Mudcat Saunders and Regional Stereotyping
by Ric Caric, Mon Jun 11, 2007 at 08:56:35 PM EDT
WHITE ON WHITE REGIONAL STEREOTYPING. One of the big stereotyes of Democratic reformers is that they are "liberal elites" who look down their long effete noses at rural America. For consultant Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, bloggers are only the most prominent current example of those liberal elites, what he calls the "Metropolitan Opera Wing" of the Democratic Party. For Mudcat, it's liberal elites who have been losing elections for the Democrats in the South because of their "intolerance,""arrogance," pseudo-intellectual pretentions, and relentless stereotyping of rural Americans and the working class.
MY BACKGROUND. Because I've lived mostly in rural areas in both the North and the South but have spent time in Philly and developed contacts in other cities, I have a lot of experience with rural/urban boundaries. There is a sense in which Mudcat Saunders is right. Urban liberals I've known do stereotype rural and Southern people. Here's a couple of examples. When I attended a college program as a high school student from upstate New York, my peers from New York City used to ridicule my rural jockishness by humming the theme song to Captain America when I went by. More seriously, when my first wife started school at the University of Michigan, someone asked her how she could sleep at night when she came from a state as racist as North Carolina. This was particularly tough for her because she had dated a black guy in high school.
URBAN LIBERALS AND STEREOTYPING. It is important to emphasize, however, that urban stereotyping of rural people is very weak compared to the animosity that rural areas have for the major cities. Places like NY, Philly, and DC are self-contained worlds in which people generally have little awareness of the adjacent rural areas. People I know in Philadelphia have no more idea of Pennsylvania outside their suburbs than they have of Kansas, Idaho, or Kentucky. There is more stereotyping of the South in places like Ohio and Michigan where large numbers of Appalachian whites have settled, but still not that much. To the contrary, one of the first things that strikes Northerners who move South is the intense awareness Southerners have of the North, Yankees and the Civil War. Whereas Northerners give little thought to the South, hostility to "Yankees" is one of the guiding stars of my North Carolinian brother-in-law's life. Another is his racism. Likewise, my own brother had so many arguments about the Civil War thrown at him by his new Southern friends when he started college in North Carolina that he felt obligated to read Shelby Foote's three volume history of the Civil War. Southerners have a lot of regional pride and much of that regional pride is focused on hostility to the North.
Why are rural people (at least in the East) and Southerners so worked up about an urban "pseudo-intellectualism" and arrogance they rarely if ever see. A lot of the angst stems from the history of slavery and segregation in the South and the intense consciousness that white Southerners have of the white South's monstrous conduct toward blacks. Another source of the hostility toward the North and especially Northern liberals comes from a continuing Southern and rural awareness of economic, educational, scientific, and cultural backwardness. Teaching at a regional state university in Eastern Kentucky, I see this all the time in students who assume that they're not smart enough, educated enough, or cultured enough to compete with their Northern and Eastern peers. People in Kentucky are far more invested in stereotyping themselves as ignorant hillbillies or uncivilized hicks than anybody outside the South. In fact, it could be said that people here are so aggravated by northern liberals because they attribute many of their obsessive self-criticisms to liberals in the North who actually don't really think about them.
THE SPECIFICS OF MUDCAT SAUNDERS' CRITIQUE. Mudcat Saunders claims that the "pseudo-intellectualism" of Northern liberals has destroyed the Democratic Party in the South. That's just not the case. In my state of Kentucky, the Democrats were so used to dominating state politics that they got extremely lazy and forgot how to compete. As a result, when a smart, ambitious Republican came alone in the form of Mitch McConnell, he was able to run rings around the Kentucky Democrats for years. In states like North Carolina, the Republicans were able to become competitive as a result of the politics of race and then were successful in adding gender, guns, God and gays to their menu of wedge issues. Local Democrats have never been able to match the Republicans in the politics of hate because they have large constituencies of black voters and because white Democrats in the South are now coming down on the tolerant side of social issues. The Republicans hammer away at the extremely loose associations between local Democrats and national Democrats, but Republican success is predicated entirely on stereotypes such as "Metropolitan Opera" Democrats rather than anything that urban liberals or liberal bloggers do.
Mudcat Saunders might not like Metropolitan Liberals but his distaste has little do with either cities or liberals.
IMPLICATIONS FOR NATIONAL POLITICS. Chris Bowers and Daily Kos point out that the Democrats are doing quite well these days despite the hand-wringing of conservatives like Mudcat Saunders, Mickey Kaus, and Dan Gerstein. The Democrats have become more liberal over the last two years and it has worked politically despite the doom-saying of those who want to follow the right in the culture wars. One of the things that strikes me as a college professor in Kentucky is that the liberal blogs have a national audience. Even though they're primarily written out of the Northeast, they don't have a specifically regional or beltway tone like Slate or the New York Times. Plenty of my students and people who read my own small blog at Red State Impressions also read Kos, Atrios, and MyDD. In this sense, the liberal blogs are a force in re-nationalizing liberalism.
That might be one source of the animus that Mudcat Saunders has for liberal blogs. Like mainstream journalists such as Joe Klein (hard to imagine a more arrogant and anti-populist journalist than Klein), Mudcat might be finding that he now has to compete with liberal bloggers for his audience.