Balkinization  

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Josh Marshall and "Real Voters"

JB

I think Josh Marshall mischaracterizes the situation when he accuses "Republicans (and also non-Republicans) [of arguing] that non-white voters somehow aren't quite real voters. The point is often framed as noting how up-the-creek Democrats would be without black voters."

Parties are made up of collations of voters. It's pretty clear that blacks are key members of the Democratic Party's coalition, just as white Christian evangelicals are key parts of the Republican Party's coalition. (In fact, white evangelicals are likely to split their votes more evenly among the two parties than are African-Americans.).

Unlike Josh, I don't think this sort of rhetoric is trying to argue that blacks aren't real voters. No one is claiming that they aren't American citizens. (That insinuation is more likely to be raised with respect to other minorities, like Asians or Latinos. On the other hand, it has been insinuated about the Labor Party in Israeli elections in years past because of consistent support for Labor by Israel's Arab citizens.)

Rather, reminding people that Democrats would do terribly without a particular constituency (like blacks) is usually offered to insinuate that Democratic politicians are too much influenced by the interests of blacks (or gays or, in the case of the recent South Dakota House election, Native Americans.) Arguing that Democrats would be nowhere politically without the black vote is a way of saying that Democrats care about blacks too much and aren't paying enough attention to the interests of white voters. You can see how this sort of rhetoric meshed easily over the years with the Republican southern strategy. (By the way, I think that some Democrats, particularly in the North and East, do pretty much the same thing with the Religious Right-- they make hay by arguing that the Republican Party is in the pocket of the Religious Right. This is an exaggeration, as I shall explain below).

There are two ironies about this sort of argument. First, it tends to be made about the groups most loyal to the party in question, but not about swing voters. But swing voters may in fact, as their name implies, be the most crucial determinants of who actually wins elections. Take Latinos as an example. In the 2000 Presidential election, Democrats got about 62 percent of the Latino vote, while the Republicans got about 35 percent. That's a margin of 27 percent for the Democrats, and it was crucial to Democrats doing as well as they did. However, you don't hear all that many Republicans going around arguing that the Democrats would be nowhere without the Latino vote. But that's not because it's not true. In fact, Latino voters do make a crucial difference for Democrats. Rather, it's because Republicans really want the Latino vote. Ideally, they'd like to increase Latino support from about 35 percent to 40 percent or more. If they can do that they will do very well in national elections.

Thus, even though Latinos are crucial to Democratic margins of victory, most Republicans don't want to piss off Latinos by blaming them for Democratic successes. Indeed, the last thing they want to insinuate is that the Democrats are altogether too solicitous of the interests of Latinos, because Republicans want to claim that they are the ones who really care about the things that Latinos care about.

Contrast this to African Americans. For some time now, lots of (but certainly not all) Republicans, particularly in the South and the West, have pretty much written off the black vote, and so they are perfectly happy reminding their white constituents that the Democrats are altogether too cozy with African-Americans and are not paying enough attention to the interests of disgruntled white voters.

The second irony follows from the first. The insinuation that Democrats are too wedded to black interests is particularly ironic because the more loyal a group is to a particular party, the easier it sometimes is to take them for granted. Both African-Americans and the Religious Right have often felt taken for granted by the two major political parties for this very reason. Both blacks and the Religious Right have no place else to go if the two parties stiff them. And so the two major political parties regularly do stiff them on all sorts of issues.



Comments:

"Thus, even though Latinos are crucial to Democratic margins of victory, most Republicans don't want to piss off Latinos by blaming them for Democratic successes. Indeed, the last thing they want to insinuate is that the Democrats are altogether too solicitous of the interests of Latinos, because Republicans want to claim that they are the ones who really care about the things that Latinos care about."

Then, if that's the case, if Republicans are giving Democrats much room to be solicitous to Latinos, then Democrats and Democratic candidates such as Kerry should not be afraid of going to Latino communities such as East L.A. and encouraging people to vote. They should not be afraid of appearing with Dolores Huerta. But I think they are. Are they afraid that Republicans will find a way to portray such overtures as "pandering to special interests"? or are they afraid that just any overtures to the Latino community will automatically turn off white voters, even without Republican intervention? It has been 36 years since RFK broke bread with Cesar Chavez.
 

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