Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Democratic Demographic

This is the smartest and most important truth I've heard about American politics in more-or-less 20 years (before that I was too young to recognize a political truth if it was strung around my neck and tied to a galloping horse):
What the Democrats lost in their base [i.e. unions], they gained in the form of a generalized tolerance that seeped unconsciously into the brains of a whole generation. They became more of a demographic than a political party united by common interests.

[Emphasis mine.]
The quote is from an article by Matt Taibbi who, along with Mark Ames and John Dolan (who's probably the real "Gary Brechter" at the exile), is a writer whom the future is going to recognize as an H.L. Mencken or Hunter Thompson of our era. And that is saying something.

I don't know if Taibbi's been reading academic journals and putting what he learns together with what he sees on the campaign trail and his good-instincts-in-general, or what, but when I read that sentence I had a rare "Holy fucking shit, he's totally right" moment. If you know where to look, there are ninufars-growing-in-slimy-ponds-loads of good ideas on the internet. But rarely is there an idea that unravels the corset covering the luscious truth with a more skillful pull of the string than this, which I repeat:
[The Democrats] became more of a demographic than a political party united by common interests.
Well, here's a story.

About a week before the elections, my sister and I went phone-banking (basically, calling people up and convincing them to vote for a candidate) for Obama, here in California that everyone knew would, and did, go to Obama. We walked into Democratic Party headquarters with high hopes and expectations, but different ones: She was expecting the people there to be joyously positive, and I was expecting them to be bored. My reasoning was that Obama already had California, so why would Dem HQ people be excited about volunteers for Cali? I went in with the hope that the phone-banking that was being done was for other states, like Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, you know, states that mattered in the swing sense.

Turns out, she was right. There was a buzz in the air, like something really, really BIG was about to happen. I was wrong, but the buzz didn't intoxicate me enough to forget that phone-banking for Obama at that point was pointless. So I got into a minor tiff with the guy who was organizing what all the volunteers were doing. I asked him what the point about calling people in California to tell them to vote for Obama was, and he told me not to worry about it: Proposition 8 is what we could phone-bank about. Proposition 8 was the one about homosexuals marrying.

I don't really care about who marries whom, so I was on his side, but I wasn't about to devote several hours of my day that could be spent in enjoyable conversation with my sister to convincing traditional people that ass-fucking is an OK human activity. Have you ever tried convincing your grandmother that your gay cousin, as much as she loves him, isn't performing unnatural acts that sin against everything that is proper in the world? Fuck that. In any case, compared to the fate of the human race, gay marriage is an issue the size of a termite fart, in my humble opinion, and, in the end, it turns out that I was right and he was wrong: phone-banking about Prop 8 turned out to be totally futile (and I wish him the best of luck while he freezes his ass off in Utah trying to make Mormons gay-friendly).

So the conversation with the gay guy at that point was about to escalate into a real argument, with me yelling at him to give me something that is worthwhile to spend time on, and him telling me that Prop 8 is worth the time, when in walks an ugly-looking Hindu nerd with eyeglasses that fit on his head like a bra fits on the head of the Dalai Lama--right away I knew I had found the man.

I said to him that there was no point to phone-bank for Obama because he already had California and that, perhaps, the thing to do was to phone-bank for Russ Warner in Congressional district 26 who was running against a standard Republican body-snatched alien. And that is when the miracle happened: He took out the sheet that they had printed that had the script that phone-bankers were given to read, and he pointed to the last line: "And please remember to vote for Russ Warner for Congress." I looked at the area code, and sure enough it was the area code of district 26: I would be phone-banking for Russ Warner in district 26. Beatitude! End of potential buzz-killing argument.

So sis, who'd been watching with mild consternation my argument with the heathen get worked up to a potential fight--what with her 2-month old in the portable cradle next to us--breathed a sigh of relief, they gave us our phones and the list of people to call, and we sat down with our Obama-supporting fellow citizens to do some good in this world. My sister's strategy was different from mine. She would try to engage the people she called on a personal level; what I did was rifle through the talking points at break-neck speed, not caring what I ran over, getting the message across: "The election is in a few days, the place you are registered to vote is at such and such a place--Vote for Obama, Vote for Russ Warren." End of call.

We spent hours at that place, calling person after person, learning perhaps more than we needed to know about our fellow Obama supporters.

The people we called are a story unto themselves--a mix of really warm supporters and complete fucking assholes--but what struck me most were the people in our physical vicinity, the real people there at Democratic Headquarters. The first guy we noticed at HQ was the guy sitting next to my sister. He was an oldish, big, black guy who sat there for about 20 minutes at a time staring at the phone, pretending to be about to dial phone numbers. He very rarely dialed any numbers. What he would do was get up and go over to the snack table and grab himself something to eat. Then he would return to our table and start staring at the phone, again, while he munched on the snacks, pretending to be about to dial, but really dialing nobody but about 3-4 people the entire time. I wanted to get up and grab him by the collar and scream at his face, "Will you please stop acting like a fucking stereotype?"

Then there was the lady who came and sat down in front of us. I was, like I said, rifling away at the calls, one after the other, staring down at the phone and the list of number, but my sister was looking around her, checking out the atmosphere. I didn't give a shit about the atmosphere, or I did, marginally, as an anthropological curiosity, but sis was giving out signals that she would be willing to talk to other people. So she did. She got into a conversation with this woman who sat down in front of us, white woman in middle-age. As soon as she did, I got up and left to go smoke a cigarette--a still viable, if not rapidly dying, excuse to get out of a situation. I don't know what they talked about, but when I asked her about it afterwards, she mumbled something unmemorable.

The point is that on that phone-banking day there were many of "us," different people: A couple of Armos, a gay, a Hindu guy, a black guy, and a white woman. And, in spite of our differences, we felt somehow on the same side. And that is what the point behind this statement is:

[The Democrats] became more of a demographic than a political party united by common interests.

Something worth thinking about, something worth writing more about, but it's getting late.

5 comments:

Dante said...

You are too funny!!

Dante said...

you are too funny!

Ani said...

Had to find my ten-foot pole before commenting on this one....

The thing that strikes me most, and I can say it here because I'm pretty positive no Republicans are reading ;) is that, given simple ideology without racism, a great amount of non-white Americans would honestly embrace conservative values. What group goes to church more often and more systematically than African Americans? Who believes in conservative "family values" more than recent immigrants, and especially Latinos? Who wants government out of the way more than owners of small restaurants who don't want OSHA and the health department sniffing around?

Strip away the racism from the Republicans and they'd have the demographic you're talking about--but they're too clueness to notice. Well, that's not quite right, they're pushing Bobby Jindal forward, but you know that the hillbillies clinging to their guns aren't getting on board for him.

Armen Filadelfiatsi said...

I think that in spite of their social conservatism, Latinos and African-Americans, to their credit, haven't been stupid enough to vote against their economic interests, sacrifice it at the altar of their social conservatism. And since they have felt the effects of racism on their own skin, as it were, they haven't split themselves off from the Democratic party on account race, the way "white" people have, like the Dixiecrats.

This whole race issue is a dying thing, slowly but surely.

Speaking about demographics, check out this Onion clip:

http://tinyurl.com/5bakcs

nazarian said...

Racism is alive and well. I don't think it will go away in my lifetime. There is not only racism on the individual racism but racism is institutionalized. That's the kind of racism that's hard to eradicate because it's invisible.