Many Democrats blame the unenlightened people of red-state America for John Kerry's defeat. But most working-class Americans remain politically centrist and a rising number simply want to live in the fast-growing suburbs of middle America. Liberals should stop sneering at the people they aspire to leadby Michael Lind / January 16, 2005 / Leave a comment
Is the United States turning into the Republic of Gilead? That was the name of the theocratic Christian America that Margaret Atwood imagined in her novel The Handmaid’s Tale. Following the November election in the US, a map circulating on the internet showed the blue states of the east and west coasts annexed to Canada, with the red-state portions of the country that had voted Republican labelled “Jesusland.”
The election of 2004 confirmed the status of the Republican party in the US as the majority party at all levels – but it did not prove that Americans have turned into reactionaries. Unlike Nixon and Reagan, who were re-elected in landslides, Bush barely squeaked by. He remains a divisive and unpopular president. And self-described conservatives, like self-described liberals, remain a minority in the US.
The American right has managed to unite the centre with the right in a majority coalition. But it has not converted the centre to the right. Indeed, in this election, as in 2000, Bush downplayed his hardline conservatism and campaigned on the basis of widely shared American values. The Republicans have successfully reached out to red-state America – while the Democrats have turned their backs on it.
Before the election, John Sperling, a liberal billionaire, bought ads in the New York Times and the Washington Post to promote the book The Great Divide, which he co-authored. “Michael Moore vs Mel Gibson. Hillary Clinton vs Newt Gingrich. Smarter kids vs smarter bombs” – these dichotomies were supposed to illustrate the difference between cool, liberal “metro America” and vulgar, conservative “retro America.”
According to Sperling, “America is not a unified country with common traditions, needs and desires. Rather it is an amalgam of antithetical entities: two nations, each with its own history… and aspirations.” This is false. The US is not divided between New England and the deep south. Most of the country fits into neither stereotype: the midwest, the plains, the west coast, the southwest and the highland south.
Sperling and the authors of The Great Divide claim that red America is economically parasitic on blue America because high-income taxpayers are concentrated in the blue states while government subsidies flow to the red states. This is a strange argument for liberals to make. There are inter-regional corporate welfare schemes – agricultural subsidies flowing to the south and west, for example…