Monday, December 06, 2004

John Dean on the "Red" States

Beth sent this column by John Dean entitled, "A Closer Look At The Red/Blue Cultural Divide: It Is Mostly Hokum." It's not news to those e-mailing this site but it's a rare day that someone's not writing in to say someone repeated the myth yet again on radio or on the net. Read Dean's column and think about passing it on.


The 2004 post-election map, with all those red states filling the middle of the country, gives the appearance of a very divided America. Pundit and commentators have talked endlessly of the two Americas. A closer look, however, shows the nation not anywhere near to being as deeply divided as many would have us believe.
In truth, it is not the overwhelming majority of Americans who are pushing the claim of these rifts -- cultural and political differences supposedly tearing our country apart. Rather, for this theory, we can thank the chattering class: the journalists, writers, religious leaders, politicians, along with various advocate activists and some social commentators. It is, as Vice President Spiro Agnew once famously said, the nattering nabobs of negativism.

[. . .]

As [Thomas] Frank explains, a key part of the whole bait-and-switch, one of the tactics that maintains the illusion, is to make a big deal out of the red states/blue states divide. This television graphic has provided conservative activists with a rhetorical device which they have used (and continue to use) effectively to marshal their followers.

[. . .]

Frank says, however, that the red states/blue states dichotomy is, in the end, fallacious -- although this fact has not limited its usefulness to conservatives. For example, in 2000, Frank tells us, the "red-state narrative brought [the appearance of] majoritarian legitimacy to a president who had actually lost the popular vote."
As a partisan weapon, the dichotomy has evolved. Now it pits the vast heartlands against the urban sophisticates: Fords and Chevys versus Volvos and BMWs; Mel Gibson versus Michael Moore.

The column can be found at Find Law (

I'm going to repeat a point from the "Red" States series. The need to find an enemy is understandable. But this "Red" state myth isn't based in reality. And it serves the right (and has served, as John Dean notes re: 2000 election) in terms of this simple color-the-map scheme offers "proof" of Bush's "mandate." This garbage also provides Repube-lights in the Democratic party with a weapon to argue that the party needs to move to the "center."

Some of you are still very angry with people on the left who've repeated this myth. There is a strong point to be made that "our voices" are very good at debunking the media spin in other areas so why not here? I think it goes to how shocked so many of us are over the "results" of the election. The "red" states myth comes along and is repeated all over the place, we're in a vulnerable state so, instead of using our critical thinking skills the way we normally would, we end up nodding along with and repeating "conventional wisdom."

I said at one point in the "Red" State series that if you were so angry that you needed to stop listening to whomever or stop visiting whatever site, then do that. A lot of you are very hurt by this myth, I understand that. But I'm going to repeat that we seem to be in search of heroes and then getting disappointed when we find people instead.

We all make mistakes, check out my corrections via Kim and Shirley to the Howard Dean post (remember, Wednesday, online at noon eastern time) and "Snapshots of Iraq." If there's a repeated pattern of harmful errors (Judith Miller's reporting for the Times) that's one thing, but if this is people making honest mistakes, I know I'd want to be forgiven and I'm betting you would as well.

It's late and I'm probably going to keep restating the same point in different words (a hazard of posting late for me). But the point of this site (which even I lose sight of) is common sense. You don't have to have the "biggest brain" (to use Ely's wording) or know every fact and figure to realize you're being spun. A lot of times, we just need to use our common sense. I went over and over the polling numbers in the Times/CBS News poll to explain how wrong Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder were in their article/summary ""Americans Show Clear Concerns on Bush Agenda." But common sense alone tells you that a poll with less than 900 respondents is never going to be representative of an entire nation as populated as this one is.

I doubt even such a "random" sample focusing on one state could be representative. But when it's used to "speak for" the entire nation, it's sloppy and it's not doing the social sciences any good. (This is exactly why people, in college, would sneer "psuedo science" at those of us who majored in those areas.)

Probing into the polling data, it was possible to speculate that either Nagourney & Elder hurried through the results (the results were lengthy) and missed key data or possibly they framed the story to fit the popular narrative. (If you missed the entries on Nagourney & Elder's piece, go to November archives.)

But beyond their article/summary, there were problems with the questions themselves. The Times never addressed that. Questions requiring a two-part answer of "yes" and "no" -- complex questions -- but expecting respondents to answer either a single "yes" or "no" to a two part question should not have been asked. I seriously question the skills that went into devising the questions. I also believe that if anyone at the Times other than Elder & Nagourney looked at the actual data, the story should never have run.

This poll was trumpeted on the front page of a newspaper that carries great weight with the chattering classes and trumpted on TV as well. The poll had the "power" and "prestige" of one our highest circulated papers and one of our top three networks behind it. To me that's different from an off hand remark made by someone on Air America or a local radio host and different from a web site. That's my view and I could be wrong.

Besides sending John Dean's column, Beth also wanted to note something. She lives in Dallas, TX and her county elected the following Democrats: "Lupe Valdez – our new Sheriff; Don Adams - our new 2nd Criminal District Judge; Lorraine Raggio – our new 162nd Civil District; and Judge Dennise Garcia – our new 303rd District Court Judge." She says that until this election, the "Republicans have owned the judicial slots." She adds, "We're all proud of Lupe Valdez and the attention she's gotten from the national media like the Washington Post and the New York Times but we made inroads in the judicial races as well and that was big news for us."
Kara's emailed from Dallas as well to note that her State Senator Royce West is a Democrat, as is her Congressional Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson. This was in response to a radio program Kara heard today talking about how the southern states should, according to Kara, be written off and states such as Montanna should be focused on instead.

I think a number of so-called "red" states had similar results. And that's why we shouldn't be focusing on writing anyone off. (Which goes to the point about the party's infrastructure needing to be strengthened in all states.) (And how the DNC needs to address that issue.)

As David Brock and others have documented, we're up against a right wing echo chamber. Regardless of whether the "results" of the 2004 presidential election are correct at present, we need to realize what we're up against. And we need as many voices as possible speaking to combat that right wing echo chamber. That's why I've urged that if something isn't speaking exactly as you would 100% of the time, you take from it what you can.

That's not to say if someone says, "The party needs to dump these gay issues and stop supporting reproductive rights and blah, blah, blah" that you sit there and nod along with a smile on your face. But I believe there's a world of difference between that sort of person and voices on the left committed to supporting what we should stand for. As always, I could be wrong.