If the question had been put outright, my friend and I agreed, a supermajority would have voted on our side: Do you want to live in a nation where a few ultra-rich individuals own as much as everyone else put together, have carte blanche to use their wealth to shape public policy, yet feel completely free to export jobs and profits?
But the mystery, as always, is why so many voters choose not to see the question in this light, casting their ballots against their own economic and social interests.
In Tuesday’s Wisconsin gubernatorial recall vote, Governor Scott Walker won re-election by 200,000 votes. The spin and analysis are flying hard and fast: Walker spent 88% of the money to get 53% of the votes, we are told. Progressives are circulating Wisconsin Senator Mark Miller’s morning-after email, which suggests a silver lining:
Last night was a tough night for us in Wisconsin. After being outspent 8 to 1 by Scott Walker and the billionaire Koch brothers, we lost the gubernatorial recall.
But what the national media is not telling you is: I am the new Democratic Senate Majority Leader after winning an important Senate recall election by just hundreds of votes.
Starting today, Senate Democrats will be a strong check on Scott Walker’s power. If Walker tries to pass extreme policies that bust unions, hurt women, or attack middle-class families, we will have one word for him: No. We will demand laws that benefit the middle class and start repairing our state.
Thirty-eight percent of union voters supported Scott Walker, the most vicious union-buster in living memory:
Some observers expected the collective bargaining issue to strike a chord with union members, and while union households voted in greater numbers than they did in 2010, Walker’s 38-percent performance among these voters was virtually identical to the 37 percent he won two years ago. Among non-union voters, Walker ticked up, from 56 percent in 2010 to 61 percent on Tuesday.
Walker had a 13 percent margin with voters without college degrees, a marker for membership in the working class. Wisconsin is divided, like most states, between urban and rural/small town/suburban voters; Walker carried most counties, but places like Milwaukee and Madison swung the other way, in part due to higher turnouts by young voters and voters of color in those areas, on account of organizing by the League of Young Voters and others.
People have been pointing me to Jonathan Haidt’s recent analysis in The Guardian, based on his new book, which is in turn based on the studies in social psychology described on his website, YourMorals.org.
Haidt rightly dismisses the condescending liberal-left tendency to see working-class voters who cast their ballots on the right as mere dupes, instead seeking a deeper explanation grounded in moral appeals:
Here’s a more painful but ultimately constructive diagnosis, from the point of view of moral psychology: politics at the national level is more like religion than it is like shopping. It’s more about a moral vision that unifies a nation and calls it to greatness than it is about self-interest or specific policies. In most countries, the right tends to see that more clearly than the left. In America the Republicans did the hard work of drafting their moral vision in the 1970s, and Ronald Reagan was their eloquent spokesman. Patriotism, social order, strong families, personal responsibility (not government safety nets) and free enterprise. Those are values, not government programmes.
The Democrats, in contrast, have tried to win voters’ hearts by promising to protect or expand programmes for elderly people, young people, students, poor people and the middle class. Vote for us and we’ll use government to take care of everyone! But most Americans don’t want to live in a nation based primarily on caring. That’s what families are for.
Haidt and his colleagues have “identified six moral concerns as the best candidates for being the innate ‘taste buds’ of the moral sense: care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation.” He makes the point that on the left side of the aisle, caring is a chief value, while loyalty, authority, and sanctity are not driving moral concerns. But on the right, they are more and more primary:
Despite being in the wake of a financial crisis that—if the duping theorists were correct—should have buried the cultural issues and pulled most voters to the left, we are finding in America and many European nations a stronger shift to the right. When people fear the collapse of their society, they want order and national greatness, not a more nurturing government.
He says that the left equates fairness with equality, the right with proportionality, so that the right is exercised by the idea of “welfare cheats,” who they see as benefiting without having contributed, while the left is far more upset by the unfairness of, say, billionaires who lobby to cut workers’ wages and benefits.
In the end, Haidt offers an echo of George Lakoff’s metaphoric dichotomy, that the right seeks the governmental equivalent of a strict father-led family, while the left prizes the nurturant parent.
I see useful truth in Haidt’s analysis, and yet, I’m not sure it suffices. His six moral concerns can be defined in many different ways: are we talking about liberty as freedom from constraint, or as the means to exercise such freedom? Does loyalty mean “my country, right or wrong?” or does it mean shouldering duty, even unpleasant duty? And what about the huge gap between the right’s claims to fairness and its actual policies: where does hypocrisy enter in?
Yet I see ways to redeploy some of the relevant value assertions on behalf of progressive candidates and policies, such as asserting the democratic authority of We, The People as against the bullying unfairness of the Koch brothers and their ilk; or upholding the sanctity of the democratic values enshrined in our Constitution as against the well-funded right’s deeply subversive desire to rule like kings.
What would happen if the next campaign accused big-money far-right donors of treason against the founders’ sacred democratic principles? What if we used those words, charging them with bullying, disloyalty, betrayal, and subversion?
To me, they are accurate descriptions, not of the voters who case their ballots for people like Walker, but of the big-dollar, far-right donors and the masterminds they employ to shape their campaigns. In this recent recall election, as of the 29 May campaign filings, Barrett received $1 million (out of $4 million total) from out of state; Walker received nearly two-thirds of his $30.5 million contributions from out of state sources.
What do you think?
I love this version of “One of These Mornings” by Moby with Patti LaBelle.
One of these mornings
It won’t be very long
They will look for me
And I’ll be gone
This is what I want to say to the people who are smugly rejoicing after the Wisconsin election about their ability to buy and sell democracy. There are many millions more of us than them. What are we waiting for?