Back in 2004, Thomas Frank wrote a famous book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”, in which he lamented working class white people’s choices to vote their “values” rather than what — in his not-so-humble opinion — was in their “genuine” economic interests. Why didn’t they identify as liberals and vote Democratic?
Frank’s book was the midwife of President Obama’s infamous “clinging to guns and God” remark on April 11, 2008:
“You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. … It’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion … as a way to explain their frustrations,” he told a group of rich San Francisco liberal donors.
The last few years have not been kind to Frank’s or Obama’s dogmatic assumptions that economic liberalism is in the interest of Kansas — i.e., the working people of America.
The presumed tension between Kansans’ economic interests and their social values appears increasingly fake.
But in the meantime, as Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker’s dramatic heresy on Bain capital last weekend shows, the inverse divide is opening up in the Democratic base that could be called “What’s the Matter with Manhattan?”
Liberals live in rich social enclaves with artistic, progressive values that are underwritten largely by the wealth that Wall Street and capitalism create.
A 2009 Quinnipiac poll notes that socially liberal values rise with income — “support for same-sex marriage also rises with income, as those making less than $50,000 per year oppose it 54 to 39 percent, while voters making more than $100,000 per year support it 58 to 36 percent.”
The very rich are disproportionately strong social liberals, whom Bill Clinton persuaded could safely vote for Democrats. Obama’s attacks on private equity and the 1 percent are making them think anew: Why should Manhattan vote their values against their pocketbooks?
Manhattan (metaphorically speaking) is thinking hard about that:
In 2008 Obama carried the majority of the rather rich — those making $200,000 or more per year — earning 52 percent of the vote, which was 17 points more than John Kerry in 2004. The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Obama trailing among the more modestly affluent — those making $100,000 or more — 49 percent to 43 percent.
Raul Fernandez, part owner of the Washington Capitals and the Washington Wizards, donated $30,000 to Obama in 2008. He told The Washington Post last month to count him into the “anybody but Obama” camp. “They paint (wealth creation) with one big brush,” Fernandez told the paper. “They are truly trying to make it evil.”
And it’s not just as donors that these people count.
According to the National Journal, more than one-third of Virginia voters make more than $100,000 per year, and 7 percent make more than $200,000 a year — more than the coveted Latino voters in that state. In Colorado, another swing state, 8 percent of voters make $200,000 a year or more. Obama carried them last time around by double digits (compared to Bush’s 66 percent of this vote in 2004).
If Manhattan — or more to the point Aspen, Colo. — votes its economic interests instead of its social values, Obama loses. “What’s the matter with Aspen?” could become Thomas Frank’s new rallying crime.
Meanwhile “Kansas,” metaphorically speaking, is ever more unified against Obama:
Obama won just 40 percent of non-college-educated whites in 2008. Last week’s Quinnipiac poll showed him winning just 32 percent of them against Romney.
In another swing state, Florida, a poll released this week shows Obama’s deficit among white voters is growing, especially among those without a college degree; Obama now trails Romney 57 percent to 30 percent among less educated whites.
In Florida, the social issues are clearly helping Romney. Twenty-two percent of voters say gay marriage will be “very” or “extremely” important to their vote. They are breaking for Romney 2-1.
Liberals such as Frank thought that working class white voters were so dumb they were being fooled by Republicans into voting against their economic interests by “ginned up” social issues campaigns. Kansans knew better.
Obama is trying to borrow that model, to get affluent white voters to vote against their economic interests by ginning up social issue campaigns like the war on women or endorsing gay marriage.
Will Manhattan be as smart as Kansas?