As many may know, I travel to Charleston about once a month. After meetings concluded I went to dinner at a nice establishment near the state capitol. While there, I happened upon a conversation with three life-long Democrats. Though anecdotal, I found the discussion fascinating as it reveals something of the temperature of the political culture of America. My fortuitous dinner companions consisted of one male, and two females–two were married and the other was their daughter in from Houston. When the father of the group asked me what I teach (after finding out I work in higher ed), a flood of political opinions was expressed about the current state of our culture. Below I account two of the major themes of our discussion.
The man said that he could not wait to eat dinner so he could get home to watch Bill O’Reilly because Juan Williams was going to be on the show. For those who missed the story, Williams was fired from NPR for expressing these words on O’Reilly:
The CEO of NPR, Vivian Schiller, accused Williams of having mental problems for expressing what is a “feeling”:
She released a statement on the firing. A couple of things on this: Schiller claims that his firing was not necessarily because he appeared on Fox (this means that it may have been a sufficient condition for his firing). Is Mara Liasson going to be fired next for simply appearing on Fox? She has been pressured to step down by NPR in the past. Both the center-left and the center-right publically condemned Schiller and NPR for the firing. Here is more video of Williams. Furthermore, since when did feelings become more important than calculation? Williams, it is clear, is saying we should defend the rights of Muslims like anyone else. But, perhaps we have become a Rousseauean society–where feelings matter more than our reason?
So, this background is necessary to understand the comments at dinner. This Democrat family was disgusted about the Williams firing. They thought that NPR, which they viewed as conducive to their leftist leanings, was eating their own. They liked Williams because he was a level headed liberal of some Democrat ilk. If he was not safe at NPR, who would be on the center-left? I was actually quite surprised how disgusted this family was at the Williams story, and even that they were following the story so closely. They spoke with great knowledge of the events, and it was clear they were following the story closely. They finally thought that the Williams firing would play to the Republicans favor in the election because it would enforce in the minds of the voters that the Democrat leadership was illiberal and dislikes people based on mere association.
The next part of the discussion had to do with the Raese/Manchin race. The family told me they were voting for Raese, and if they could, vote “all the bums out.” They were definitely anti-incumbent in sentiment regardless of party. I asked what they thought of what I have heard as Manchin’s best TV commercial (and one my students generally liked), “Dead Aim,” where Manchin fires a bullet into a cap and trade bill. They loathed the commercial. It only reminded them of Obama’s statements about people in, or near, the Ohio Valley clinging to their guns and religion:
In other words, as this family related to me, Manchin belongs to a party that is really anti-gun and anti West Virginia values: “how could we support this party when the party has left us?” said the woman in my dinner group. They thought Manchin, and his party, was just saying what he thought the people wanted to hear; he belongs to a party that is fundamentally hostile to W.Va. values. The family did not believe Manchin is “one of us.” Again, I was rather surprised by all this. The father of the family even waxed creative and crafted a Raese commercial juxtaposing Obama’s anti-gun words with the images from the “Dead Aim” ad to highlight the hypocrisy and ineffectiveness of Manchin’s affiliation to a party that disagrees with him on what he thinks is most important. He thought Raese could reap a lot of political momentum from such an ad.
It is one thing to be disappointed in your party, but it is quite another when one spends time concocting commercials for the opposition. What I gather from all this is that the voting public is very clued into the current state of affairs. If this family is representative of the election this November, they are not energized for their own party and plan to vote across the isle (now that’s bi-partisanship). Given the contentious political atmosphere the last 4 years or more, this ought not be surprising. Still, this family seemed pretty close to leaving their party after all these years, for they see the party as abandoning true liberalism.
I do not endorse any of the opinions expressed by this family, that is not the purpose of this post–that is I do not post this account because I endorse one party or another–but only relate the experience as an interesting nugget in our changing political future. If this family is representative, the Democrat Party will be bleeding registrants in W.Va., and the state will become more Republican.
Addendum: One other thing I forgot to mention is that they did not like the way the health care bill was passed. They said that it was a dirty deal made behind closed doors, and smacked of smoked filled rooms. They added that Congress should slow things down. They wanted to hear a real debate on the floor of both houses about the merits of legislation. They clearly blame the Democrats (and Pelosi and Reid by name), for undermining this function of the legislative branch. I think that was one of the most sophisticated arguments of the evening.