There has been a raft of books and articles out recently that try to explain why low and moderate income people are voting against their own economic and social interests. Thomas Frank, the editor of The Baffler Magazine, summed it up: "It's like a French Revolution in reverse in which the workers come pouring down the street, screaming for more power to the aristocracy."
Similarly, there is Jonathan Rauch's article, "Do Family Values Weaken Families?" Rauch's article (which drew on Naomi Cahn's and June Carbone's book, Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture), posits that parents who teach Christian-based morals to their children get exactly the opposite of for what they hope: Evangelical Christians who vote Republican also lead the league in rates of divorce, age of first childbirth, and out of wedlock pregnancies. In many respects, Sarah Palin is the poster child for Rauch's argument.
The numbers cited in Red Families vs. Blue Families are robust and not casual. San Francisco, home of the Evil Liberal Witch Nancy Pelosi, and Ultra-Liberal Massachusetts, have far lower divorce rates than Evangelical Arkansas and Mississippi. Six of the seven states with the lowest divorce rates in 2007, and all seven with the lowest teen birthrates in 2006, voted blue in both elections. Six of the seven states with the highest divorce rates in 2007, and five of the seven with the highest teen birthrates, voted red. It looks like Kerry and Obama voters are able to keep their pants on and remain faithful to their marriage vows quite a bit better on average than Bush and McCain voters.
Why do evangelical Republicans seem to be doing so badly when it comes to behaving the way they vote? Maybe it's because politicians promoting family values on their behalf--David Vitter, John Ensign, Larry Craig, Mark Sanford, et al.--seem to be having the same trouble. Or, maybe something more significant is going on.
Joe Bageant, in his new book, Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War, points to three reasons. First, Republican politicians are able to tell more compelling and dramatic stories than Democrats, who tend to bore people--and the media--with facts and details:
Voter Question: "Please, Sir, I need to make a living wage. How can you help?"
Republican Politician Answer: "OMG! There goes a wetback!! And he's gay!!!"
Voter Response: "OMG! Where?! Where?!"
In other words, "Drill a hole in my head, Baby, drill me now."
Secondly, working people resent "over-educated" Elites telling them what's good for them, and for promoting and fostering greater dependence on systems that will be managed and supervised by other Elites. Voters clearly resent the hell out of the fact that state and federal employees earn nearly twice as much as they do for similar private sector work. And who wouldn't resent it? I certainly do.
Conversely, Red State voters should learn that the US Constitution is comprised of more than the 2nd Amendment and a bunch of meddlesome suggestions. It may also help if they understand that both domestic and international terrorism is almost exclusively the business of right wing religious fanatics. Yes, the Left may tax your ass, but they're not going to blow it up. Knowing these two simple facts might (possibly) stop Elites from rolling their eyes every time a Red State Voter steps up to a microphone.
Third, and most significant, is that blue state voters are better educated than their red state "conservative" counterparts, and consequently make more money. Typically, as Cahn and Carbone point out, two blue state "elites" delay marriage, graduate from college, marry each other, and delay childbearing until their careers are secure. As two highly paid elites, they can afford both liberal sentiments and liberal agenda. And because they can afford to extend the safety net "to the poor" they're eligible for the red state voter's mistrust and resentment.
Neither political party will or can solve the problems of the culturally disenfranchised red state voter because "culture" in the American context requires money. Democrats are more likely to provide a safety net--for healthcare, old age, and unemployment--than are Republicans, but both Parties will take care of party regulars first, corporations and public service worker unions second, and maybe, voters third and last. This is the only thing you can take to the bank.
Voters with red state values, "family" or otherwise can, these writers say, change their circumstances if they authentically adopt the conservative, ruggedly individualistic strategies of the blue state elites: delay marriage, go to college, and marry another college graduate. The Protestant Ethic of work, save, and deny (the consequences of) the flesh is alive and well for Elites without the benefit of James Dobson or Focus on the Family. Too bad Dobson fails to recognize that family values are expensive. If he did he might be less hostile to the Social Justice issues that face the choir to whom he preaches.
A belief that either political party will deliver high paying production jobs within our current industrial and production paradigm is a fantasy. In 1976, a member of the Meat Packer's Union made $10.76 an hour, plus benefits. Today, more than 40 years later, a meat packer (there is no Union any more)--makes...$10.76 an hour. Falling wages and disappearing benefits is a scandal that neither party is willing to address. Democrats will probably take care of you when you become poor enough--and Republicans will take care of the corporations. Otherwise, you're on your own.
Reagan Democrats--the encompassing descriptor for low and moderate income red state voters--can also change their circumstances by starting to think more critically, and by organizing as workers. They don't have to go to Harvard to get a Harvard education--but they do have to get off their asses and start facing facts.