Searching in real America
Even as professional Republicans hasten to turn Mitt Romney into an unmentionable nonentity like George W. Bush, journalists are fanning out into the hinterlands like anthropologists to study the impact of President Obama’s re-election upon the GOP candidate’s dedicated supporters.
A friend who watched the election results in an Arkansas county courthouse described the reaction: “When ‘OBAMA AGAIN!!’ flashed across my iPad, you should have seen the looks. Utter blank stares. Devastation. They couldn’t process the fact that the president had won. It was like a couple looking over a burned-out house, with nothing left but a chimney and a pile of ashes. It was quite revealing and a bit eerie.”
The Washington Post’s Eli Saslow profiled a Romney campaign worker in Hender-sonville, Tenn., struggling to contain her disappointment (“GOP’s Red America forced to rethink what it knows about the country,” The Washington Post, Nov 11, 2012). It’s a terrific piece of reporting. Having confidently planned a victory dance, Beth Cox had trouble grasping the magnitude of the Republican defeat. It astonished her that even “Southern-values Virginia” had voted for President Obama.
Fox News pundits and right-wing talk radio had her persuaded that even historically Democratic-leaning states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin would support the GOP. “And Colorado?” she said. “Who the heck is living in Colorado? Do they want drugs, dependency, indulgence? Don’t they remember what this country is about?”
It’s interesting that Cox sees President Obama, personally the straightest-shooter to occupy the White House since Jimmy Carter, in such terms. But then to the married, 44-year-old mother of two teenage daughters, the election was less a political event than an extension of what she calls her “Godly life” — an existence theologically and sociologically limited to persons who look and believe exactly like her.
Everybody outside that circle strikes her as suspect; Democrats as moochers, deadbeats and enemies of God.
It’s a mindset straight out of John Bunyan’s 17th-century Puritan allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, as annotated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Some of her friends, she told the Post, have concluded that only God can save America from itself.
“God put us in the desert,” she said. “We are in the desert right now.”
Actually, she’s in a white-flight suburb of Nashville (which voted for Obama, like many Southern cities).
Everybody in the South knows somebody like Beth Cox, a perfectly decent, intelligent woman whose spiritual home is the Southern Baptist mega-church of which her husband is pastor — one of those sprawling, edge-of-town affairs with 7,000 members, auditorium seating, volleyball courts, a children’s center and a “techno-lit recreation room for teenagers.”
Essentially theological WalMarts, such churches have grown up across the region to replace the small towns Southern suburbanites grew up in. Alas, most are turning out to be even more class- and ethnically-stratified.
Unless she makes an effort, a woman like Cox never has to deal with anybody she doesn’t agree with on most personal and political issues. The women’s prayer group she leads sounds like a meeting of sorority sisters striving to win a Best Mother/Most Happily Married competition whose existence is never acknowledged.
Mirror, mirror on the wall / Who’s the holiest Mommy of all?
But if Cox won’t let her girls read “Harry Potter” for fear of witchcraft, politically she’s no fool. She thinks the GOP has gotten “way too white,” and should field more minority candidates. She believes tea party extremists alienated voters and that “crazy immigration talk and legitimate rape” comments did Romney’s campaign irreparable harm.
It was also brave of Cox to speak so frankly to a Washington Post reporter. Over time, it may gradually dawn on her that the Obama-as-Antichrist theme Fox News and Glenn Beck have sold her is every bit as phony as their election predictions.
Meanwhile, out in Cheyenne, Wyo., New York Times reporter Jack Healy finds that “a blanket of baffled worry has descended on conservatives ... like early snow across the plains.” Although Wyoming receives more federal funds per capita than any other state, manly self-reliance was all disappointed Republicans wanted to talk about.
“The parasites now outnumber the producers,” one Bradley Harrington explained. “That’s why Romney lost, and I think it’s going to get worse.”
And Harrington’s very productive profession? Rancher? Miner? Oil field roughneck? No, he’s a talk radio yakker — a trade even more useless than newspaper columnist. I wonder if he wears a cowboy hat?
As it’s all about Mitt’s mythical 47 percent, let’s go over the numbers again: fully 23 percent of that cohort are retired individuals drawing Social Security benefits their taxes paid for; according to the Tax Policy Foundation, another 60 percent work at low-paying jobs for employers such as Walmart. Even so, they remit payroll taxes comparable to the 13.9 percent Federal income taxes Romney reported.
Most of the remaining 17 percent who pay no Federal income taxes are unemployed; the majority temporary victims of hard times.
Any chance we could change the channel and get back to work on the nation’s real problems?
(Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at email@example.com.)