... This procedural high-handedness is of a piece with the arrogant attitude the secular left takes toward the religious right. Last week a Boston Globe columnist wrote that what he called "right-wing crackpots -- excuse me, 'people of faith'" were promoting "knuckle-dragging judges." This contempt expresses itself in more refined ways as well, such as the idea that social conservatism is a form of "working class" false consciousness. Thomas Frank advanced this argument in last year's bestseller, "What's the Matter With Kansas?"
Liberal politicians have picked up the theme. Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, in a January op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, mused on a postelection visit he made to Alabama, wondering why people from that state "say 'yes' when the increasingly powerful Republican Party asks them to be concerned about homosexuality but not about the security of their own health, about abortion but not about the economic futures of their own children."
Assuming for the sake of argument that Democratic economic policies really are better (or at least more politically attractive) than Republican ones, why don't politicians like Mr. Feingold adopt conservative positions on social issues so as to win over the voters whose economic interests they claim to care so much about? The answer seems obvious: Mr. Feingold would not support, say, the Human Life Amendment or the Federal Marriage Amendment because to do so would be against his principles. It's not that he sees the issues as unimportant, but that he does not respect the views of those who disagree. His views are thoughtful and enlightened; theirs are, as Mr. Frank describes them, a mindless "backlash."
This attitude is politically self-defeating, for voters know when politicians are insulting their intelligence. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, recently framed the abortion debate in this way: "What we want to debate is who gets to choose: Tom DeLay and the federal politicians? Or does a woman get to make up her own mind?" He also vowed that "we're going to use Terri Schiavo," promising to produce "an ad with a picture of Tom DeLay, saying, 'Do you want this guy to decide whether you die or not? Or is that going to be up to your loved ones?'" Many voters who aren't pro-life absolutists have misgivings about abortion on demand and about the death of Terri Schiavo. By refusing to acknowledge the possibility of thoughtful disagreement or ambivalence, Mr. Dean is giving these moderates an excellent reason to vote Republican. ...
Frank's book is remarkable as an anthropological artifact. Although not terribly successful at explaining the cultural divide, it manages to exemplify it perfectly in its condescension toward people who don't vote as Frank thinks they should. Call this the Aretha Franklin version of the culture wars: people want respect, and they're more likely to vote for the party that gives it to them. More than that, people are unlikely to vote for a party that shows contempt for them.
And if there's one thing Frank's book has plenty of, it's contempt. Kansans are described as 'deranged' and 'lunatic,' people who live in a 'dysfunctional' state. They 'revel in fantasies of their own marginality and persecution.' Evangelical Kansans are often 'aggressively pious individuals' who can be expected to 'bark and howl and rebuke the world for its sins.' They are 'zealots' who have created in Kansas a 'great bubbling Crock-Pot of Godliness.'
Frank is hardly alone. A large number of the Democratic faithful view the Midwest and evangelical Christians as socially backward, politically amusing and religiously nutty -- and the objects of this disdain are sick of it. The more than 65 million Midwesterners are sick of being considered 'flyover country' -- that vast, flat, brown area glimpsed by people looking out of their airplane windows as they head from one coast to the other (perhaps with a stop in Frank's adopted hometown of Chicago). The estimated 70 million evangelical Americans are sick of being called wing nuts or Jesus freaks. And the socially conservative are sick of being derided as Neanderthals.
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