Sunday, October 21, 2007
Trolling For Votes In The Tampon Aisle
I just watched a round table on Meet The Press discussing whether Hillary Clinton is, and should be, trying to appeal to the woman vote. It seems this is quite bizarre and freakish and worrisome to many people. Last week, Tucker Carlson and Cliff May tackled the same subject by suggesting that "Vaginal-Americans" who vote for Hillary because she is a woman should be denied the right to vote. (No word on whether the men who say they would never vote for a woman should lose theirs.)
I find all this angst about Clinton's alleged strategy to appeal to women a little bit confusing. Am I misremembering something, or have we not just spent the last 20 years rending our garments over how to appeal to the white male voter? Was I hallucinating all those times that gun-toting politicians put on a hunting jacket and threw a football and drove a cigarette boat at 100 miles an hour to underline their macho bonafides for the boys? These were not attempts to appeal to men?
A recent book that seems to be sweeping the Village book salons is this one called: "THE NEGLECTED VOTER White Men and the Democratic Dilemma". The insiders are ecstatic, as if they've never heard this amazing insight before. Here's Joe Klein:
So, the question: Is Merle Haggard indicative of a larger movement among his white male country brethren? This is a key to the next election, the subject of a new book by David Paul Kuhn, The Neglected Voter: White Men and the Democratic Dilemma. Kuhn accurately links the Republican dominance of the past 40 years to the loss of the Haggard vote. The percentage of white males identifying themselves as Democrats has declined from 47% in 1952 to about 25% in 2004. Much of that decline was an unavoidable consequence of two honorable positions the party took in the 1960s: in favor of civil rights and against the war in Vietnam. But civil rights slid into special preferences (for everyone, it seemed, but white men), and Vietnam slouched, all too often, into reflexive pacifism and a distrust of the military. Is it possible now, with the Republicans diving into foolish militarism and the indulgence of Thou-shalt-not killjoys, that Reagan Democrats might be tempted to come home?
They will have to be wooed, of course...
For as long as I can remember, the Democrats have been desperate to "recapture" the white male vote and nobody thought it was illegitimate to appeal to a constituency on the basis of their race and gender. But when Clinton is said to be appealing to women, it's as if she's breaking some sort of taboo --- that she's being narrow and opportunistic and cheap.
I frankly think it's smart for her to appeal to women, and not just because she's a woman. It's smart because, for Democrats, that's where the votes are. They should all be appealing to women. Women make up more than half of the electorate and have an equal claim to the attention of politicians as "white males" do, who, as the vaunted book mentioned above details, have been voting true blue Republican for a generation. Women are far more likely to vote for Democrats than men are, particularly unmarried women who make up a majority these days. It's completely rational for any candidate, much less a female candidate, to appeal to women. It's certainly more rational than the endless parade of Democratic men spitting pork rinds and driving pick-ups to appeal to men has been over the last couple of decades.
As Tom Schaller points out in this Salon article, there is a good reason that none of the Democrats, not just Hillary Clinton, are doing the usual manly pandering:
The real story, however, is that the white male share of the electorate continues to decline. In 1976, Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford while garnering what by today's standards would be an eye-popping 47 percent of the white male vote. But in 1976, according to Abramowitz's math, white non-Hispanic males were 39 percent of the American electorate. (Abramowitz's figures, based on numbers from American National Election Studies, are slightly lower than those produced by exit polling, which may oversample white males.) The white male share of the electorate, which had fallen seven percentage points between 1952 and 1976, then stayed roughly constant for 20 years, but after 1996 began dropping again. It fell to 36 percent in 2000 and 33.1 percent in 2004, and it is still falling.
The remainder of the electorate, meanwhile, is composed of white women, among whom Democrats are competitive, and other minority groups that lean Democratic. Kerry won Hispanics, Asian-Americans and Native Americans by margins of at least 20 points in 2004, and all are growing as a share of the total electorate.
And more importantly, aside from enlightened white males, who are not voting on the basis of bruised male vanity, and union men, who know which side their bread is buttered on, the white male Bubba vote is lost to Democrats anyway. They are what's known in the trade as "Republicans":
So should Democrats really be all that worried about Bubba? After snubbing him during primary season, should they revert to form during the general election, and begin their familiar, unrequited quest for his affections? Republican pollster Whit Ayres has a clear preference. "I would dearly love for the Democrats to spend millions of dollars trying to persuade NASCAR fans to vote for the Democrats," Ayres chirped last summer. "They tend to be disproportionately southern, disproportionately white and disproportionately male, which pretty well defines the core of the Republican Party." In other words, it's a waste of time and resources for the Democrats to pursue them -- a classic sucker's bet.
You hear this discussion all the time. Will the Democrats finally be able to get that big score, the key to all election gold, the white male vote? It's as common as dirt in the gasbag class. But when a candidate appeals to women, this is the level of "analysis" you get:
MATTHEWS: I think it's time for me to get in trouble again. Kathleen, I'm thinking about a woman who lives in the suburbs; she may not work outside the home. They're talking around election time -- the husband and the wife -- you know, she says, "I sort of like this Hillary, the first woman president. She's pro-choice." And the husband says, "You know, dear, you know, this is going to kill our tax bracket. You know that tuition thing we pay every couple of years for the kids, every year, we can't do that if we get a higher tax bracket. We have to pay more money." So, could the tax issue -- Hillary's threat to raise taxes -- throw a lot of women and men from the suburbs back into the Republican column? Am I being too tricky here?
PARKER: Yeah, you may be too tricky. First of all, I don't know what your assumption is here that I would know about women in the suburbs who don't work.
PARKER: I don't' have any recent poll material.
MATTHEWS: Those club members that come in, you know, late in the afternoon.
There you have the view from the Village. Or Pluto. I'm not sure which.
This is going to be a tiresome campaign in this respect because a lot of people are going to claim that women are being too sensitive or politically correct and that men are being pigs who hate Clinton purely because she's a women, neither of which are altogether false, but which do dumb down the conversation quite a bit. But the only reason we have to talk about this in these terms is because gasbags like Tucker Carlson say they "cross their legs" whenever they hear Hillary's voice and bulge-worshiping blowhards like Chris Matthews find something unseemly in the idea that a female presidential candidate has a specific appeal to women. If they'd view it through the same prism with which they have lamented the Democratic loss of the valuable white male (and celebrated the Republicans' "outreach" to same) rather than some sort of exotic appeal to a discrete, out of the mainstream, special interest, it wouldn't be nearly as contentious.
If you are interested in seeing just how formidable the women's vote is, check out Women's Voices. Women Votes. It's actually quite astonishing.
digby 10/21/2007 11:08:00 AM