FLANAGAN

I am a? 44-year-old woman who grew up in? Berkeley who has never once voted for a Republican, or crossed a picket line, or failed to send in a small check when the Doctors Without Borders envelope showed up. I believe that we should not have invaded Iraq, that we should have signed the Kyoto treaty, that the Starr Report was, in part, the result of a vast right-wing conspiracy. I believe that poverty is our most pressing issue and that we should be pouring money and energy into its eradication. I believe that allowing migrant women and children to die of thirst in American deserts is a moral transgression that will stain us forever.

But despite all that, there is apparently no room for me in the Democratic Party. In fact, I have spent much of the past week on a forced march to the G.O.P. And the bayonet at my back isn't in the hands of the Republicans; the Democrats are the bullyboys. Such lions of the left as Barbara Ehrenreich, the writers at Salon and much of the Upper West Side of Manhattan have made it abundantly clear to me that I ought to start packing my bags. I'm not leaving, but sometimes I wonder: When did I sign up to be the beaten wife of the Democratic Party?

Here's why they're after me: I have made a lifestyle choice that they can't stand, and I'm not cowering in the closet because of it. I'm out, and I'm proud. I am a happy member of an exceedingly "traditional" family. I'm in charge of the house and the kids, my husband is in charge of the finances and the car maintenance, and we all go to church every Sunday. This month Little, Brown published a collection of my essays about family life called To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife. It's written in the spirit of one of my great heroes, the late housewife writer and feminist Erma Bombeck. It's not a book about social policy or alternative lifestyles or anything even vaguely political. It's a book about how much I miss my mother, who died recently, and about the struggles I have had fighting breast cancer without my mom around to help me. It's a book that pays tribute to the '50s housewife instead of ridiculing her.

As far as I can tell, every reviewer and reporter who has encountered my book has assumed that I'm a conservative Republican. At the end of an interview on a national TV network, a reporter said, "Caitlin, I can't let you go without asking you one question." Here was her question: Was it really true that I'm a Democrat? Those reporters' assumptions don't tell you anything about me, nor do they tell you much about the reporters themselves: they made an honest mistake. What it tells you a whole lot about is the Democratic Party and the face it projects to the world. It's a party that supports gay families, as I do, and has vast sympathy for many other kinds of alternative lifestyles. But we let the Republicans have complete ownership of the image of the traditional family. And that's one reason we keep losing elections.

Most of the 60 million people who voted against George W. Bush have lifestyles more like mine than the Democratic Party would like to admit. Most of us aren't the Hollywood élite or the nontraditional family. Many of us do what I do, which is go to church on Sunday, work hard and value my marriage. Again, it's not so much my party's platform that rejects the family; God help us all if Bush's brutality to the poor continues much longer. It's a small but very vocal minority, the Democratic pundits, who abhor what I represent because it doesn't fit the stereotypical image of the modern woman who has escaped from domestic prison. Fifty years ago, a stay-at-home mom who loved her husband would not automatically be assumed to be a Republican. The image of the Democratic Party that used to come to mind was of a workingman and his wife sitting at the kitchen table worrying about how they were going to pay the bills and voting for Adlai Stevenson because he was going to help them squeak by every month and maybe even afford to send their kids to college.

The Democrats made a huge tactical error a few decades ago. In the middle of doing the great work of the '60s--civil rights, women's liberation, gay inclusion--we decided to stigmatize the white male. The union dues--paying, churchgoing, beer-drinking family man got nothing but ridicule and venom from us. So he dumped us. And he took the wife and kids with him.

And now here we are, living in a country with a political and economic agenda we deplore, losing election after election and wondering why.

It's the contempt, stupid.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/printout/0,8816,1189224,00.html


#2

I've been saying this all along that most people in America are like this regardless of party affiliation. It is the minority radical wings of each party that has made these distinct impressions of what it means to be a Democrat or a Republican.


#3

Interesting info on this little blow up on this blog:

http://familyscholars.org/?cat=8


#4

Well, perhaps, if the Politics forum hasn't gone all the way to hell yet, with our little last bit of soul we may be able to take this article and understand that deteriorating every issue into a battle of who sucks more, democrats or republicans, is not the way to resolve an issue.


#5

I've been wanting to say this for a while but it never came up - all you see on the politics forum is the fringes.

And I'm not denying that I am part of this, of course, because if you argue politics, and have the balls to do it constantly like we do, then you've probably got some very strong opinions.

Yet, let's say there's maybe ten of us that are hardcore liberals, and ten that are hardcore conservatives. Well, there's a couple hundred thousand registered on this site, and those are all the people that are probably in the middle on most issues.

I disagree that this is why the Democrats have lost these elections. They've been trying to court those people in the middle, and while they were doing that they let the Republicans define who should vote for whom.

This might not sound as clear as I want it too, but to me, the Democrats were so busy trying to get elected that they've forgotten what they stood for (I guess, in part, what this woman is saying, although her conclusion was weak). They used to stand for the workingman, but Republicans have convinced the workingman that Democrats are evil communists and liberal elites who only care about their own power. In a way, the Democrats have proved them right, I think, by not standing up and proving unequivocally that they're not what the Republicans say they are.

The Republicans, simply, have taken the initiative and the offensive. There's a point in a boxing match where you are no longer fighting so much as you are reacting to the other guy. When you are just reacting, you aren't winning, your backing down. The Democrats are that guy. It's going to take a return to traditional Democratic ideals, such as helping the workers, breaking monopolies, helping the "little guy" (i.e. the family hardware store, not the Home Depot) in order for them to win their voting base back.

They don't need to try and court Republican voters- they aren't going to vote Democratic, and they should know this. They need to reestablish their base, which is minorities, Catholics, Jews, immigrants, and workers. Then, they will win elections again. And then, maybe I'll vote for them with a clear conscience again.


#6

Really, all I want is to be left alone. I don't want to consign my paycheck over to the government, at the same time, I don't want to be part of every other witchhunt.

In general, I don't want the government to tell me what to say, eat, smoke,or drink, who to fuck, or who to marry.

But anarchism, and even extreme libertarianism, is untenable. So I think the best politicians are not the people who are telling me what I want to hear, but the people who seems to do a good job balancing these freedoms so I get as much net freedom as possible. Mandatory education is a sap on my gross freedom, but in the end, probably enhances my net freedom. Having people have to go to school probably means they shoot people less, are more economically productive, and make the world more teneable for the people who want to be educated. Somebody else's education probably indirectly helps me, so i have a vested interest in making sure that education is a good one.

There are other exceptions to this libertarian rule of thumb I endorse,but I try to have a principled argument for them. If you don't have a principled argument for increasing governmental power, in any form, then at some point we're just trading opinions, and government should not be absolutely dominated by prevailing opinion. The system of government is not truly democratic, its representational, and to that extent, it means you are choosing a legislative champion who will represent your interests. At some point, there is a disconnect between your representative and what you believe, on some issues, especially if you are a liberatarian, socialist, or paleoconservative in this country, but this disconnect is probably endemic to the system.

So I believe that voting Republican at times and voting Democrat at others makes sense. I voted for Gore and Kerry , but if McCain is the nominee in 2008 I will support him as I supported him in the 2000 primary, because I think all of these individuals try to lay out comprehensible plans for solving problems. I have voted for Voinovich consistently, would probably vote for Guiliani if given the chance. If you vote in either major party, you are voting against some of your interests and for some of your others, but you have the chance to make an assessment of which interests trump others. I do not think most people do that, or do enough research to be able to do anything other than be lead by prevailing opinion. Most of the reasons for voting against Bush were just as pertinent and obvious five years ago as they are now, they just weren't on every news channel 24 hours a day.


#7

I also want to say that I liked the Flanigan article, but the same dynamic is happening on the right. The Republican Party has since Reagan been this fragile alliance between Wall Street, the Defense community, and the religious right. These groups spent most of the 90's bickering with each other, and they are starting to do it again.


#8

So basically, both parties pander for votes while not giving a damn about any sort of vague, abstract philosophical ideals.

Glad we cleared this up.

Again.


#9

Although I'm not completely convinced Caitlin is right when she says this is what is preventing the Democrats from winning elections, I do believe she has some very, very strong points here and that the party leaders should be listening very carefully; I have the utmost respect for families like Caitlin's, and would very much like to see the stigma against housewives to go away...

Seeing men discussing this is a bit pointless though: this stigma comes mainly from other women -- "career women" -- and honestly we're not going to break new ground here. I'm pretty sure everybody here has the same respect for housewives that the overwhelming majority of men do, so we'll all be agreeing on this. Which is a welcome change, yes, but a bit boring... :wink:

I do hope Hillary is listening though, since she has a lot to learn from Caitlin...


#10

Agreed, Zara. Both parties are losing it. How long has the average voter decided on the lesser of two evils instead of a candidate he/she actually likes? Been a while, huh?


#11

Just as food for thought, one study suggests the equivalent 'salary' of a stay at home mom, in terms of the value she provides, is $134,121.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060503/ts_nm/life_work_dc


#12

Perhaps one of the reasons Democrats keep losing is that, as we see currently with the illegal immigrant "crisis", they allow Republicans to dictate the story of the day.


#13

Wow, I think this is the very heart of what Caitlin was driving at. The 60M Americans who voted against Bush didn't think 'I'm Jewish/Catholic/an immigrant/laborer, I should vote Democrat!'. They chose their issue(s) and voted accordingly. Quit labelling me a Republican and you a Democrat.

But I do agree with you about the fringes here on the forum, and IMO it shows where the Democratic Party needs to direct it's efforts. Even some of the more fringe-oriented individuals around here have key issues that Democrats don't/won't capitalize on. There are HUGE and perpetuating mistakes that the conservative keep pointing out that the Bush Administration has committed and the Democrats largely ignore them. I'm decidedly conservative, but show me a plan to disassemble DHS, I'll vote. Hell, I'll even tell my friends to vote. Show me a plan to make it 1) easier/possible for legal immigrants to gain citizenship and 2) deals with illegal immigrants in a way that is fair to citizens/legal immigrants and I'll vote. I think the War on Drugs has been less than a success, lax the laws around some drugs, go after dealers, redirect the money saved into foreign anti-drug policy or put it back in my pocket, I'll vote. I think the Democratic Party needs to ignore the GOP (quit reacting, quit trying to 'beat' the Republican Party) and really look at what problems it wants to solve/stand for. Quit the labelling, name-calling and fingerpointing and quietly, modestly, and honestly put forth solutions. They really could learn something from a Republican:

Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.


#14

She would still be underpaid. My wife is a stay-at-home mom so I have first hand knowledge that they would still be underpaid.


#15

I know what you mean. But the fact is, peoplpe used to vote like this. They'd have a conciousness of where they came from, and that influenced their vote.

It seems funny to me that Catholics would vote Republican; they've had nothing but disdain for Catholics for years. Blacks are the same way. Sure, there are people that will cross the boundaries and vote one way or the other, and that's fine.

But the Democrats used to be the party of these people...they need them back. Otherwise, courting the middle without having the Left is like building the roof and running money to build the foundation of the house.

I agree. They are so busy bitching about Bush that they offer nothing else. If they offer better solutions, people will see this. All they see now are them...well, whining. Applauding themelves when Bush mentions who killed Social Security Reform during the State of the Union...I'm glad they killed it, but no other solution was offered, it just lays dead in the water.

They've gotten away from their core issues and concerns. What happened to them being the defenders of the environment?

Again, this is them reacting. They let the Republicans label every single environmental thing some "crazy liberal scheme" (and I'm not talking global warming stuff, I'm talking things like clean air, dumping, logging in forests, etc.), and they've lost credibility.


#16

Just another UseToBee BS tirade.

Why go to any party?

Whats the benefit?

Register as 'unaffiliated' and get over it.

Save the wasted time it took to craft that stupid @ss letter.


#17

One thing I think democrats may need to realize, is that the whole damned world is pro-business.

Everyone wants business to be successful, to be profitable, to have competitive advantages, to boost foreign trade.

It's true in every nation, what is good for business is generally good for the nation. There is no way to escape this in the modern world.

So, I think it is important to highlight how programs are in one way or another going to have a positive impact on business.

Hell, even environmental issues can be discussed in terms of keeping people healthy and productive while helping to lower health costs.

We can argue all day about the dollar values here and there, but those are business terms, and the language used inherently shows a desire to care for their needs.

After all, businesses really just need a level playing field. Make everyone play by the same rules, don't change the rules too often or too quickly (as that is very expensive and resource intensive) and keep an eye on whether others are playing on the same level.


#18

lucasa, I am agreeing with what you have posted here 100%. I have always seen issues as a people issues, not "liberal" or "conservative" issues. This is why I get so pissed at the lunatic fringe on here labeling me one way or the other. My opinion of many of the issues that I have discussed were always people related. Labeling them was and is asinine and the tactic of mentally limited people who can't grasp complex concepts.

Do I like the Bush Administration? Hell no! I didn't like them when their candidacy was announced in 1999-2000 either. I voted for McCain in the primary just to try to prevent them from getting the nomination. I didn't dislike them because of their party, I didn't like them because I saw them for what they were from the begining. I knew who was backing them and I knew we would end up in worse shape than before regardless of other events. 9/11 just sped up the process.

(Warning: Rant Alert!)
I do have an intense hatred for one specific political group, Neo-Cons. Neo-Cons are the antithesis of a Democracy. They want to control and dominate everything in their path. The will of the voting public means very little to them. They are evil, period. Just look at some of their information on the web alone and you can see just how insidious they are. They are dangerous to Republicans, Democrats and Independents because they will warp and break the american political system established by the founding fathers to acheive their goals.

How else can you classify a group of people that thinks it ok to tax churches and other non-profit organizations for their money but want to keep their think-tank organizations and private clubs, non-profit and tax free? Evil!
(Rant over)