During the last round of primaries, West Virginians, Kentuckians and Arkansans voted in large numbers for a Texas lawyer, a convict and "uncommitted" to avoid placing a stamp of approval on Barack Obama. Not since William Allen White's "What's the matter with Kansas" essay wondering why farmers rallied to the Populist in the 1890s has speculation on a type of voter been so acute.
Predictably, those who did not choose the president have been placed on a political hot seat. Instead of trying to understand why these citizens expressed their discontent with Obama, they are condemned. Certainly some "blue dog" Democrats will never be reconciled with the president, because of race, his birth certificate and simple visceral hostility. But one suspects that this motivation explains only a part of why border states and rural Democrats distrust Obama.
Liberals have for years ignored working class and rural voters. Preferring to engage in moral posturing there has been a tendency on the left to preach rather than to listen. All ideas come down from on high, not from a collective consensus. Values voters cannot be expected to embrace, those certain styles of behavior which many have been told since childhood were wrong. Educating the public is slow, and it must be done not in a patronizing way, but forcefully and openly. But if they don't agree, certainly do not question their intelligence. Adlai Stevenson in 1952, as election returns showed that Dwight Eisenhower was going to win, was complimented by supporters who said, "you surely educated the people." That was met with the reply, "but they flunked the course."
That is witty, but not helpful. Political parties cannot afford to get too far ahead of their constituencies. Democrats, however, have made a habit of doing just that. To dismiss all change in terms of cultural prejudice is to court destruction. Not all traditional views of religion, lifestyle and family are singularly wrong. And certainly not every frame of reference is the same.
People who are content with their lives do not appreciate being called bigoted, smug or both. For their money, it is an expression of the pace and rhythm that they desire in life. Democrats from almost every angle have spent a generation telling these voters that they are out of step - not progressive. If they do not rally to the latest liberal shibboleth, it is because "they" don't understand their own economic interest - ignoring that perhaps what they value is not that which is in their wallets. Again to lecture is to avoid trying to understand why some people refuse to embrace the age of Aquarius.
If liberals went back to doing what a generation of lefties did well, they would see that was to sit down with voters and learn what they prefer instead of trying to sell them on abstract ideas. No doubt that a subject as tender as enviromentalism could be broached is some concession to the economic benefits of fracking or coal. Having done that, make an effort to explain that although the short-term effects might be beneficial economically, the damage done to the land would be immeasurable. But you cannot make a cultural argument without knowing the culture. Condescension is not a good way to convince the voters. When people behave in a certain fashion, it behooves the progressive wing to analyze the ballot cast as a reflection of a legitimate point of view rather than deride it for simply being a result of ignorance.
Unless an open-hearted approach is used, progressives in the border states are going to have a tough time electing candidates. No amount of bobbing and weaving will keep Democrats in control unless they address concerns. Liberals can win, but only if they take time to have a productive dialogue with the electorate.