Yglesias has no shortage of smart ideas.
The fascinating finding in this dKos polling data on people’s attitudes to various locations that frequently serve as right-wing bogeymen is to some extent obscured by the presentation of all the cross tabs. This chart I made boils down the key facts that San Francisco, New York, Europe, and even the dread France are popular among the public at large and even Republicans at large but held in low esteem specifically in the South:
Way back in his 1998 Atlantic article “The Southern Captivity of the GOP”, Christopher Caldwell was warning that “the Republicans have narrowly defined ‘values’ as the folkways of one regional subculture, and have urged their imposition on the rest of the country.”
Like most articles describing why political parties are suffering from deep, structural flaws, Caldwell’s was ultimately undermined by the basic reality that events matter. A combination of poor ballot design, a compliant Supreme Court, and America’s moronic election system put George W. Bush in the White House despite the fact that most people didn’t want him to be president. Then 9/11 changed which issues people care about and led to GOP wins in 2002 and 2004. But you do see that pattern Caldwell identified coming into play a lot nowadays. It’s not really clear why you would think that “disdain for cosmopolitan cities and Europe” should be constitutive of conservatism, but it does seem to be a widespread element of the southern worldview, and it’s increasingly been adopted as the overwhelming posture of conservatism as such.
And of course, that makes a hell of a lot of sense. William Buckley and his heirs at National Review and Weekly Standard are well-educated north easterners, for the main part, as are most of the other folks who head and populate the DC rightwing think tanks. You may have seen the Jon Stewart show where Bill Kristol made a reference to Stewart as a West Side Manhattanite. The West Side is where Kristol has always lived too.
But the south has always been the bastion of reactionary folkways, not really very happy to have all those wrong sorts of people pouring into the port cities and diluting the genetic purity of the land (often oddly unmindful of the identical arrival of their own ancestors). A potent political force nonetheless, from Nixon on up, the Republicans have worked to pull the south into their political orbit. An irony here is that it might be more appropriate now to understand the situation as the south pulling the Republicans into their orbit. This is a relationship the RNC must reformulate but it’s not at all clear how they are going to do that.
Another aspect I’ve mentioned earlier is the use that the monied or controlling classes have made of populist sentiments and dynamics. Populism commonly (and very reasonably) targets that monied class as its structural or natural opponent. Thus it behooves that class to define the political conversation such that some other “elite” becomes the bad guys towards whom the smelly masses ought to be targeting as the cause of their travails. Universities (founts of Darwinian evolution, atheism, internationalism, liberalism, etc) make a good substitute target. Government who will write regulations and demand taxes is a good target too, particularly for that monied class who have an appetite for even more money and even less regulation. It’s promoted as a win/win for that anti-tax/anti-regulation crowd and for the rather poorly off in the south (and elsewhere) but as Katrina and this latest financial crisis (and much else) suggests, it’s really mainly a very big win for one side.
Update: For more, see polling data at Kos
h/t Andrew Sullivan