Identity Politics

Peter Canellos' Boston Globe editorial:

If Dean's use of the redneck stereotype [in the 2004 Presidential campaign] was so offensive, then Allen's having actually lived up to the stereotype [reports of his dislpaying the Confederate Flag] should be embarrassing, in the least. But Dean's offense wasn't that he reinforced a Southern stereotype, it was that he did so as a liberal Democrat from the North. All three attributes - liberal, Democrat, and North - fueled the outrage in equal measure, culminating in the ultimate putdown, "He doesn't understand the South."


Politics -- especially in presidential elections -- becomes less about issues and more about identity: The Democrats don't understand the South. The Republicans don't understand the North. A Democrat who talks about the Confederate flag is perpetuating a stereotype, while a Republican who displays a Confederate flag is wrestling with a difficult aspect of Southern identity.

In exit polls and voter interviews, some of these identity concerns probably get mistaken for differences in ''values" -- when the only value at stake is familiarity, the sense that each party has a stake in all sections of the country.
Go read the whole thing for a better comparison between Dean's use of the Confederate Flag as a symbol and Allen's use of the Confederate Flag as a label pin. Snark aside, the basic premise, that Democrats 'don't understand' the south and Republicans 'don't understand' the north is rather accurate.

I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. Rural PA is about as close as you can get to being in both places at the same time. Though a lot has changed in just the short amount of time I've been around to observe, the dirt track races I went to see on Saturday nights (and still do) often featured a Street Stock bearing the Stars and Bars, often painted orange with the number '01' on the side.

That said, you can go three or four miles from the race trackcan and find coffee shops that do a very good job of providing the sort of 'liberal' atmosphere often associated with New England cities and college towns.

I'm not really sure what insight my Pennsylvania upbringing gives me. I do know it lets me drive in snowy weather. My parents were (still are) good people who aren't hard-right Republicans. Maybe that's how I ended up where I am. But there were certainly people around who were. My eighth grade science (biology) teacher wouldn't teach evolution.

I don't really have a solid reaction to Mr. Canellos' editorial except that it's something we should think about and that his point - that there can be no national discussion until this divide is resolved - is one we should take as a warning.

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