Brownback on the Red-Blue Divide
In its December 18th issue, the New Republic offers a window into the soul of Kansas Republican Senator and 2008 White House hopeful Sam Brownback. Tracing Brownback's dual conversions from small government Gingrich acolyte to red meat culture warrior and from devout evangelical to Catholic firebrand, TNR ponders his presidential prospects.
But Brownback's' new found extremism aside, the most illuminating nugget in Noam Scheiber's piece may be the themes of victimization and inferiority that underlay the rage and seething of red state crusaders Brownback represents. As Scheiber details, Brownback offers up a 21st century version of the elite blue state bogeyman sneering at his slack-jawed brethren in America's heartland:
Brownback turns to me and explains his theory of red-state/blue-state relations. People who live in Red America know plenty about Blue America. They often work in large cities, or they travel to them on vacation, or they hear about them through popular culture. But the opposite is almost never true. "If they"--the people in Blue America--"travel at all," Brownback says, "they go abroad, like to Europe or Tokyo." I can't say for sure, but I think he is paying me a compliment.
Suprisingly, a similar but much simpler formulation for the red state chip-on-the-shoulder comes from the left end of the spectrum. On NBC's Studio 60 (a "Saturday Night Live" behind-the-scenes comic drama), West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin provides this culture war summary from lefty script-master Matt to his born-again star and former girlfriend Harriet:
"Your side hates my side because you think we think you're stupid, and my side hates your side because we think you're stupid."
Ultimately, Brownback and Sorkin's resentment thesis may help explain the popularity of Fox News, but not much else. (For more on the victimhood strain in conservative culture, see Rick Perlstein's in-depth piece in the July 3, 2006 issue of the New Republic.) At the end of the day, red and blue Americans differ on the fundamental issue of expanding the zone of individual liberty and autonomy in the United States. That is, should economic security, personal safety, health care and respect for private family choices be increasingly available to all Americans, or just those of a given race, class or faith? Red in the face, Sam Brownback answers the latter.
Of course, both Brownback and Sorkin are offering caricatures to describe the current American political and cultural cleavage. But only Brownback wants to be president of the United States.