Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Obama Angles For GOP's Small Town Folksy Imagery

What happens when Kansas figures out "what's the matter" with itself? Conservative columnist David Brooks sees the end of the GOP's dominance on small town issues that use to be soaked in flimsy, folksy concepts of decades past.

Brooks' column today in the New York Times seems to be pushing conservatives to press the panic button; President Obama is becoming a cultural Republican!
America once had a responsible economic culture, Obama argued. People used to save their pennies to buy their dream houses. Banks used to lend by “traditional standards.” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac used to stick to their “traditional mandate.” Companies like A.I.G. used to limit themselves to the “traditional insurance business.”
Brooks sees the gambit as possibly "the greatest train robbery in American politics." Maybe it would be. Something akin to President Clinton ending welfare "as we know it." The reality is, Obama's outreach to the fiscal "values" and hard-work ethos of traditional America is actually a case of Democrats appealing to an important base that should have been in their column since Ronald Reagan snatched it from liberals nearly 30 years ago.

One of the basic tenets of this blog to draw out the distinctions made in Thomas Frank's seminal book, "What's the Matter with Kansas?" The book famously theorizes conservative working class Americans do not vote with their economic interests in mind when they vote for Republicans. Along the way, the Three G's--Gays, Guns and God--appeal to their morality and clouds their decision-making.

When Brooks says, "If Republicans aren’t nervous, they should be" he isn't kidding. The Republican is dangerously close to becoming merely a regional Southern entity characterized by extreme religious right wingers. The issues of small town values is just about the only notable issue they possess unless the U.S. decides to fight a war against China over the issue of abortion. And I doubt that will happen. Although China does have too many people.

It was already unclear how, in an era when Americans have kitchen table problems to worry about rather than the standard social red herrings typically used by conservatives, the GOP can be able to formulate a plan to revive its brand image. I don't normally give advice to conservatives, but heed Brooks' words. You cannot allow Democrats to be the party of financial order and small town fiscal responsibility. Don't ask me how to stop it, though. How do you stop a runaway avalanche? You don't.

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