Blue State Project

Dedicated to the pursuit of a practical, geographical solution to the "liberal question" in Bush's America. Because Canada won't take us all.

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Location: Centreville, Virginia, United States

Monday, July 11, 2005

Implausible Deniability

A recent piece on the CBS Marketwatch website contained this interesting, if not surprising nugget: "[In 2004] 24% of workers in the South overheard insults related to sexual orientation compared with 14% in the Northeast, 19% in the North Central region and 20% in the West." Tom McKinnon, executive consultant with Novations/J. Howard & Associates, who conducted the survey, had this to say: "One always has to be careful about generalizations, but it certainly looks like the Northeast is more comfortable with the issue of sexual orientation, and the South is least comfortable with it, at least as reflected in slurs and comments about sexual orientation."

Many in the punditocracy believe that these types of red vs blue generalizations are mostly hyperbole. They see the things that Americans have in common, like Fourth of July barbeques, as proof that the divide between the urbanite and the exurbanite, the Bush voter and the Kerry voter, is not as great as some make it out to be.

Some of the pundits who think this way are simply contrarians, others lament the prospect of a divided America because they feel a genuine patriotism. After all, the latter say, we're the country that won two World Wars and outlasted the social upheaval of the 60s; surely we can solve our quibbling internal disagreements.

To these "experts" Americans are mostly apolitical. The fact that Americans care more about their children's soccer game than about global warming reassures them. But look around you. As the Alan Jackson song goes, most Americans don't know Iraq from Iran. That didn't stop Alan Jackson fans from supporting a leader who unleashed a nightmarish war in the Middle East. We shouldn't ever be reassured by American's collective apathy.

It is also true that there are Bush lovers in Boston and diehard liberals in Tulsa. So what? There are Nazis in Paris and Christians in Kabul, too.

No, the deniers of the divide are engaged in wishful thinking. Roe is the tenuous bridge over a fault line in our culture. Once the bridge is taken away, Northerner and Southerner, capitalist and Christian conservative, libertarian and neocon, metrosexual and Nascar dad, will be fighting right on top of that fault line, and earthquakes will result.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

All Kaine, No Gain

Ever since my wife and I did some volunteer work for the ill-fated Virginia for Kerry campaign last fall, we have, after a brief quiet period in the wake of that electoral disaster, received a consistent stream of calls from the state's Democratic Party. Since I find talking on the phone to be unnatural, most of these calls find their way to our answering machine, where a friendly voice urges us to attend a fund-raising barbeque to benefit some local Dem candidate brave (or foolhardy) enough to do battle with the God-fearing, tax-hating, gay-baiting juggernaut that is the Old Dominion's GOP.

The big prize up for grabs in Virginia politics this year is the governor's seat, so most of the calls we have gotten lately are from the Tim Kaine campaign. Kaine is an affable, if slightly oafish, former mayor of Richmond, who has staked out some pretty conservative turf in preparation for a battle with current state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, who hails from the state's seriously Red southwestern corner. How conservative, you ask? Well, if you visit his website, you'll be greeted with statements like "I have a faith-based opposition to abortion," and "As the next Governor of Virginia, he [Kaine] will not propose any new gun laws."

One of the lessons Democrats were supposed to draw from last fall's defeat was the need to speak the language of "values voters." Kaine's campaign clearly believes that he can, and perhaps must, run almost as far to the right as Kilgore in order to win in Virginia. It is taken for granted that the state's liberals, concentrated as they are in the state's gridlocked north, will hold their nose, cover their ears, and fall in line because Kaine would most likely provide more money for northern Virginia schools and roads. Hey, at least a shameless panderer like Kaine is preferable to someone who actually believes all that right-wing jargon like Kilgore. And even on the odd chance that Kaine means what he says on these issues, who cares about gun control, anyway? Just imagine all the potholes that a Kaine administration would fix!

Such thinking would leave me thoroughly dispirited and not a little bit nervous if it wasn't for the incredibly pleasurable fact that I am moving away from here in less than three weeks. It's not that I don't care what happens to the good people of Virginia, it's just that well, whatever it is, at least it won't be happening to me. This has done wonders for my mood. I've even found myself amused by one of Kaine's latest radio ads, which trumpets his opposition to gay marriage and his relationship with Christ.

My wife is not so easily mollified. She says that even if she were staying she would not vote for Kaine, even if her non-vote was essentially a vote for Kilgore. Recently, performing a job best left to the anwering machine, she took one of the calls from the Kaine campaign and began to grill the caller about Kaine's position on abortion. She wanted to know whether he was really a pro-lifer, since he never seems to mention the word "choice," and talks a lot about restrictions on abortion. Flustered, the poor volunteer had to seek the answer from someone around him, but alas, no one there had any more of an idea than he.

Perhaps only Christ knows.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Blue Frogs In A Red Pot

There's an old story about what happens when a frog is placed into a pot of boiling water. It's said that the frog, alarmed by the scalding water, will jump out right away. If, on the other hand, the frog is placed into a pot filled with cool or lukewarm water, he'll stay in even as the temperature is dialed up slowly, until he boils to death.

To all you blues in the red states: what can I say but wake up? O'Connor's resignation will set the water in your state to boiling even sooner than was expected. Yes, I know there a ton of jobs in Atlanta, and Austin has a decent music scene, and Chapel Hill is just full of people who think like you, but none of that is going to keep the religious right out your bedroom when the inevitable overturning of Roe occurs. And please don't think you'll be saved by all those friendly faces around you. Roe's demise will throw the abortion question to your governor and state represenatives, not your antiwar-resolution passing city council. There will be a lot of rhetorical slight of hand from the right, followed by complicated legislation, but at the end of the post-Roe day, you'll either live in a state where reproductive freedoms are protected or one where those same freedoms are chipped away at endlessly by the religious right.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Time To Take Our Ball And Go Home

Marginal Utility author Rob Horning called this outstanding Mother Jones piece to my attention. It lays out beautifully why, despite the GOP's recent stumbles, the Dems will find it difficult to ever again form a governing majority in this country. Author Steven Hill urges the left to begin raising the issue of electoral reform. But clearly this should have been attempted when there were Democratic majorities in Congress, as there is little hope of achieving reform under current circumstances.

The built-in imbalances in our electoral system are real, and they aren't going away. If anything, the concentration of liberals in urban areas is increasing, making the situation worse. To carry on the anti-Bush struggle as if these imbalances don't exist leads us to conventional politcal strategies that are bound to fail over the long term, no matter what happens in Iraq.

I advocate that all American liberals pack up and move to the 10-15 states where permanent blue majorities would have a reasonable chance of being built. This would create real blue states, not the phony ones (Michigan, I'm talking to you) we have today. Through such an effort the left could salvage some advantage from its concentration along the coasts and in urban areas. The political continuity of a blue "homeland" would open political opportunities that will never exist under the current system.

Such a movement would necessitate that the left overcomes its traditional antipathy to state's rights. Such antipathy made good sense in a society that was much less mobile than ours is today. But in 2005, Americans are relocating for all sorts of reasons that are less important than politcal liberty. Is it a stretch to assume that a liberal stranded in Kentucky can head for bluer pastures in Maryland without too much difficulty?

A reliance on state's rights would serve to split the right between those sympathetic to the concept and those who are, like Bush, big-government megalomaniacs masquerading as advocates of federalism. It would also most likely require the left to surrender many of the hard-won environmental and civil rights gains of the past, at least on the national level. But many of those gains are being eroded as we speak, and the GOP is nowhere close to being finished packing the courts with right-wing judges. Isn't it best to at least ensure the survival of progressive laws in the blue states? And honestly, do you really give a shit what happens in Kentucky anyway?

A mass relocation may seem far-fetched, but to me it's vastly superior to continuing on our current, blissfully ignorant course, one that leads us straight into an endless culture war we have no hope of winning.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Peace In Our Time

The sight of Priscilla Owen's confirmation makes it tempting for those of us nervous about the conservative takeover of the federal judiciary to decry the "anti-nuclear" pact brokered by 14 Senate moderates as a shameful sellout. But maybe that is the wrong reaction.

No one on the left should waste time waxing poetic about Senate tradition and the role of the filibuster. Truth is, the filibuster has been employed for both good and bad purposes throughout American history. And we should also not feel the slightest bit grateful to any of the 14 moderates who brokered a vague deal suited to their own squishy temperaments.

So no need to get all misty-eyed over the deal. Anything Joe Lieberman has a hand in rigging up should inspire caution. But preservation of the filibuster is essential right now, even at the expense of a deal that allows three right-wing judges to be confirmed.

Why is the filibuster so essential? It's amazing how that question has been examined only at a superficial level, by assuming that the Democratic minority in the Senate is temporary instead of structural. I've even read a number of columns that suggested Republicans were playing with fire by resorting to the "nuclear option" because Democrats could soon be in the majority again and would use it to their advantage. Comments like these show a profound lack of understanding of the political geography of the United States in 2005.

Last fall, much more attention was focused on Bush's relatively narrow margin of victory over Kerry than the four-seat GOP gain in the Senate. The concentration of Democrats in mostly coastal urban areas doesn't have to be a negative when it comes to House elections or the popular vote for President. But it is a slight disadvantage in the Electoral College and a crushing weakness in Senate elections.

Do the math: Bush won 31 states, Kerry 19. (Gore won 20 states) Bush had slim margins in Iowa and Ohio, but then again, Kerry barely won Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The fortunes of both parties will rise and ebb, but two things are clear: 1)there are far more red states than blue states, and 2)over time these red states are becoming more likely to elect Republican Senators rather than less.

All signs point to a protracted period of Democratic weakness in the Senate, and an almost continual need to use the filibuster to block right-wing judicial nominees. Even if you're on the Hillarybandwagon, it is a virtual certainty that the filibuster will be needed until January 2009.

So Democrats have essentially two options: allow Frist to go nuclear now, and risk setting off a backlash, or obstruct and delay and hope for a revival of the Party's fortunes. The choice is not dissimilar to that faced by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1938. Chamberlain has long been scorned as an appeaser who did not fully understand the Nazi threat, but today there is a strong body of evidence to suggest that he understood that threat perfectly, but understood Britain's weakness even better, and was using appeasment to buy time so the U.K. could ready itself for a war he knew was inevitable.

Likewise, Harry Reid is playing for time. A party more skilled in message-making than today's Democrats might well have weaved the Republican willingness to go nuclear into a compelling narrative of overreach that would have tied Bush and Frist to the excesses of the religious right in truly damning fashion. This could have been especially effective against the backdrop of the miserable time we're having in Iraq. All signs point toward a brewing backlash against the GOP. Unfortunately, the Dems don't yet have the kind of PR skill to make that happen. So this compromise is probably the best we can hope for.

There's one final, and perhaps most important reason the left should be relieved: the elimination of McCain as a possible Republican candidate in 2008. He may well still run, but the anger the religious right has shown toward this deal ensures it will be as an independent, or not at all. If he runs in the GOP primaries things will get truly ugly. And as fun as it is to watch Republicans tear themselves apart now, it will be even more so in three years.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Dupes of Hazzard

Two recent accidents by governors Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Mike Easley of North Carolina show that courting the redneck vote may be politically safe but hazardous to one's health. Given this danger (let's not forget Junior's own mishap), it seems Bush the First was smart in sticking with pork rind munching as his chosen form of cultural identification.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A Very Wrong Engagement

There was a time in the early 1990s, as liberals tried to make sense of the Gingrich uprising, that it was common to read breathless stories about the new breed of conservative: anti-tax, suspicious of government (especially public funding for PBS and performance art), inclined to home schooling of children, ignorant of foreign affairs. The upshot of this hand-wringing was that life in the suburbs was teaching white Americans to be thoroughly disengaged from the foundations of civic life, and therefore to vote Republican.

Gingrich was an odd figure; a revolutionary with a technocrat's manner, a leader of Sun Belt conservatives who spoke with the flat tones of his native Pennsylvania, a big shot who at the height of his power was almost unseated by a lackluster opponent. (Later, of course he would defeat Cooter from the Dukes of Hazzard.) He did not seem particularly fluent in the touchy-feely language of "values" that makes up much of what passes for political discourse today. This didn't hurt him much at the time, as the consensus worldview of the Gingrich Republicans seemed essentially libertarian.

Halfway through the Bush Years of Empire (saying BYE to life as we knew it), Newt's brand of laissez-faire seems almost quaint. His platform of lesser government (remember term limits?) is paid only the faintest of lip service by a GOP drunk on power. And liberals no longer have to worry about the disengagement of conservatives from public institutions. Instead of abandoning the public schools to the left, the right has reengaged with a vengeance. Into the nation's libraries stretch the tentacles of the Patriot Act. Now comes word that even NPR can be a sandbox for the right.

Where Gingrich slated the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for execution, the new strategy is to retool it to fit the jackbooted zeitgeist, if this campaign by the Bush appointees who now lead the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is any indication. The stated goal is to alter what they feel to be PBS and NPR's liberal bias. Apparently, taxpayer dollars should only be funneled to right-wing talk show hosts like Armstrong Williams. Sample technique: push local stations to air more music instead of national news- the very news, presumably, that these right thinkers find objectionable.

It's a scheme that's depressing in its brilliance. No one under the age of deceased watches PBS, but NPR has a huge, almost Limbaugh-sized, audience. It may be liberal only when compared to the rest of the media hoedown here in Scarborough Country, but it has an unfortunate habit of airing criticism of Our Leader. It was only a matter of time before it landed in the crosshairs.

Now there is a way out, as Jack Shafer of Slate recently noted. The taxpayer dollars conservatives are always going nutty about account for only 15 percent of the money spent by public broadcasters nationwide. The quickest way for public broadcasting to rid itself of Bush's parasites would be to swear off government funding. Unfortuantely, this is something many liberals seem loathe to support.

This is because liberals think of public broadcasting as a community service, something that enhances the public good and that the average citizen should chip in for. (In East Bumfuck, USA, public radio is often the only thing you can tune in where the word "hellfire" doesn't get prominent play.) But it is dawning too slowly on the liberal mind that, although goverment can play a positive role in people's lives, a powerful federal government run by an entrenched Republican right will only do us harm.

Last week Rumsfeld made public the names of the military bases he wanted to close nationwide. Pundits looked for anti-blue bias in the selections. There may be some truth to this, as New England found itself hit hard by the intended closings. Ultimately, however, begging for Bush's crumbs is a game for losers. Let Fayetteville and Norfolk have their day in the sun. The fewer federal troops on blue soil the better.

Instead, let's pound the table about how blue-state tax dollars are the primary source of support for all those military bases. As we phase out that support, we could explain it to Red America like this: we're getting about as much out of the military industrial complex as you are from Buster the Bunny.