Current Affairs

rhetoric of a new America

Certainly much talk about the historic election results. On CNN, one of the Republican commentators referred to his own party as a "Southern party," so much talk about they need to do. Also conversation about whether the Dem landslide means the nation has moved leftward. Predictably all the right-wingers who were decrying Obama as the "most liberal" member of the senate, even socialist, are now saying that he won b/c he adopted traditionally Republican values: tax cuts, etc. Also similar talk that Dems winning in Congress are also more centrist, though certainly that was not what was being said about them a week ago!

Who can believe any of this self-serving analysis?

This is what I see that’s interesting, though predictable, in CNN’s exit polls. Nationally, whites voted 55-43 for McCain, so non-whites won this election for Obama. Even more specifically, whites over 30 voted approx. 57-41 for McCain, while whites under 30 voted 54-44 for Obama. Some how I doubt that there’s ever been a presidential election where the clear choice of whites over 30 was not elected. And not only was not elected but lost by a significant margin.

The exit polls reproduce the divides of the elections of recent memory remain intact. White, less educated, Christian, older, rural men and women make the vast majority of Republican voters. Of these, education is probably the least determining fact. That is if a voter has all the other characteristics, s/he’s voting republican for the most part, regardless of education (though those with postgrad education vote Dem). On the flipside, urban, non-white, less religious or non-Christian, younger voters are the Dems. it would seem that the primary difference is that there are now more of these kinds of voters in a larger number of states (like VA, NC, FL, CO). But that doesn’t explain everything. It doesn’t explain Iowa, for example.

The big question now might be whether or not this election means that we have moved to the left as a nation. Were the right-wing pundits correct last week when they were saying how liberal the Dems are or are they correct today when they are saying that the Dems won by masquerading as or turning into Reps?

Or maybe, in our most pollyanna moment, we imagine moving beyond binary politics.

As I’ve written earlier, I don’t believe that democray is a rational process. Politics are affective. Trying to deduce a rational interpretation that says what an election "means," to assume that a rational message is sent from voters, is misleading. And this is not in anyway a slam against American voters. It is instead a position on what human behavior is like, especially on such a scale. I include myself in this. I cannot imagine any realistic conditions under which I would vote differently. Is it rational of me to say there is absolutely nothing one candidate could have done or said to persuade me? I don’t think so.

But rationality is over-rated. It’s a good faith but ultimately insufficient attempt to explain agency. And the left-right binary is just another part of that Cartesian mapping of political consciousness. Not that such matters are likely to drift into the mainstream any time soon, but I think that if you want to understand the new America, you’ll have to move to a post-Cartesian, post-rational mapping of the political subject.

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