Post Election Strategy Memo, Part Two
by Chris Bowers, Fri Nov 05, 2004 at 10:48:45 AM EST
If I may start this line of argumentation elliptically, let me first note that according to exit polls, around three-quarters of the electorate does not consider itself Catholic. That vote was split almost equally, with a very slight edge in favor of Bush. However, the way that vote split is eye-popping. The two coalitions that Bush and Kerry put together out of the three-quarters of the electorate that are not Catholic broke as follows:
Composition of the two non-Catholic Coalitions Bush Kerry White Protestant 82.7 39.1 Black Protestant 2.7 21.9 Secular 8.3 18.5 Other Religion 4.3 14.3 Jewish 2.0 6.1While nearly five out of every six non-Catholic votes Bush received came from white Protestants, Kerry's non-Catholic coalition is extraordinarily diverse. In fact, not only does no group make up 40% of Kerry's non-Catholic vote, the fourth largest group, the internally diverse "Other religion" makes up 14.3% of Kerry's vote.
Coming up with some unifying narrative for Kerry's coalition is not only going to be difficult, it may in fact be impossible. The fact is that the Republican Party represents the interest of the nation's white Protestant plurality, while the Democratic party represents the necessarily diverse interests of everyone else. It is in this sense that we are inherently a negative party, an anti-Bush party, an anti-Republican party, and not a party that can be summed up in a quick and convenient message narrative. Our coalition has more Black Protestants than their coalition has Black Protestants, Jews, Secularists and people of other religions combined. Our coalition has more Secularists than their coalition has Black Protestants, Jews, Secularists and people of other religions combined. Our coalition has almost as many people of religions other than Christianity or Judaism than their coalition has Black Protestants, Jews, Secularists and people of other religions combined. And, to top it all off, we have three times as many Jews in our coaltiion as they have in their coalition. In the face this, we are not going to come up with much of a unifying message, except, as I describe below, perhaps a negative one.
Either way, the difficulty of our position is obvious. Whether the two coalitions are white Christians versus everyone else or white Protestants and devout Catholics versus everyone else, we always remain the "everyone else." Our coalition is an amalgamation of minorities, while their coalition represents the national ethnic and religious plurality. It is precisely because we are a diverse amalgamation of minorities that we are more anti-them than we are pro-anything else. Being anti-them is inherently our unifying theme--it is the only thing that keeps us together. They can have a coherent agenda because they represent a fairly monolithic constituency. We do not even come close to representing anything remotely monolithic, including a "nurturing parent" view of the world.
When we actually stop and take stock of who we are, it becomes pretty obvious that we already have a unifying message. We do not like, nor do we agree, with the worldview put forth by the vast majority white protestants, especially the worldview of those on the reactionary religious right. We are anti-them. We do not have a unifying worldview to counter that worldview, and in fact we may never have one. Instead, we have around fifty different alternatives that we believe deserve a chance. This is probably going to make it impossible for us to develop any "new unifying message," but just in case we can come close we should at least keep working on it.
We cannot hope, through some new faith based message and/or faith based candidates, to take a significant bite out of the national religious and ethnic plurality that Republicans currently represent. They are simply too good at it, and have worked too many years at it, for us to realistically expect to be able to peel away a significant number of white Protestants. We will have about as much success trying to do that as Republicans would if they tried to peel away noticeable numbers of African-Americans from our coalition. We might get two or three percent, but generally it ain't gonna happen.
However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. While we should not hope to develop the same level of unifying message and religious appeal that Republicans have spent decades cultivating, we do have other options. Specifically, we do have the option of completely boxing them into their current worldview, while simultaneously tarnishing the public perception of that worldview. This is exactly what Republicans have done to our coalition for decades, by pumping up the anti-black, anti-gay, anti-secular, anti-jewish, and, most recently, anti-Muslin rhetoric that has tipped minority after minority into our coalition while simultaneously, and more rapidly, increasing their own share of the national ethnic and religious plurality. In 2000, Bush nearly won a super-majority among Muslims, but in 2004 he won less than 15%. However, Republicans managed to make up more ground than they lost in forfeiting the Muslim vote by fueling the fires of anti-Muslin bigotry among the national religious and ethnic plurality. In the sixties, when Nixon, in the "original Southern Strategy," began demonizing African-Americans, our coalition gained blacks but lost southern whites in droves. Republicans did the same thing with rural voters by developing a culture war narrative, accurately described by Thomas Frank, which is rife with anti-Semitism. They are now in the process of making up the ground they are rapidly losing among Secularist voters by bringing in devout Catholics. The only minority they stopped demonizing are Latinos because, well, Latinos tend to be devout Catholics.
What I am hinting at here, and it is certainly not the nicest or most progressive thing I have ever written, is engaging in a strategy to demonize the religious right in the same way Republicans have demonized liberalism. As a recent diary at Dailykos concerning the demographics of national religious belief points out, we can do this and get away with it. Less than one-quarter of the country is actually a part of the cultural warrior religious right. We label them theocrats. We label them homophobes (and yes, we can and should use the word homophobe). We label them anti-freedom. We label them out of touch with our values. We do this because they are these things. We could label them as terrorists, because as lot of them are. We could label them corporate socialists, because they are. We label them regional bigots, because they are. We should label them anti-American, because they are, and because they have done the same to us. We destroy conservatism itself by defining it as being a member of the reactionary religious right. We tarnish the notion of being conservative to the entire nation. We trap all conservatism inside the reactionary right-wing ideology of the Christian Coalition with a permanent campaign that seeks to define that ideology as negative to the vast majority of the country that does not hold that ideology (it doesn't). Thus, our amalgamation of minorities will become the mainstream, while their homogenized national plurality becomes fringe.
As they continue to solidify and homogenize their base (with the exception of Latinos), we attack them precisely for being homogeneous. That is our unifying theme: anti-reactionary religious right, but pro-freedom, pro-good works, and pro-American. We drive a wedge straight into their coalition, and watch in delight as every libertarian Republican in sight comes over to our side. We decrease their already small share of minorities even further and humiliate them for their bigoted homogeny. We define and tarnish conservatism, and make our natural unifying theme that we are not them.
Wow, I almost feel dirty just for writing that, but I think it is what has to be done. I can't wait to see the comments on this one.