What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

Help turn my backyard blue.

There are only three areas of the country that actually dropping in population. One of those areas is the western Great Plains. Another one of those areas is the Mississippi Delta, that that was even before Katrina. The third area is the triangle formed by Utica, NY, Buffalo, NY, and Pittsburgh, PA. I am from the heart of the latter area, having grown up in Rochester and Syracuse. I am one of the many people who left the area, and at least once a week I feel I have somehow betrayed "my people" because of that.

Over the last decade or so, Democrats and progressives have produced innumerable treatises, studies, manifestoes and broadsides detailing how "the South" and "the Heartland" were lost to the conservative movement, and how progressives can supposedly win those areas back. By way of contrast, Tom Schaller's excellent Whistling Past Dixie might be the only book out there that explores how Democrats can and should win in areas like Upstate New York. Predictably, many people have criticized him for not instead writing about how we can win in the South too. This is, I suppose, because every Democrat in the country must be fixated on how to win in "the South" and /or "the Heartland" all of the time, in every election cycle, to the expense of all other areas. However, while few people are writing about politics in WNY and CNY, it should seem strange to people that this area, which for most of the 19th century was the most progressive area in the entire nation, was pretty conservative for the past few decades. As a testament to the progressive nature of the region back in the day, both the abolitionist and suffrage movements grew out of western and central New York. Given this, it strikes me that a book on how the most progressive area of the country became conservative is at least as worthy a topic for a book as trying to explain how always conservative Kansas is still conservative.

But something very interesting is happening to western and central New York that you don't see in the other two areas that are declining in population. Instead of being sucked into the conservative movement, CNY and WNY are actually returning to their roots and becoming more Democratic and progressive. As I discussed in an earlier post on my trip back home, at least from an electoral perspective, the region is definitely turning from red to blue--and quickly. While the Mississippi Delta and the western Great Plains grow even more conservative, western and central New Yorkers are moving to the left.

It didn't have to be this way. There is a strong sense that New York City undeservedly dominates the cultural, economic and governmental life of the state, all while consistently maintaining a dismissive and condescending attitude toward Upstate. This attitude is very similar to the "Great Backlash," anti-liberal narrative that, according to Thomas Frank, conservatives have spun against a variety of institutions in order to seize control of "the Heartland." Admittedly, I even still hold a vaguely anti-New York City attitude in my mind, which is one of the reasons I ended up in Philadelphia.

Maybe that backlash narrative was one of the reasons that western and central New York were fairly conservative in recent decades. However, the backlash certainly isn't working anymore. Besides, one of the things I would like this election to accomplish is that we stop writing books and treatises explaining why Democrats and progressives are losing, and we start writing books explaining why we are winning. I would rather try to understand why western and central New York is returning to its progressive roots than try to figure out why it was conservative when I was growing up here. I will be thinking about that question a lot during my time here. Coming up with a good answer is important not just to the continued transformation of western and central New York, but also to the nation was well. If you have any theories on why this has happened, I would love to hear them in the comments. Why are places like Colorado, Ohio, the Philadelphia suburbs, and upstate New York turning blue? Let me know.

Tags: Culture, Ideology (all tags)

Comments

30 Comments

Re: try this again

 "Forgotten City,"

by buffalo girl 2006-10-15 07:19AM | 0 recs
Re: try this again

The Forgotten City is a soul stirring documentary taking place in Buffalo, New York exploring race relations, segregation, crime, and politics.  Through exclusive breathtaking footage and one-on-one interviews with many citizens and some of Buffalo's most influential leaders, The Forgotten City exposes the bitter truth about Buffalo and all inner cities.  It challenges stereotypes, encourages change and shakes up the status quo.  Buffalo was once a booming city; one of richest in the United States and is now a place where crime, racism and poverty plague a once great city.

This film is a personal journey of two young filmmakers who forged an unlikely partnership following a 2001 murder; one a friend of the victim and the other a friend of the murderer.   Instead of waging war, they embarked on a documentary film project that would take them into the heart of Buffalo's most dispossessed communities and crime ridden streets.  The result of their exploration is a documentary film with a raw, hard-hitting, unblinking first-hand look at the way some of us really live in America.  This film brings to light the racial turmoil and economic hardships that have become the lifestyle of so many living in Buffalo's inner city.

The Forgotten City, however, is not simply a film about the problems that plague Buffalo's inner city; it can easily be the story of any American city and is a film that everyone should see.

by buffalo girl 2006-10-15 07:29AM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

dang, my whole post disappeared.

First, go find the guys who made Forgotten City, linked above. It's about the extreme poverty in Buffalo, NY and the reasons why it's that way.

Second, Buffalo is still a big labor town, and I think that still has a big influence on the area.  Economic issues are of such primary importance to Western New Yorkers that people like Brian Higgins, who is a bulldog fighter for local issues, really do well. My Republican parents both voted for him because he's fought battles to get funding for the waterfront development, for power and water rights, for a new Peace Bridge, all sorts of stuff. They LOVE him. Conservatives have made the mistake of running on issues like abortion which while there's a strong catholic community in the area, it just doesn't resonate given the extreme economic condition of the area. Economic growth, and SMART growth is of primary importance there.

by buffalo girl 2006-10-15 07:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Smart Growth

In my small WNY town, the community came together to defeat the Goliath Wal-Mart over a period of about 5 or 6 years, using funds out of their own pockets to hire lawyers to make sure they didn't build in or near the town. It's a conservative town, but people came together from across the spectrum for the sake of the history and culture and community of the area that would have been threatened by Wal-Mart.

The town still leans pretty heavily Republican, but it is a moderate and community-minded area. I think that kind of thing is spreading.

by buffalo girl 2006-10-15 07:27AM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

Labeling the "burned over district" progressive seems something of a misnomer. Those "progressive" movements you mention grew out of the second great awakening, an evangelical revival of the early 19th century. These reforms included not just abolition and suffrage, but temprence (later prohibition), anti-gambling movements, anti-prostitution movements, etc. What united these movements was their desire to eradicate sin from the world to prepare for the millenium. This area was part of the Yankee diaspora spreading out from New England. Its politics has been pretty much determined by its socio-cultural make up of fundamentalist protestants. The appellation "burned over district" comes from the many revivals that swept across this area before the Civil War.

Before the Civil War, the burned over district was a Whig stronghold. Upstate New Yorkers favored the Whigs for both the economic and social activism. They viewed politics as a way to impose their views of morality and correct religion on society. One of the biggest issues in pre-Civil War politics was how to handle the rising tide of Catholicism. New York Whigs generally opposed parochial schooling and insisted on using the King James Version of the bible in public schools. Catholics, naturally, opposed these measures and gravitated to the Democratic party with its more libertarian attitudes. (These same libertarian attitudes, i.e. states rights, were what attracted Southerners to the Democratic Party.)

New York politics pretty much captures the main political dynamic in the U.S. for the last 150 years: native, protestant, Anglos vs immigrant, non-protestant, non-Anglos. In New York, this plays out as upstate New York (with the exception of Buffalo, which had a large immigrant population) versus the city with its teeming hordes of "non-white" immigrants.

What I would find surprising is not that upstate New York is conservative and Republican, but that it might actually flip to the Democrats. Indeed, I wonder how sustainable that might be even were it to happen this election cycle. The City versus Upstate seems likely to remain and enduring feature of New York politics for a long time to come.

by cap and gown 2006-10-15 07:55AM | 0 recs
The Denver and Philadelphia suburbs

There are a bunch of theories about why Colorado is trending to Dems.  One of the most plausible is that the same thing is happening in the Denver suburbs as in other suburban areas like the Philly 'burbs and northern VA.  They're getting more diverse and economically stressed, and the Republican social hot button issues don't resonate there.  Ken Salazar carried Arapahoe County in 2004, which would have been unheard of for any Democrat, much less a Latino, ten years ago.

Another theory is the "West Is Not The South" mantra they pump over at Western Democrat all the time.  Republicans used to be able to play on resentment in the Mountain states that the DC Dems ignored the region.  Now that the Republicans are more obviously a Southern regional party, and now that they control DC, the resentment is targeted against them.  Closely related to this is the improving image of environmentalists in the rural West, especially now that Republicans have abandoned the "local control" argument in the face of local opposition to their oil and gas drilling policies.  

I think it is a little bit of both -- obviously Montana doesn't have large suburban regions and it is also trending toward the Democrats.  But there are more people in the Denver suburbs than in rural Colorado, so I think the suburban explanation carries a bit more weight.

by Colorado Luis 2006-10-15 08:24AM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

Part of it (the revitalization of progressive roots in upstate NY) is, I think, a reflection of the fact that upstate NY is not from what I can tell as dominiated by its own narrative of cultural superiority as the South. The South believes, despite all stats to the contrary on issues like divorce, poverty rate, education (just to name 3), that it is culturally better off than the rest of the country. That need, to me, is driven out of a pathos to justify some pretty harsh realities that cultural conservatism allows one to ignore so long as the pork barrel keeps rolling in. In the upper part of the state- from what I understand- no such dynamic is at play. But, this is true of a lot of so-called conservatives in the NE and other non Southern areas. They are conservative only in the sense that they don't consider themselves liberal. They aren't conservative by any stretch of my imagination when I compare to the having lived in VA and spending much of my life in NC and other southern states. In fact, when I run into a Republican up here, I often say to them they are suffering under the delusion (I put it nicer) that they are in control of the party when the South is, and as long as that is the case, they are merely enabling Southern hegemony over national politics.  The key difference for me, then, is one of what priority one gives to cultural versus economic issues.

b)

by bruh21 2006-10-15 08:30AM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

I believe the decline of racism is at the root of this change of color (no pun intended). Democrats were drawn away from the party when we began to address racism in these traditional Democratic areas. I point to Busing as the flash point that sparked the defection, driving the working class into the open arms of the repiglicans. As time has past the "Black threat", and fear of living with and wedding Blacks has melted away, more and more Regan Dems have shed Regan and returned to the fold.  

by eddieb 2006-10-15 08:36AM | 0 recs
Is Ohio really turning Blue?

Or did the OH GOP just put up a terrible slate of candidates?  I'd love to believe that the state is finally turning blue, but really, they'd have to try pretty hard to have come up with worse candidates than what they have this year, in contrast to the strong candidates the Dems have there.

by Fran for Dean 2006-10-15 08:52AM | 0 recs
Re: Is Ohio really turning Blue?

yeah, that kind of information is important.  Good question. Many "trends" or turns of events in campaigns can be explained by personality issues that arose, or local strengths and weaknesses that have little to do with issues or beliefs.

by buffalo girl 2006-10-15 08:57AM | 0 recs
Re: Is Ohio really turning Blue?

That's a very good question, Fran for Dean. I wonder, for example, how well Voinovich would be faring against Brown if he, not DeWine, were up for re-election. My sense is, Voinovich would be doing better, probably leading by 5 or so points.

It's very fortunate for Ohio Dems that the Republicans have awful candidates at the top of the ticket, plus the Taft-Noe-Ney scandals in the background.

Of course, 20 years ago, Metzenbaum and Glenn (both D) were the senators and Celeste (D) was governor. The cycle of the past dozen years has seen Republicans steamroll weaker Dem candidates. Maybe this year is the reversal of that trend.

But I'd say we'll have to wait till 08 to truly say that Ohio is "turning blue".

by OH Mark 2006-10-15 10:57AM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

I grew up in Rochester, went to Architecture School at SU, and left soon after that (I now live in Los Angeles). When I'm back, I never miss an opportunity to visit Buffalo. As I am sure most of you know, Buffalo has an amazing collection of 20th Century Architecture, a classic "City Beautiful" urban plan, and a world class collection of modern art at the Albright-Knox.

All of which makes it a fascinating place, given it's economic condition. I even find the mouldering industrial structures to have a sadly poetic quality.

The last time I was in Western New York, I visited Jamestown, which is, in a way, like a mini-Buffalo. As I walked around what felt like a ghost town, it started me thinking about what could be made of these places. As an architect, the setting of a town like Jamestown, clinging to the side of a river valley, and its empty factories waiting for all manner of adaptive reuse, is powerful in it's potential. But how would this place be repopulated? And should it? Will Jamestown and other places like it simply crumble back into the woods?

I think this is an interesting overlay to the political framework in this area. The emerging global economy has left artifacts in it's wake in this part of the country, and the left/right dynamics are very fuzzy and fluid when you're on the ground there.

by aldorossi 2006-10-15 08:57AM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

I wonder if we can give Hillary any credit. Six years ago she spent a lot of time there to prove she didn't have horns, and apparently by and large they've found her acceptable.

by joyful alternative 2006-10-15 10:15AM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

We could......Not sure people will....

by buffalo girl 2006-10-15 10:24AM | 0 recs
More Generally...

The US has a great deal more cultural diversity derived from its history than most of us commonly keep in mind.  The reference to WNY/CNY's role in the Abolitionist and Women's Rights movements of the early-mid 19th century is just one example.  The more general question is how so many different sub-regions, with different cultural histories are undergoing a similar shift.

Here in California, for example, the first such indication was probably Loretta Sanchez's victory in winning a Congressional seat in Orange County in 1996.  Part of the impetus for this, of course, was the GOP's war on Latinos--Sanchez herself was formerly a Republican.  But her victory represented the first instance of translating a state-level repulsion into a geographically specific response in a territory that Republicans have dominated almost entirely since the early 1960s (erstwhile Irvine Mayor Larry Agran is the glaring exception).

Further shifts might have followed, but the post-2000 redistricting was a bipartisan status-quo reinforcing one which suppressed any such impetus.  Below the level of representation, however, the explosive growth of the more conservative Central Valley has surfaced a number of problems--particularly to do with environmental health issues--that are building pressure below the surface.  The McInerny campaign is thus tapping into a potential that has yet to really manifest itself at the state legislative level.

The Inland Empire represents a third distinct region within the state with a submerged progressive potential--CA 41 (Jerry Lewis-R) and 45 (Mary Bono-R), plus portions of 43 (Joe Baca-D) and 44 (Ken Calvert-R).

For the GOP, a unified approach to winning in these regions has been hot button demonization issues.  For Dems, the immediate road to winning is to localize and focus on reality-based problems--with, of course, consistent reminders of Iraq and other GOP screw-ups.  But the question of  what could represent a unified approach to winning in all these diverse regions would bring us back to the New Deal, IMHO, particularly the examples of rural electrification, the TVA, and agricultural price supports.

These sorts of targetted programs helped the traditional rural roots of the Democratic Party, and created a brdige connecting their identification and support for broader programs that benefitted Americans more generally, including large numbers of urban-dwellers whom they might otherwise feel socially alientated from.

Today, we need to be thinking about similarly smart strategies, things that are genuinely important and helpful, but that also create a bridge connecting them and their interests to other groups they might otherwise feel alienated from.

That would translate into things like universal broadband access, for example, revamped price supports--including support for diversified local high-value crops--as well as innovative policies that bring environmentalists together with folks who have often seen environmentalists as meddlers.  (PBS's Now! did a piece several months back about environmentalists and ranchers forming alliances in Montana, for example, to manage wolf populations, and preserve open space against the encroachments of developers.) These are likely to be more diversified, according to differing conditions in different regions, but they could integrated into a suite of programs under one rubric.

Of course, I am not so naive as to believe that issues and policies are the magic bullets.  We need effective narratives to connect to the reality-based side of politics.  But by thinking about such broadly-applicable policies, we give traction for at least one ready-made narrative--"a politics that works for an America that works."

Among other things, this narrative readily short-circuits the whole demonization-of-liberals thing the GOP has been building on, and that resonates especially well in these rural and exurban communities, with their long histories of demonizing the urban cores which are liberalism's traditional home.

It's not the whole answer, not by a long shot.  But it's a good start.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-10-15 10:52AM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

Yoo hoo!!

What about Central New York?  There is loads going wrong in the 19th District of New York.  You may have driven right through it.  

Just take a look at some of the press releases being written.

www.johnhallforcongress.com

by Lizzy 2006-10-15 11:22AM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

I have thought of CNY/WNY as Republican but necessarily conservative and certainly not conservative in the vain of today's Repub party.  For every Bill Paxon, Jerry Solomon and Tom Reynolds CNY/WNY have sent to Congress they have also sent Sherry Boehlert, Amo Houghton and Frank Horton (I am dating myself here).  Charles Goodell, the liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller named to replace Bobby Kennedy after his assasination, was also from this area so there is clearly a history of progressive Republicanism in this area of the state.

Others have discussed the history of abolitionist movement so I will not go into that subject.  However, the other factor that has not been discussed is the upstate/downstate strife that exists in NY.  Up until the early 1960s, NYC was largely dominated by the Tammany Hall Democratic machine which was totally corrupt so there was a reflexive dislike of Democrats, especially downstate ones, in other parts of the state.  The NYC suburbs and other parts of the state did not necessarily vote Repub b/c of major issues differences (there were few).  They voted Repub b/c the Dems, especially downstate Dems, were seen as corrupt hacks.  

The Repubs who got elected statewide in NY up until Al D'Amato were largely as progressive as the Dems.  Nelson Rockefeller and Jack Javits would not be Repubs today and are possibly to the left of both Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton.  I know that is hard to fathom but it is largely true.  

I view what is happening in CNY/WNY as very similar to what happened in the South after the advent of Civil Rights.  As the Dem party moved to embrace equality and stop the discrimination of the Jim Crow era, it no longer was the party of conservative Whites.  Yet on the local level, they continued to vote Democratic up until the 1980s with 1994 being the culmination of the switch to their natural home in the Repub party.

The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 was the deathnell of the progressive Repubs in the Rockefeller/Javits mold and these were really the embodiment of CNY/WNY Repubs.  I also don't believe this region was comfortable with the Christian right influence on the Repub party.  Yet, this area continued to support Repubs at the local level while voting for B. Clinton, Gore, Schumer, H. Clinton, etc.  I believe what we are seeing in this area is similar to the South in 1994.  The people of CNY/WNY are moving towards the Dems which is really where they have belonged for a while.

by John Mills 2006-10-15 11:32AM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

I wrote my post (below) before reading yours, but I think we're on the same point and that your analysis is correct.  The question now is what do we do to speed up this Northern Rural Realignment?

by gunnar 2006-10-15 12:02PM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

What happened in VT is exactly what is happening in CNY/WNY.  It is hard to hasten but not impossible.  The reason this takes time is incumbency - it is hard to oust those in office.  That is largely how the Dems held on in the South for as long as they did.  

As Repub office holders leave, the Dems will pick up those offices.  Wave elections help as well.  

by John Mills 2006-10-15 12:40PM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

I agree that it will take time.  On the other hand,  messaging can be developed that appeals to these voters to help win elections.  

by gunnar 2006-10-15 04:30PM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

Agreed.  Messaging is important too.  We have some great candidates and the wind at our backs so this is a good year to really start making major in roads.

by John Mills 2006-10-15 06:07PM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

Chris, I think you are touching on the most important question for Democrats, which is, can we flip rural areas of the country from red to blue and if so, how?  We can flip rural areas from red to blue.  Rural areas of Vermont, Maine and to a lesser extent, New Hampshire have flipped from Red to Blue in recent elections.  The trend started in Vermont, which was formerly a solidly Republican state.  It moved to Maine and then to New Hampshire.  It could now be moving to Up-State New York, which, based on geographic factors alone, is the area of the country where one would expect the trend to spread next.  Your posts on the subject have given me hope that parts of New York will flip to blue in this election.

I can't speak to Western New York because I haven't lived there and I'm not going to pretend to know local issues.  I do live in Vermont and know a lot about Vermont's history and the reasons that Vermont flipped from red to blue appear fairly obvious.  Vermont has always been a white, protestant, rural state fervently committed to extending individual rights to all regardless race, religion, sexual orientation or class.  Vermont was the first republic to extend the right to vote to all men, regardless of whether one owned property or not.  

This tradition continued into the Civil War. Vermont was heavily Abolitionist.  A higher percentage of Vermonters fought and died in the Civil War than any other state.  This was due to the high rate of volunteerism in both joining the Union Army and in joining into battle when it came time to fight.  

Abe Lincoln was a political hero in Vermont.  Vermont was solidly Republican from  before the Civil War and remained so until the early 1990s when things began to change.  In the early 1990s, I remember attending the caucus to elect Democratic presidential candidate in Barnard, Vermont, which at the time had a population of around 180 people.  There were 14 people who attended the Democratic caucus.  I didn't think this was very good, but I expected a low turn out as I had moved to one of the most Republican areas of the country.  To my surprise, the moderator was all excited.  He said that this is the highest turn out they ever had and many of the Republicans caucusing across the way were nervous by all the cars parked out front of the Democratic caucus location.  Jesse Jackson went on to win the Democratic caucus in one of the whitest (or the whitest?) states in the country.  Everyone in the room thought Clinton was a white conservative good ole boy from the South.  He didn't get one vote.  

So why did this change occur in the early 1990s? The country had eight years of Reagan and four years of Bush I.  Reagan ran to the right of Democrats on race and made it clear that the Republican party no longer held equality for all people as one of its core values.  Vermonters still thought this was critically important to their values.  Vermont's state legislature, for example, was the first in the country to pass a law forbidding discrimination against gays in the work place.  A state that would vote for a state legislature that would codify protections for gays could clearly no longer vote for Republicans at the federal level.  

So, the realignment that had ocurred in the South from Democrats to Republicans is now forcing a realignment in Northeastern rural areas from Republicans to Democrats.  Unfortunately, this realignment has occured slowly, but once the flip occurs, Vermont is an indication that there is no going back.  For example, every single county in Vermont voted for John Kerry in 2004.  This includes some incredibly back woods rural areas.  Maine went for Kerry, as did New Hampshire, although some New Hampshire counties did vote for Bush, so the realignment there is not yet complete.  

I suspect this realignment is now spreading to Western New York.  It will be interesting to see how the Democrats perform in rural precincts there.  If this trend exists, then the question becomes, "How do Democrats increase the rate of this realignment?"  I would think that focus groups in rural areas that have flipped from Republican to Democrat would be critical in identifying exactly what are the reasons for the change in voting patterns and how do Democrats frame issues to continue to move this group (northern rural voters) to the Democratic party.

by gunnar 2006-10-15 11:51AM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

I do hope rural blueness is spreading from Vermont through New York State. That means Pennsylvania is next! Rural Pennsylvania in many places is broke and abandoned, and Democratic-like programs such as universal broadband and single-payer health care would be a big help. (These issues are much more than nice for us as individual people; poor Internet access keeps businesses and jobs out of rural areas, and single-payer health care would revive some rusting-away industries.)

The worst-off areas are in the southwest, where they've long been conservative Democrats and are now trending Republican. I blame this on young, mobile, and/or educated people leaving for better prospects as the steel mills closed and other industries withered. If all those Steeler flags were back in Beaver County---

by joyful alternative 2006-10-15 02:08PM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

As someone who grew up in NYC but went to college in upstate NY (Ithaca, the bigger and better-known of the two local major universities), I can vouch for there being a huge cultural and social difference between the two regions, with the latter being obviously more conservative than the former (although, having grown up in a somewhat more conservative part of NYC, Queens, it might be somewhat easier for me to sense such differences). From the perspective of someone who grew up in a big city, the diffeence is readily apparent (aside from the obvious observation that, in upstate NY, unlike in NYC, they grow things, have cows, and talk slower).

As for why upstate NY appears to be going progressive, I think that the answer is obvious. After decades of seeing their region slowly erode economically--under national conservative and regional Republican rule--upstaters have decided, with good cause, that Republicans and conservatives either don't have their interests in mind, or else don't have the ability to address them effectively. So, naturally, they are turning to their opponents, Democrats--the way that they turned to Republicans and conservatives several decades ago when Democratic and liberal politicians and policies failed to address their problems adequately, and appeared to not take them seriously.

This is a classic example of the pendulum swinging the other way because one party or movement has failed its supporters and fallen into stasis, and the other party and movement represent a viable alternative and are more dynamic and on the upswing. Just like the Reagan revolution 26 years ago. Republicans and conservatives have outstayed their welcome and outlived their usefulness, and are now being shown the door, for good reason.

I wouldn't bank on upstaters becoming more liberal, though. Populist and progressive, maybe, but this region will always be more culturally and socially conservative than downstate. Country vs. city rules still apply.

by kovie 2006-10-15 01:49PM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

Central PA:

Today was a glorious day for a hike and I drove with a friend to Juniata Water Gap.  On the way back, we drove on lesser highway through a number of villages, after seeing several Santorum signs -- to be expected -- I have actually seen more Democtratic signs, for Rendell (governor) and local races than Republican.

Rendel is too right wing to my taste, but I think what happens is that the countryside in NE and MW is ready to support what Republican Party should be and used to be -- meaning DLC-like Democrats, running as Democrats.

Central PA is bordering Western NY and I guess they may be similar.  Declining manufacturing hits all these areas (add Ohio, Indiana) quite hard.

My theory is that Dems MUST put on their agenda all populist pieces which are clearly consistent with "good government", like pro-consumer banctuptcy reform, a degree of protection for manufacturing, availability of healthcare and college education to lower income middle class etc.  Get rid of almost everything that offends hunters.  Stand fast of individual rights (reproductive, sexual orientation, racial justice, no to torture) to keep the connection with social liberals (and because it is the right think to do).

by Piotr 2006-10-15 04:01PM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate Pennsylvania?

You must be near me in Cumberland County!

Anyway, Rendell gets votes in the Republican rural areas around here for having been a panelist on the Eagles post-game show for years and years. I've met sports fans who think of him as an old friend. He's a regular guy, not just another suit.

And a Democrat can be "moderate" or "conservative" like Jack Murtha and Tim Holden without being DLC. The agenda you propose sounds just fine to me.

by joyful alternative 2006-10-17 03:40PM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

"I even still hold a vaguely anti-New York City attitude in my mind"

Chris - NYCers can be abrupt and rough around the edges when you first meet us but once you get to know us I can assure you we aren't so bad!

by John Mills 2006-10-15 06:25PM | 0 recs
Re: What Isn't Wrong With Upstate New York?

The Iraq war, the moral and political corruption of the national Republican party, and the continuing economic stagnation of the area while under Republican control are clearly having an effect in upstate New York. Those are all factors in many other areas of the country that are not threatening as complete a rejection of the Republican party. I believe that the special factor in upstate New York has to do with the nature of convervatism there.

The conservatism of Central and Western New York is rooted in the 'keep your government out of my life and out of my pocket' conservative tradition. The hot buttons that were used to motivate the Southern religious right were much less of a factor in this area and in many ways were in direct conflict with desires of upstate New Yorkers to keep government out of their lives.

It has also become apparent to upstate voters that national Republican rhetoric about local control was just that. The past dozen years have been an era of substantially complete Republican control of upstate New York on the local, state, and national levels. Republicans on both the national and state level, in order to be seen as cutting taxes, have pushed expenses down to the local level through unfunded and underfunded mandates. This is in direct conflict with the desire of upstate New Yorkers to keep government out of their pockets.

I'm not convinced that upstate voters will become reliable Democratic voters but I do believe they have learned that the national Republican party is not the friend they pretended to be.

by Centinel 2006-10-15 07:11PM | 0 recs
Colorado is blue because of California real estate

I've traveled to Colorado frequently over the past 6 years.  The entire front range of the rockies has had a population/development boom over that time.  One of the stories I kept hearing was that the high price of California real estate drove people, and tech companies, to the Denver-Boulder area.  Basically they looked east and found that as the next most inhabitable place.

So my theory is Colorado is trending blue because lots of blue Californians moved there.

And the next state to go blue could be Wyoming because the now high price of real estate around Boulder is forcing people north and south along the front range.

by buttletuttle 2006-10-15 08:18PM | 0 recs
It's the Economy, Stupid.

I'm from a suburb just southeast of Rochester (the part that is now in the 29th CD), and now I live in Brooklyn.

And, being a historian of social movements, I don't think it has anything to do with progressive roots, etc. The principle issue for upstate is figuring out who is responsible for the downturn in the economy.

For a while, it was easy to blame Democrats for their high tax rates on businesses and strict environmental regulations, which drove large corporations out of the state (this was before the free trade movement, so they were, for the most part, staying in the country). This is still a sensitive point upstate.

However, now businesses aren't leaving because of the relative cost of state taxes. They're leaving because of free trade, and upstate blames the Republicans for that.

This, combined with the fact that Sen. Clinton has done a very good job of bringing some lucrative federal contracts to companies like Corning Glass Works (which is chaired by recently retired Republican Congressman Amo Houghton's brother) is suddenly making Democrats look like a viable alternative to Republicans. Spitzer's promise to fix state politics is also really appealing (he's like a Golisano who has a shot at being elected), because the Pataki/Silver/Bruno machine hasn't accomplished much of anything. Upstaters put Spitzer on a pedestal. They see him as the rebel, independent of party machine politics, but they don't know enough about him to realize that he'll be bringing in his own machine.

And rising health care costs, combined with closing hospitals, changes in Medicare, and the high price of drugs, is an issue, too. Remember that Canada, with its cheap prescription drugs, is not far away, and plenty of seniors make the trek across the border on a monthly basis (especially those from Buffalo). Upstaters have seen the alternative to Republican pharmaceutical cronyism firsthand, and they want it.

Speaking of Republican cronyism, they're also really bitter about gas prices. That's something us city people can easily forget, but in general, the more rural an area, the harder people are hit by rising gas prices. Again, blame the Republicans.

Overall, a lot of upstate has figured out that the Republicans have been screwing them over again and again, and social ultra-conservatism doesn't appeal to them (not even the extremely high number of Catholics in Buffalo). If Democrats can convince them that upstate won't be forgotten, the Dems can win them back. If the Dems can actually live up to their promise, the Dems will keep upstate.

by rock em sock em caulfield 2006-10-16 12:48AM | 0 recs

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