02 November 2005

Scared Republicans

The liberal myth about the Republican party is that it is a party of secure privilege. But, no political party can manage on privilege alone. There simply aren't enough people who identify themselves as privileged. No, the Republican party is, perhaps more than anything, a party unified by the fear of people with something to lose.

Liberals are uncomfortable with even acknowledging the kinds of fears that drive the Republican party. Republicans are terrified of crime. They are afraid of central cities. They are afraid of blacks, Hispanics and immigrants of all stripes. They are afraid of Muslims and atheists. They are afraid of bad schools, bad influences and questionable boyfriends. They are afraid of bad discipline and loose morals. They are afraid of government. They are afraid of the rest of the world. They are religious because so much of their fate of beyond their own control. They value savings and investment because they fear that a downturn could hurt them. They fear universal health care because they fear it could compromise the plans they have for themselves or bankrupt them with high taxes. They fear having their jobs or livelihoods offshored or otherwise endangered. They are not confident that it is possible to take care of everyone and want to put their own families first. Republican men are afraid of loosing their manhood -- no Republican would even joke, as Howard Dean did, about being a metrosexual. Republican women are afraid of the social fabric coming apart at their expense.

I've always lived in cities or small towns, so it has taken me a long time to understand, to believe in the existence of, the fears that drives suburban geography.

Republicans want cars rather than buses or rail, because they fear crime (or at least discomforting breaches of etiquette) from their fellow passengers. Republicans want cars and offices to be accessable only by car so that people too poor to own cars can't bother them their. If you are surrounded by people who have, you restrict your worries to outsiders and want to make it hard for them to reach you.

This isn't the only reason that Republicans want to live in the suburbs, of course. Schools in neighborhoods where no one poor can afford to live are going to have higher test scores and the belief that schools with higher test scores are better is widely held, although not necessarily accurate. The high cost of urban real estate is also a major factor. Urban neighborhoods that most suburbanites would consider living in (with race, schools and crime all factoring in as major concerns in how those decisions are actually amde) are very expensive compared to suburban neighborhoods that they would be willing to live in. A 1/15th of an acre city lot in Washington Park is worth about $150,000. A much larger lot in the suburbs can cost as little as $20,000.

This post isn't devoted to finding solutions to all of those fears, but until one comes to terms with the insecurity of those voters, one can't even begin to win them over.


Kyle said...

Interesting post. As I read I wondered to myself if the democratic party isn't also based on people's fears of losing things, just different things. Maybe things like civil rights, a chance at a middle class lifestyle and an equitible economy. They seem somehow better ideals. Yet I never get the impression that the democratic party has any significant plan to pursue any of those in the 21st century.

I'd be curious what you thought of that.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Democrats certain do have politics driven by fear, but can't understand Republicans in part because they don't understand what Republicans are afraid of.

John said...

I find your lumping all Republicans together as a fear of accepting that a lot of us are just like you, but with different standards. AS in what makes our right and peaceful.

This post reeks of fear, you fear republicans because you cannot control their thought processes.

This is projection. You cast a very wide net and try to bring every republican into your version of what a republican is and what they fear.

If this post wasn't so funny, it would be sad.

andrew said...

Certainly, as Kyle notes, and as I affirm, Democrats are absolutely driven by fears, just different ones. Fears of being sick or injured and having no means of receiving medical care. Fears of losing loved ones in foreign wars. Fears of persecution for being non-Christian. Fears of harsh criminal justice system treatment related to being black or Hispanic. Fears of deportation. Fears related to abuses of private power by big corporations. The list goes on.

I am not trying to lump Republicans together so much as I am trying to empathize with them and understand where they are coming from in hope of finding a path to more fruitful dialog that acknowledges their motives instead of being baffled by why Republicans want things that seem outright evil to me and most Democrats.

Rather than being afraid of Republicans, although the policy regime they aspire to is one that I don't welcome, or trying to control Republican thought processes, I'm trying to engage and understand. If this motive involves fear, it also involves courage to overcome that fear and face it.

My belief is that the only way to be successful in politics at a movement level is to understand people's concerns and to then find ways to address them that also address your concerns. Until you understand the "why" of your opponent's position, you can't do that.