Friday, January 21, 2005

# Posted 1:19 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TOWARDS AN ANTHROPOLOGY OF THE RED STATE PRIMITIVE: David Von Drehle means well. In his cover story for the WaPo magazine, he recounts his 700 mile road trip from Nebraska to Texas, in search of what makes Red State voters tick.

Von Drehle is driven by the liberal impulse to understand that which is foreign rather than condemning it. But think about the whole premise of his article; the basic idea behind it is that you can't understand Republican voters by assessing the merit of rational arguments advanced on behalf of their presidential candidate.

Instead, you have to treat them like the indigenous tribes of the Brazilian rainforest or southeast Asian highlands; you have to abandon your notions of rationality in order to understand why their irrational behave makes sense according to some foreign cultural standard.

Now ask yourself: Could you imagine this scenario in reverse? Could you imagine a reporter for the WaPo or even Wall Street Journal embarking on a road trip from Boston to Pittsburgh in order to "understand" why Blue State voters supported Kerry? Of course not. (Then again, an anthropological approach may help explain why entire institutions nominally devoted to rational thought, e.g. the American university, have become prisoners of the far left.)

That said, Von Drehle deserves credit for putting together a major article that almost totally avoids outright condescension towards people who believe in God, oppose abortion, oppose gay marriage and vote for Bush. In the end, I don't think he does much to help explain why Bush peformed so much better in this election than he did in his first. After all, the shift that won it for Bush happened in the swing states, not in the Redlands. Almost every demographic group registered a small but significant shift to the right, not just evangelicals.

Van Drehle explains his ability to transcend liberal stereotypes by providing a short autobiography. He writes:
Here, on the eve of the president's second inauguration, is an honest effort to set down what I saw, what I heard, what I thought and what I learned.

But who is doing this seeing and hearing and filtering?

For the purposes of this story, I'd say I'm a man who has lived among blues and lived among reds and never felt like a proper fit anywhere. My current home is one of the bluest places in America -- the District of Columbia, which voted 10 to 1 in favor of Kerry. I have friends and neighbors who were literally in tears the day after the election. Politics for many Washingtonians is more than just a civic duty or an every-few-years diversion. It is a passion and a livelihood. They find the Red Sea hostile, baffling and, frankly, menacing.

On the other hand, my roots are out there. I grew up at the western end of the nation's unbroken red high prairie. Aurora, Colo., has become a populous place, miles of suburb shading into more miles of exurb, but I remember it when tumbleweeds three feet high blew through our yard, and jackrabbits burrowed under the back fence, and asphalt gave way to dirt farm road a scant quarter-mile from our front door.
That stuff about the prairie and the jackrabbits is nice and all, but Van Drehle presentation of himself as a red-blue hybrid won't have any credibility in my mind until he answers the question that really matters: How many times has he gone into the voting booth and pulled the lever for Bush or any other Republican presidential candidate?

From talking to some of them, I know that Big Media correspondents are often paranoid about letting anyone know their real opinions about politics. They say that if they admit that they voted Democratic, Republicans would attack everything they publish as biased. And you know what? They probably would.

But Republicans already attack the media -- constantly -- for being biased. Perhaps if the press corps abandoned its faux non-partisanship, they would get some more respect from the GOP. But more importantly, if the press could admit to itself what it believed, it might not have to embark on anthropological expeditions across the midwest in order to understand Republicans.
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