We published a staff post earlier this week briefly discussing Dr. Tom Schaller’s Salon piece suggesting that Democrats should stop “pandering” to white male voters, especially in the South. Schaller’s essay is continuing to draw attention, probably because Salon chose to give it a provocative title (“So Long, White Boy”), and also because conservatives are predictably beginning to pick up on Schaller’s rhetoric to suggest that Democrats hate Bubba.
A closer look at the Salon piece reveals a well-written article using impeccable empirical data in the service of an intraparty argument against a position that hardly anyone actually takes.
Schaller’s absolutely right to point out that the white male working-class preference for Republican presidential candidates can no long be written off as a temporary aberration. He’s also correct that white men are a declining percentage of the electorate, albeit a rather large one for the foreseeabe future. And he’s right as well that “Super-Bubba” Bill Clinton didn’t win in 1992 or 1996 by working any particular magic with white male voters north or south.
So who, exactly, is Schaller arguing with? Apparently, with “centrist Democrats [who] continue to urge the party to find new ways to lure white male voters back into the fold. Bill Galston, former domestic policy advisor to Bill Clinton and one of Washington’s sharpest analysts, is a proponent of a Democratic reinvestment in white male voters.”
Schaller then takes a brief look at a six-year-old article by Galston (a co-editor here at TDS) from Blueprint Magazine analyzing the collapse of Democratic support among white male voters in elections through 2000, mainly in order to turn Galston’s numbers on their head. But he doesn’t seem to have noticed that Galston’s main point was to suggest a conflict between progressive moral commitments and major gains among white male voters that simply couldn’t be wished away. Here’s the money quote from Galston’s piece:
In sum, the most realistic strategic objective is to diminish the intensity of white male opposition to the national Democratic Party while retaining the support of key minority groups and bolstering suburban gains, especially among white women. To execute this strategy, embracing moderate positions on cultural issues based on mainstream values is a necessity. But for today’s Democratic Party, neither cultural conservatism nor an anti-government stance is an option. If that is what it takes to regain full competitiveness among white men, the price is too high.
As in much of Schaller’s writing about Democrats and the South, he seems eager to suggest that anyone interested in cutting disastrous Democratic losing margins in certain segments of the electorate is arguing for “pandering,” the abandonment of Democratic constituencies, or a “turn to the right” on key issues. The only choices on the table are to lust after Bubba or spurn him.
There’s actually plenty of variation among Democrats, centrist or non-centrist, in their assessment of whether and if so how Democrats can do a bit better among white men. The only notable Democratic figure who actually seems to match Schaller’s account of “centrists” demanding a Bubba-centric political message is Mudcat Sanders, who often serves the same straw man function in Schaller’s writings about the South.
And that’s why it’s interesting to note that Schaller considers John Edwards’ refusal to engage in Bubba-lust one of the leading indicators that Democrats are finally wising up about the political incorrigibility of white men. Edwards’ campaign often suggests that its candidate might do better among white men than his leading female, African-American, and Latino rivals, particularly in the South. And the Edwards spokesman most often making this argument is none other than Mudcat Sanders.
Maybe Schaller and Sanders should just take their argument outside.
George Lakoff is the only person who makes any sense on this issue. Moving to center is a sham. Candidates should express their progressive values and not worry about the false premise of left/center/right. Our minds don’t work that way.
My advice to candidates is “be yourself” and let the chips fall where they may.