The Fear Machine

25 Aug

The demographics of the voting class in this country have forever changed.  This has forced some changes in our national politics and the way the two parties work to maximize turnout in support of their agenda.  I’ll address how one party is handling this demographic shift because, well, it’s my site.

The Republican agenda or platform, as far as I can tell, consists of the following issues: tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts in social spending, corporate deregulation, abolition of unions, privatization of municipal services, perpetual empire building/foreign war, increased military spending, Israel, Israel, Israel, and in recent years…promoting a fear of “the other”.

Let’s go to the data to back up that last assertion.

In 2008, 90% of those who cast a vote for John McCain and his VP nominee, Crazypants McGee, were white. As a percentage of the overall voting populace, McCain captured a total of 55% of the white vote while Obama took 45% of the vote.

Yes, a candidate won a race for President in the United States without carrying a majority of white male voters. The 45% of white American men who cast a vote for Obama were not necessarily spread out around the country in an orderly fashion. Here’s a handy map reflecting the national distribution of white male votes for Obama.


Unsurprisingly, you’ll note that Obama did poorly in the southern states as well as other traditional red states which now make up the national dixie belt. Obama did surprisingly well in some of the least diverse states in the North like Wisconsin, Vermont, Oregon, Washington and Maine.  There is something to that data point that I hope to get to in the future.  However, Obama didn’t need the white male vote because he took 59% of the vote for non-white men.  This chart shows Obama’s non-white male vote distribution around the country.


Looks a lot different, doesn’t it?

Combined with data which show the GOP fares very poorly with the expanding hispanic and african-american demographics, the strategy for the GOP and the conservative movement is clear.  Foment a feeling that America is being taken over by radical minorities, muslims, gays and radical “leftists” with their un-american “urban” agenda.

We’re watching this strategy being implemented right now and it is morphing as needed along the way.  At the start of the Obama administration, we saw all sorts of Lee Atwater style tactics and buzzwords used to covertly describe how the black man wants to take away the white man’s rights and privileges.  Socialism!  After a while, the message grew repetitive and Americans have short attention spans, they needed to up the ante to keep the fear machine primed.

Now, we’re seeing the right wing media and tea party movement foment a fear and loathing of Islam.  It’s unifying white people behind the idea that this isn’t “their” America anymore, it’s being taken away from them by elitist, atheist, college educated snobs in the northeast and their black/muslim/gay friends.  Somehow it is a slap in the face of freedom loving Americans everywhere to have Sufi Muslims build a community center on the hallowed ground next to the titty bar and OTB near Ground Zero…right around the corner from another mosque which has been there for decades.

The fear machine provides the GOP its only chance to regain national power in the face of massively and rapidly changing voter demographics. Fire people up, get them to throw tea bags at each other based on misinformation; compare Obama to Mao, Stalin, Hitler.  Claim that Sharia Law is on the way, that the President is a muslim sleeper agent born in Kenya, sent to destroy America from the inside.  They’ll do whatever it takes to motivate the angry white guy who lost his job at the plant due to globalization to get off his ass and get to the polls and maximize turnout.  Demonize gays, blame job losses on unions (not automation efficiencies, shareholder demands and CEO priorities), turn hopelessness into anger and blame.

Will it work?  Can this short-term strategy effectuate a return to power for the GOP?  It might, especially with the President and his castrated Congress alienating and disappointing the liberal base on a daily basis.  Long term, what is the GOP plan to reach out to these changing voter constituencies?  Will they make an effort to reach recent immigrants and minorities and bring them into the GOP tent?  By all accounts, the current plan seems to be a doubling down on maximizing turnout in their shrinking core demographic.

The trends are not on their side; poor, uneducated, misinformed white people will not be a massive voting bloc in many parts of the country for much longer.  However, they’ll continue to stay in power in nationwide rural areas and in the Dixie Belt, which will provide them with enough useful idiot voters who will vote for noted Congressional morons like Louie Gohmert and Joe Wilson.  They’ll create a regional/rural party which will be obstructionist and give them just enough power to work toward the goals noted in the second paragraph of this article.  I’ll dig into all of that and why Congressional Democrats can’t seem to govern in the face of obstructionist dummies as time allows.

Think about this chart until we meet again, it’s probably the most telling of all. It’s a difference between the vote totals of George H.W. Bush in 1988 and the vote totals of John McCain in 2008. It’s stark to see how the GOP base has shrunk so drastically into the dixie belt in just 20 short years.  It also underscores why the GOP has made a permanent shift toward the fringe of the party and why they’ll need to continue doing so to remain relevant.


22 Responses to “The Fear Machine”

  1. Brian Castner at 8:31 am #

    More later, but for now, do you have a reference for the “90% of McCain’s votes were from whites” stat? That’s a much larger margin than I had read about before.

  2. Tom Dolina at 8:46 am #

    Good stuff, and worthy of serious discussion. That said, since all I do is focus on jackassery, the first thing I can think of after reading this piece is the line from the Head Illinois Nazi in Blues Brothers, played by the late Henry Gibson:
    “White men! White women! The swastika is calling you. The sacred and ancient symbol of your race, since the beginning of time. The Jew is using The Black as muscle against you. And you are left there helpless. Well, what are you going to do about it, Whitey? Just sit there? Of course not! You are going to join with us. The members of the American Socialist White Peoples’ Party. An organization of decent, law abiding white folk. Just like you! ” The real fearmongerers on the TV screen are not that far off from this kind of rhetoric…

  3. Brian Castner at 9:16 am #

    It occured to me, later, that there is a danger in comparing 2008 election results with current events now, only two years later. While I can’t dispute the numbers you cite, or the overall trend of R’s populist rhetoric being unfortunately fearmongering, I have trouble with your logical result: a regional, rural party.

    You blame the current furvor over “the other” – immigrantrs, Muslims, etc – on the right and Republicans. If the ignorant sensation they create is their fault, they are being incredibly effective – 60%ish of Americans do not support Park51 (its your blog, I’ll use your frame). That’s 60% of all Americans, of every race and state of origin, not just white Bass Pro-loving rednecks in Alabama. If everyone that dislikes Park51 votes Republican (you blame the sentiment on them), that’s a landslide, not a rural, regional party.

    BTW, it does not bring me joy to write that. I want to win, but not like this.

  4. Chris Smith at 9:24 am #

    “they are being incredibly effective”

    Yes, yes they are. Which is why I wrote this.

    • Brian Castner at 9:31 am #

      Soooooo, what about that whole “logical conclusion” thing? Is a rural regional party your honest assessment, or just your desire. Its okay if its just the second, like you wish you lived in a country where fearmongering led to the political wilderness, not electoral success.

    • Chris Smith at 10:58 am #

      The mosque issue is an emotional one, so they’re having success bringing people onboard with a massive misinformation campaign designed to provoke an angry response. Can the rural/regional party achieve national success on specific issues? Yes. and I said as much in my article. Using wedge issues and emotional arguments is all this party has left as a means to retain national relevance, primarily because their actual platform is non-existent.

      • Ethan at 11:14 am #

        “Can the rural/regional party achieve national success on specific issues?”

        The history of Prohibition in the US shows that, electorally, you need only command 10% of the votes to get your way, all the way to Constitutional Amendment-territory, if you are focussed.  Only once in US history has the KKK, the Suffragette Movement, and the Socialists been on the same side of an issue, and it was the Anti-Saloon League what got them there.  So, the politics of the margins can definitely bear some fruit.

  5. Mike in WNY at 9:40 am #

    In order to put your perspective in the proper context, an analysis of the fear-mongering tactics of the Democrats is also in order.  As a libertarian, it is quite apparent that both the Democrats and Republicans use the same tactics in different ways.  Democrats have perpetuated a major fraud upon the poorer segments of our society by convincing them that destructive and ineffective programs are necessary for their survival.  The process has created a permanent dependent class that predominantly pulls the lever for the Donkey because they think it is in their best interest.  The reality is a poorly performing economy without enough private capital to generate real opportunities that would enable people to improve their lives.

  6. Ethan at 11:16 am #

    Can you conjure up the same or similar maps for Erie County?

  7. Gabe at 1:27 pm #

    As the country gets poorer and poorer this is only going to get worse. Though I can see a significant change happening within the loony populist camp. Within any sort of potentially fascist movement (which I describe in detail here: ) there will be a desperate shift toward calls for strong state intervention as a means of implementing the right-wing goals you outline above. Among the crazier and more desperate of the set, any pretense of the traditional “limited government” sentiment that’s been a hallmark of American conservatism since time immemorial, will be thrown out the window. Economically, there will be a shift toward paranoid John Bircher stances like protectionism, vastly increased regulation and regressive attempt to impose their own “morals” on the rest of us. Perhaps the other half, mainly outside the bible belt and the thinly populated mountain states will fly off in a more libertarian direction, with an equal fear of all large, centralized institutions, both government and economic.

    As the right-wing gets crazier and some of their policies actually get implemented in the wrong place (i.e. where smart, educated people live), the left might finally get their asses out of bed and offer and impressive counter-reaction, probably calling for some sort of watered down brand of socialism.

    Either way, it’s going to get ugly. Over the last century, America has shifted from being the land of the hearty, do-it-yer-selfer to a nation of self-entitled, out-of-shape brats spoiled by supersized comforts and conveniences enabled by energy resources we don’t actually have; resources we no longer have the credit crack to keep getting our hands on for a sustained period of time in the future. There is going to be a helluva lot of bitterness, anger, fear, irrationality and bloodlust running from sea to shining sea. Once our drive-in-utopia, the great suburban misadventure, becomes no longer affordable for a significant chunk of the populace, all bets are off.

  8. Jeff C at 3:04 pm #

    Oh, I see. Being in favor of individual liberty (instead of government intervention), lower taxes (so I can keep more of what I have earned), supporting the only established democracy in the Middle East (Israel), and encouraging businesses to grow (so they can hire more people) is racist.

    Got it.

    And you wonder why the dialogue in this country is going to pot? Get real.

    • Alan Bedenko at 3:21 pm #

      I’m not quite sure whether that was a serious comment or a kidding one.  

      Assuming it was serious, no one is suggesting that these are “racist”: 

      1. “Individual liberty” as defined by Jeff C
      2. “lower taxes”
      3. Support of “the only established democracy in the Middle East”, and
      4. “encouraging businesses to grow” 

      The point is that, assuming that these four items make up the core platform of the GOP, for some reason that party thinks it cannot win elections without also demonizing an entire swath of people.  Whether it be American Muslims, Latinos, poor people, blacks – every election season, the GOP comes up with another group to hate, be afraid of, and otherwise stokes fear and phobias. 

      The dialogue, therefore, goes to “pot” when people completely miss the point and go off half-cocked, reaching conclusions never suggested by the author of the original post.  

  9. Ray Walter at 12:36 am #

    In 2004 the idea of a permanent Republican majority was all the rage. Two years later they were out of power and a doomed party. Now they are favored to take over the House again. Same thing looking at 1964 (Johnson landslide) 1972 (Nixon landslide) – Carter then Reagan. Clinton in 92 then Republicans take over House in 94. We are a fickle nation driven by issues generally outside the control of our elected leaders. The majority of the electorate (who are either independent or weakly identified with a major party) will be swayed by crisis and/or a great leader (TR, FDR, Kennedy, Reagan) which will throw all of this thoughtful analysis out the window. The Ground Park Zero 51 Islamomosquefamilyfunjihadbridgebuilding Center is a short term local issue that was raised to a national level when the President inexplicably commented on it and the cable news networks, who’s journalistic integrity goes only as far as the ad revenue will allow, saw a ratings boon. Some day soon the Republican Party will remember how to win elections by focusing on economic/tax/spending policy and only humor the culture warriors who aren’t ever going to vote Democrat anyway. That will attract Independent voters who are generally fiscally conservative ans socially moderate. The Democratic Party will start catering to its base again, which will turn off Independents and the circle of life will continue. At least until Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid and debt service start to consume 95% of every tax dollar within the next 25 years and we’re all screwed.

    • Alan Bedenko at 6:31 am #

      Ray, I generally agree with your “everything is cyclical” point, but quibble with the idea that the Park51 nonsense going nuclear is Obama’s fault. Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich led the charge to turn this Pamela Geller pogrom into a national anti-Islamic movement. The President is right to defend religious freedoms for Muslim Americans, and to protect them from reckless allegations that they’re all to blame for 9/11.

      • Ray Walter at 12:52 pm #

        True, but Palin and Gingrich are generally relagted to Fox News and MSNBC – Obama put the issue on the major networks. It may have ended up on the mainstream media radar anyway but still, it is an issue that will not last past the NY Governor’s election.

  10. Derek J. Punaro at 10:18 am #

    Frankly I’m embarrassed as to what the Republican Party has devolved to. I’m going to keep the R on my voter registration in hopes that a decent primary candidate comes along some day. To echo Ray, I’m looking forward to the day when the party is again about fiscal conservatism and not fringe “issues”.

  11. Gabe at 2:50 pm #

    Jeff C: “Individual liberty” is a meaningless abstraction unless some context is provided as to what each person meaning of that label. Otherwise it’s nothing more than a sentimental slogan.

    Derek: You and like minded folks should get involved with the Modern Whig Party, they seem to espouse your fiscal conservative/social moderate views best in a completely non-fringey, well-reasoned kind of way. It would be nice to have an opposition party that could win races in the Northeast, Midwest an West Coast and not have to worry about the steaming elephantshitpile joke of a party the the national Republican Party has become. The latter is a sinking shape that has become tainted by the frenzied cries of too many irrational loonies.

    • Derek J. Punaro at 8:46 am #

      Thanks for the info, Gabe. I took a quick look at their site, and although they don’t have a wealth of material there, they do seem to be reasonable about most issues.

  12. RaChaCha at 6:47 pm #

    This is a very interesting analysis & commentary — looking forward to reading more! Shorter: thanky for the thinky!

  13. edward Boch at 7:34 pm #

    I heard this arrogant person named Chris on the radio today calling all kinds of conservatives all kinds of names and casting aspersions about the Tea Party and painting all conservatives with a broad “racist” “ignorant” “stupid” brush. It is getting so old to hear the same thing from whinny liberals. Typical, when they’ve lost the debate on an issue and when they have no clue how to compete in the arena of ideas, when all of the liberasl’ heroes are failures commies or both. Why should this country cater to a 20% who identify themselves as progressives or liberals. A distinct minority. It’s always about race with liberals.
    I found it funny he was making fun of people who couldn’t spell mosque correctly, calling former co-worker of the radio host Buerle an idiot. Notice how liberals like this Chris make fun of people instead of anwering seriously when calls to see a “real” birth certificate from the president of the United States are made. Not a copy on a website. Ignore the facts and make fun of people who are conservatives. We’ve seen journolist we know how you work and have for a while. Liberals truly are a danger to this country…..

    • Alan Bedenko at 8:12 pm #

      Best comment ever?

    • Rob at 1:01 pm #

      Maybe, but IMHO Hudson used to top that three times every day. Remember when Jon Powers’ getting paid (!) by a non-profit (!!) made him “no better than a child molester”? Those were good times.

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