Voting Your Anxiety

In light of recent debate surrounding Barack Obama’s comments about rural bitterness being the cause of gun culture and fundamentalist religion, I have been wanting to locate a certain passage from an article and fortunately Kevin Drum turns it up for me (“The Culture Wars,” Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, 15 April 2008). Turns out it was Garance Franke-Ruta (“Remapping the Culture Debate,” The American Prospect, 16 January 2006):

Lower-income individuals simply live in a much more disrupted society, with higher divorce rates, more single moms, more abortions, and more interpersonal and interfamily strife, than do the middle- and upper-middle class people they want to be like. It should come as no surprise that the politics of reaction is strongest where there is most to react to. People in states like Massachusetts, for example, which has very high per capita incomes and the lowest divorce rate in the country, are relatively unconcerned about gay marriage, while those in Southern states with much higher poverty, divorce, and single-parenthood rates feel the family to be threatened because family life is, in fact, much less stable in their communities. In such environments, where there are few paths to social solidarity and a great deal of social disruption, the church frequently steps into the breach, further exacerbating the fight.

We’re still in the realm of arguing that ideology follows material circumstance. People vote their confidence and their insecurity. I loved Thomas Frank’s book, but have had reservations that it’s too facile. He argues that people don’t vote their material interest owing to effective right-wing propaganda, but he fails to take into account certain aspects of people’s material situation.

This also sweeps in the George Lakoff-type point insofar as this interpretation poses problems for the model of liberals chafing for the nanny state and always eager to swoop in and save everybody from everything versus strongly independent conservatives just wanting to be left alone to live their lives. People on the right socially are every bit as eager for the government to prop up their lives and communities and offer all sorts of inducements, it’s just that they want their government support to be punitive and compulsory.