The Magazine

It's Not Race, It's Arugula

Obama's real electoral challenge.

Jun 23, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 39 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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The divisions between these two classes tend to be deep. Academicians traffic in words and abstractions, and admire those who do likewise. Jacksonians prefer men of action, whose achievements are tangible. Academicians love nuance, Jacksonians clarity; academicians love fairness, Jacksonians justice; academicians dislike force and think it is vulgar; Jacksonians admire it, when justly applied. Each side tends to look down on the other, though academicians do it with much more intensity: Jacksonians think academicians are inconsequential, while academicians think that Jacksonians are beneath their contempt. The academicians' theme songs are "Kumbaya" and "Imagine," while Jacksonians prefer Toby Keith:

Well, a man come on the 6 o'clock news

Said somebody's been shot, somebody's been abused

Somebody blew up a building,

Somebody stole a car,

Somebody got away,

Somebody didn't get too far,

Yeah, they didn't get too far

Justice is the one thing you should always find.

You got to saddle up your boys,

You got to draw a hard line.

When the gun smoke settles, we'll sing a victory tune,

We'll all meet back at the local saloon.

We'll raise up our glasses against evil forces,

Singing "Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses."

Academicians don't think "evil forces" exist, and if they did, they would want to talk to them. This, and not color, seems to be the divide.

In their glory days (i.e., when they had a semi-permanent lease on the White House), the Democrats frequently sported a veneer of priesthood, but it covered a Jacksonian heart. In the beginning, Woodrow Wilson was "too proud to fight," a stance that enraged Franklin (and Theodore) Roosevelt, but in the end Wilson led his country into world leadership, and into the "war to end wars." FDR in his turn was a relentless hot warrior. Harry S. Truman--a Jacksonian, if ever there was one--bombed Japan back into the Stone Age and later drew two lines in the sand (in Berlin and Korea) against Communist powers, moves fervently backed by Congressman Kennedy, who later became JFK. Kennedy, a millionaire's son who took to the great country houses of England like a duck takes to water, scored his breakthrough primary win in, yes, West Virginia, when he sent Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. into the state to contrast his war record--and that of his brother, who died on a suicide mission--with Hubert Humphrey's draft deferment during World War II. Kennedy had no trouble in winning Jacksonians. Roosevelt and Kennedy were children of privilege who had passed through prep schools and Harvard but stayed in touch with their warrior side. In fact, so completely were Democrats linked to saber-rattling and assertion of power that as late as the 1976 election Bob Dole, a wounded World War II combat veteran, was still complaining of "Democrat wars."

It was when they lost their warrior edge that Democrats started losing the White House, winning only in unusual circumstances such as the Watergate scandal or in that brief window in history (from the fall of the Berlin Wall through September 11) when foreign threats had faded out of the picture. Reagan Democrats did resent post-1968 liberal activism--and racial preferences and busing much more than the original Civil Rights measures--but they also were drawn to the muscular foreign policy, democracy promotion, and unabashed patriotism of the FDR-HST-JFK line. When these were picked up by Ronald Reagan--who was himself an FDR fan and the very prototype of the Reagan Democrat--they quite willingly followed his lead into his new political bailiwick. When academicians insist that Republicans use fears about race and other cultural flashpoints to blind middle and lower class voters to what they call their "real interests," they forget that to most voters defense and security are often the most "real" issue of them all.