November 5, 2004


Why Americans Hate Democrats—A Dialogue: The unteachable ignorance of the red states. (Jane Smiley, Nov. 4, 2004, Slate)

The day after the election, Slate's political writers tackled the question of why the Democratic Party—which has now lost five of the past seven presidential elections and solidified its minority status in Congress—keeps losing elections. Chris Suellentrop says that John Kerry was too nuanced and technocratic, while George W. Bush offered a vision of expanding freedom around the world. William Saletan argues that Democratic candidates won't win until they again cast their policies the way Bill Clinton did, in terms of values and moral responsibility. Timothy Noah contends that none of the familiar advice to the party—move right, move left, or sit tight—seems likely to help. Slate asked a number of wise liberals to take up the question of why Americans won't vote for the Democrats. [...]

I say forget introspection. It's time to be honest about our antagonists. My predecessors in this conversation are thoughtful men, and I honor their ideas, but let's try something else. I grew up in Missouri and most of my family voted for Bush, so I am going to be the one to say it: The election results reflect the decision of the right wing to cultivate and exploit ignorance in the citizenry. [...]

The error that progressives have consistently committed over the years is to underestimate the vitality of ignorance in America. Listen to what the red state citizens say about themselves, the songs they write, and the sermons they flock to. They know who they are—they are full of original sin and they have a taste for violence. The blue state citizens make the Rousseauvian mistake of thinking humans are essentially good, and so they never realize when they are about to be slugged from behind.

Here is how ignorance works: First, they put the fear of God into you—if you don't believe in the literal word of the Bible, you will burn in hell. Of course, the literal word of the Bible is tremendously contradictory, and so you must abdicate all critical thinking, and accept a simple but logical system of belief that is dangerous to question. A corollary to this point is that they make sure you understand that Satan resides in the toils and snares of complex thought and so it is best not try it.

Next, they tell you that you are the best of a bad lot (humans, that is) and that as bad as you are, if you stick with them, you are among the chosen. This is flattering and reassuring, and also encourages you to imagine the terrible fates of those you envy and resent. American politicians ALWAYS operate by a similar sort of flattery, and so Americans are never induced to question themselves. That's what happened to Jimmy Carter—he asked Americans to take responsibility for their profligate ways, and promptly lost to Ronald Reagan, who told them once again that they could do anything they wanted. The history of the last four years shows that red state types, above all, do not what to be told what to do—they prefer to be ignorant. As a result, they are virtually unteachable.

Third, and most important, when life grows difficult or fearsome, they (politicians, preachers, pundits) encourage you to cling to your ignorance with even more fervor. But by this time you don't need much encouragement—you've put all your eggs into the ignorance basket, and really, some kind of miraculous fruition (preferably accompanied by the torment of your enemies, and the ignorant always have plenty of enemies) is your only hope. If you are sufficiently ignorant, you won't even know how dangerous your policies are until they have destroyed you, and then you can always blame others.

The reason the Democrats have lost five of the last seven presidential elections is simple: A generation ago, the big capitalists, who have no morals, as we know, decided to make use of the religious right in their class war against the middle class and against the regulations that were protecting those whom they considered to be their rightful prey—workers and consumers. The architects of this strategy knew perfectly well that they were exploiting, among other unsavory qualities, a long American habit of virulent racism, but they did it anyway, and we see the outcome now—Cheney is the capitalist arm and Bush is the religious arm. They know no boundaries or rules. They are predatory and resentful, amoral, avaricious, and arrogant. Lots of Americans like and admire them because lots of Americans, even those who don't share those same qualities, don't know which end is up. Can the Democrats appeal to such voters? Do they want to? The Republicans have sold their souls for power. Must everyone? Being of the Stupid Party I'm afraid I got lost at the point where she said that the Left believes people are inherently good but that we're the ones who are ignorant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 5, 2004 12:03 AM

Well: she seems willing to posit that Democrats aren't Americans. Being the son and brother of Democrats, who I love dearly, that's a lot farther than I'd go; but maybe it's a useful starting point. You are Americans. Please start living up to that.

Posted by: joe shropshire at November 5, 2004 12:11 AM

Who is this person and who forgot to give her medicine and why is this stuff being touted as worth serious consideration? The last time I heard ravings like this it was 1968 and I knew that the rads had gotten into the stash.

My guess is that she is the subject of much head shaking an sighing back home in Missouri.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at November 5, 2004 2:49 AM


That is probably the ugliest thing you have ever posted.

Words are inadequate to describe her overweening arrogance.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 5, 2004 5:55 AM

I only wish Slate would do a follow-up and ask her about what the goals of George "King of the Gypsies" Soros are, in releation to the use of his billions of filthy capitalist lucre

Posted by: John at November 5, 2004 6:25 AM

The longer the self-appointed elites, I extend my Al Franken challenge to Ms Smiley, maintain that Americans vote for Republicans because Americans are too stupid and ignorant to be trusted with the franchise, the quicker the Democrats will careen to oblivion.

Since, despite the best efforts of the Supreme Court and the ACLU, Americans remain a free people with the right to select their own leadeship, the Democrats must figure out a way to appeal to a greater share of the vote than they have been doing. This requires them to come up with a message that will, for want of a better word, sell.

I don't know a whole lot about marketing but it seems to me that a TV commercial which showed arrogant people yelling at you.'BUY THIS CAR OR YOU'RE AN IDIOT!!!!' wouldn't be terribly successful.

Posted by: Bart at November 5, 2004 6:27 AM

For some reason this post reminds me of Woody Allen trying to kill a spider the size of a Buick in Annie Hall's bathroom. You know, after Annie began to read National Review.

I recently saw a documentary on Woody in which he explained that all of his movies were an attempt to prove that God did not exist. (Or, could not exist, I guess.)

Maybe these guys are just jealous because they don't believe they have a soul to sell.

Posted by: Randall Voth at November 5, 2004 6:40 AM

There's nothing to really look at here in the content of this raving lunatic, but I feel contrained to renew my continuing objection to her use of the word,"progressive."

Leftists, Marxists, Homosexuals, nature-worshippers, multi-culturalists, and Europhiles are not for progress. Each and every one one them is more than reactionary, they are atavistic.

Read their insane ramblings, if you dare. They all want to return to the past, to a time before the Bourgiosie, or the Patriarchs [Ye holy Patriarchs and Prophets, Pray for Us.] or the capitalists, or the Jews and Christians, or the White people or somebody else, messed everything up. Give us a break! Most of them don't even believe in progress as we understand it, they believe in cycles, or reincarnation, or the golden age before the rise of the West or something like that.

Do not allow then to hijack the word, "Progressive."

Posted by: Lou Gots at November 5, 2004 7:32 AM

Jeff: -

As I wrote on another Bros Judd thread, this isn't particularly rare. It's all over the left-wing blogs. Brad Delong's Kos, etc. Let me quote you an entry from Crooked Timber that made my head shake:

(apologies in advance for the bandwidth waste)

*********Begin quote*****************

Seth, I have to disagree with you when you say Liberals are a condescending lot. I think the problem is just the opposite I dont think they condescend enough. They are always trying to figure out how to understand the great Other, those little old ladies who are voting for Bush cause they were pushed out of their cheap housing by the coffeehouse krewe. Gee, how did those little old ladies get those houses? Could it be the liberals that institutued the VHA programs at the end of WWII, as the prototype of the government supported market in mortgages? Could it be that those little old ladies were once young ladies who made sure that VHA laws discriminated systematically against blacks getting loans for houses, and formed neighborhood associations with covenants so that you could not sell houses to blacks, or Jews for that matter? The tissue of prejudice is rank, runs straight through their past, and theyd be voting for Bush anyway what is the downside? As long as they could suck off of federal entitlement programs that were designed to support the midle class by condescending liberals, they could vote for conservative values candidates because those candidates would make sure that no gay or black or darkly colored person got a bit of the honeypot.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at November 5, 2004 7:37 AM

****Continue Quote************

As for the Rousseauian savage taxi drivers emanating natural wisdom far above the spiritual abilities of the college professoriat to digest, what nuggets of wisdom do they possess?

The family and friends obligations are a hoot. Is it out of lovingkindness that you oblige your teenage daughter to carry her baby to term? Or how about those rural families, living in vast swathes of the country where the major growth industry is the methamphetimine biz, who lovingly believe in right to work and definitely dont want their neighborhoods invaded by the Mexican. These paragons of obligation turn up consistently in the stats for alcoholism while strongly supporting the right of the state to incarcerate a larger portion of the population than is incarcerated in any Free world country. There are, after all, great jobs in the jail industry. Their extended families depend on the medicare benefits and the pitiful health benefits from work that they zealously want to take away from same sex couples see the Ohio votes about civil unions.

Condescention? No, one has to develop something a little more powerful. Contempt.

*****End Quote*********************

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at November 5, 2004 7:39 AM

I had thought that I had come to terms with most of my entertainment dollars going to political idiots, but Smiley isn't a good enough novelist for me to keep on reading her stuff after reading this.

Posted by: David Cohen at November 5, 2004 7:46 AM

I know all about Eric and Julia Roberts, but are Jane Smiley and Harry Eager the same people?

Posted by: Peter B at November 5, 2004 8:26 AM

Randall, isn't Woody Allen the same guy who has sex with his adopted daughter.

We should encourage these crazy people to write more stuff like this. This is our secret weapon. This is why the GOP wins.

Posted by: pchuck at November 5, 2004 9:59 AM

This is the kind of commentary that makes you want to get up in the morning. God forbid if the left ever starts down the correct path. How boring would that be?

Posted by: JP at November 5, 2004 10:15 AM

"The blue state citizens make the Rousseauvian mistake of thinking humans are essentially good..."

Someone please help me out. If you admit your basic premise is wrong, doesn't that pretty much infer that everything that follows is wrong as well?

Posted by: Rick T. at November 5, 2004 10:28 AM

Two words: Beyond parody.

Posted by: Roy Jacobsen at November 5, 2004 10:45 AM


I checked out the dailykos over the last couple days--well and truly appalling, just as your cite shows.

Had Kerry won, nothing even remotely approximating this acidic bilge would have come from the right, as OJ's essay on election day showed.


Their hijacking the word "progressive" is their downfall, as it instills overwhelming antibodies against critical analysis.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 5, 2004 12:09 PM

BTW--Check out the whinge-fest at

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 5, 2004 12:12 PM

Way too late on progressive, Guy.

Peter, I'm shocked. I don't know who Smiley is, I seldom read current novels. I was a one-issue voter with no candidate, so I didn't cast a vote for president. (A cheap stand for priniple in a state where the outcome was certain.) That issue is the one that is so conspicuously absent from her screed.

I don't mind being dissed for what I am, but it irritates me to be dissed for things I'm not. I try to write clearly.

Speaking of things that are not, has anybody seen Dick Chaney since Tuesday?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 5, 2004 3:57 PM


All right, I let post-election euphoria get the better of me. I agree you don't really write about living Christians that way. Just all the dead ones.

Posted by: Peter B at November 5, 2004 4:14 PM

Dick introduced the president at the victory party on Wednesday.

Smiley's best known work probably is "A Thousand Acres" which is King Lear set in the Midwest. She is about 6 feet tall and has an ego that's much taller.

Posted by: George at November 5, 2004 4:17 PM