21 January 2006


A Red State Hypothesis

Ross Douthat at The American Scene has this post about this article by Garance Franke-Ruta at The American Prospect online. The article argues that "red state" voters vote Republican on cultural issues because (1) they're satisfied enough with their economic situation to be able (2) to vote based on cultural (read "family") concerns precisely because the family situations in those states are lousy.
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.
In his commentary on the article, Douthat goes on to argue beyond the Prospect article against what he sees as libertinism and lingering impact of "the sexual revolution":
A more libertarian economy does have something to do with the breakdown of "sensible middle-class values" over the last few decades, even if conservatives are sometimes loath to admit it. But the breakdown is also largely a result of the cultural and sexual revolution that began in the '60s and continues to this day - a revolution that has been great for well-off Blue Staters and not so great for everyone else, and whose negative consequences modern liberalism often seems unable to reckon with.
Nowhere does either Franke-Ruta or Douthat consider the role of better education as creating a context that influences whether the consequences of the cultural changes -- changes that were almost inevitable given the Second World War and its aftermath -- are negative or positive. And the role that economic affluence ought to play in making that education more available to all.

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