Red state readers write

Progressives in Bush country give their blue state neighbors a piece of their minds.


Salon Staff
November 6, 2004 2:02AM (UTC)

Message to the East Coast/West Coast liberal elite: You want to secede? Fine, I don't blame you. We can have three new countries: East, West and Middle America. The problem for me is that I live in Middle America, and as a resident of Austin, Texas, I'm a victim of congressional redistricting.

This was the first election after my recent disenfranchisement. Having spent my entire adult life voting for Lloyd Doggett, I find that I am in Lamar Smith's Republican district, two blocks away from the new line. My vote is an empty gesture. Be glad that on the West and East Coasts you still have local representation if nothing else.

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-- Laura Creedle

While I understand everyone's disappointment and fear at the outcome of this election, I cannot support, even in jest, ideas of secession as suggested by people like Moby and Ayelet Waldman. I've lived in red states (Texas, Arkansas and Arizona) my whole life and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with these places. Secession implies that the blue states are superior, and it's just this attitude that makes red-staters hate us. The red states have not always been so, and to forget their ability to change is to ignore history and to declare defeat to the Republican party.

The answer to winning back the support of Middle America is not to sit in California or New York with like-minded people and complain that they were duped by the Republicans. Dare to move to these states, dare to raise your children here, dare to teach and go to college here. You might just change someone's mind.

-- Amanda Lopez

The way to cope with four more years is by actively stamping out fear and hate. This election was not about morals and values; it was simply about fear. George Bush and his ilk are supremely skilled at capitalizing on Middle America's fears and equating those fears with religion. It's a powerful brew and ultimately toxic.

I live in a red state (West Virginia) and I was surprised again and again by the issues my neighbors considered important. While the war in Iraq and the economy scare me silly, I heard gay marriage, gun control and abortion brought up as their most pressing concerns.

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There is a simple reason why. While Democrats used campaign ads, TV shows and personal visits to drive their message, Republicans had a much more powerful and insidious tool: the nation's ministers. Protestant ministers took to their pulpits month after month to say that abortion and gay marriage were abominations before God and John Kerry would make both more accessible. It's almost a form of brainwashing. Fear is the only message.

How do we counteract this dangerous combination of religion and politics? One way is to talk, talk, talk with our neighbors. When they spout the rhetoric of fear, we respond with the truth of personal liberty.

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Writers and journalists can help, too. Realize when you are writing essays, articles, etc., about the red states that we are people just like you. The arrogance and condescension we in the red sense in so much of the campaign and media coverage, just further distances the red from the blue.

The truth is we are all in this together. We have to find a way to get back to the true values that drive this nation: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone, red states and blue.

-- Christy Buckland

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The victory of the conservative Christian right has saddened many voters in Florida, including myself. The battle is lost, but we can still win the war for the hearts and minds of America if we start struggling now.

The best strategy for an ultimate victory that I can see is for Californians, New Yorkers and others from the "blue states" to consider moving their businesses and homes or retiring to the battleground states -- Florida and Ohio. We only need a few hundred thousand to move to Florida and Ohio and blue will control the country. We can easily put a new Silicon Valley in Tampa, where there's a good technology school in USF, and parts of Florida are already New York South. I note that our conservative state government will be useful to you Californians because they support small business and low taxes. Why not take advantage of our low tax rates and in the process tip the scales toward real values in America?

Gainesville is also a pretty nice little city to live in. We've got plenty of culture, we're two hours from the beach, and there's a great university here. Why not move in?

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-- Peter Delaney

In response to Heidi Julavits wanting to understand how 51 percent could vote for George W. Bush: I'm one of the 25.4 percent in a working-class county in Texas who voted for Kerry. I've lived with these people all my life. I'm their pastor and their friend, and I don't completely get it!

They believe that Bush is the man with the greatest integrity and the greatest faith. They believe that he'll let them keep their guns and protect them from homosexuals and terrorists.

But there are also the ones who believe in progressive social policies who still voted for Bush. They were convinced that terrorism was a greater threat to the country than the Bush administration.

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Being a religious leader, I've always been quiet about my politics because I believe in the separation of church and state. This election has changed that. It became very important to me during this campaign that my congregation know that Christian does not equal Republican (or Democrat). One of the retired bishops of the United Methodist Church called the RNC's manipulation of gay marriage and other volatile "religious" issues blasphemous. Amen and amen.

It's time for progressive Christians to stop being private about our faith and letting the religious right stand on the God plank in the RNC platform.

-- Susan Buchanan

I am writing from a liberal college town named Lawrence located in Northeast Kansas. I prefer to claim my city instead of my state for obvious reasons.

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I am outraged that Bush won this election; I was hoping Bush's presidency had been a fluke. But no, it really is true that the stupid people finally outnumber the smart people. I have always been disdainful of the fact that I live in a red state, but I adore my city and I also love the Midwest in general, so I take exception to people who lump all of us into the "hick" category. I realize Kansas itself is a lost cause, but the rest of the midwestern states are not. Do not forget that there are millions of us in the Midwest who are progressive -- doing so makes you no better than Europeans who think all Americans think and feel the same way.

Besides, calling them hicks isn't even close to being true. Many are religious zealots. When I travel 30 miles west to see a ballet at the Topeka Performing Arts Center, there are usually people under the influence of Rev. Fred Phelps standing there with signs that say "God Hates Fags." As much as I have been tempted to carry my own sign that says "Jesus loves you, but everyone else thinks you're an asshole," I have not.

Granted, they are the exception rather than the rule, but for every person so willing and eager to put their ignorance on public display, there are thousands who think the same thing in private. Those who are not necessarily religious are simply too lazy to do research on their own. These are not people who read newspapers or watch TV or do research online like the rest of us. Forget voting on the issues. Forget asking them to double-check the facts. They couldn't care less about either. It's all about perceived character and personality. I have noticed that if asked, most people who voted for Bush could not verbalize why -- they could only say that they did not like Kerry because he was "arrogant" and "wishy washy." Dems need to get over this reluctance to run a negative campaign -- the Swift Boat Veterans and Bush's attack ads were enormously successful here. That Kerry let his character be so easily impugned by a former drunken drug addict who used Daddy's position to get out of doing his duty is absolutely absurd.

Bush won because of his personality more than anything else. He has always come across as a regular Joe; he cannot pronounce nor understand words that exceed four syllables, and that makes them feel as though Bush is one of them. That is the key, my friends.

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Clinton may have been a Rhodes scholar, but he came across as a good ole boy. I know it may pain my fellow Dems in the Northeast to hear it, but people in the Midwest and the South usually think of you just as highly as you think of them. You call them stupid; they call you arrogant and condescending. We need a candidate in 2008 who has the ability to speak intelligently but can also relate on their level.

After all, the people have spoken. We should listen to them if we ever expect to win another election. Being smart is no longer a prerequisite for winning the presidency. Feeling like they could sit down and have a beer with the guy is.

-- Candi Best

I'm from Missouri. I'm a progressive voter with lots of like-minded friends. Some of us go to church, some of us don't. Some of us are teachers, some of us are retired, some of us are artists, and some of us are blue-collar workers. Some of us live in the urban core, some of us are rural dwellers, and some of us live in suburbia. Some of us are registered independents, and some of us are yellow dog Democrats. We all voted for Kerry.

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We have another thing in common: We've been lumped together with a slight majority of Bush supporters and have been swept into the Red Sea. Sometimes we feel like we're drowning. People from the coasts view us with disdain and pity. We're the Other.

Missouri, the home of Harry S. Truman, used to be solidly Democratic. We shook our heads at Kansas, our Republican neighbor to the west, while winking at our northern ally, Iowa. Our Midwestern friends -- Iowa, Illinois, sometimes Arkansas -- were in the know, while Kansas and Nebraska just didn't get it. We were the common man and proud of it. The Republicans looked out for themselves, we looked out for each other.

This year, every other yard sign was for Bush. Some friends we've known for 20 years took offense when we criticized Bush. Family members who became Evangelical Christians hounded us with e-mails demonizing Kerry, a decent, courageous man. We bit our nails anticipating a close election; we sweated that we would have enough little votes to make our 11 big votes count.

Don't assume because the media paints us red that we go down with the ship. Throw us a life preserver.

-- Desiree Mueller

I have to say, from the comments I've been hearing, an awful lot of Dems are latte-drinking snobs. We didn't lose the entire heartland. My family's home states of Illinois and Wisconsin voted Democrat, half of Ohio voted Democrat, and that's a lot of people. But the things that some coastal Dems are saying about my home region are really making me angry. Look even at the results in New Hampshire and western Massachusetts -- "ordinary" people do share our values.

If you want to run the Democrats without small and medium-size towns and people of faith, look forward to 30 percent of the electorate instead of 50 percent. Fortunately, that's not necessary. What is necessary is thinking a little harder about what differentiated the voters, and how to get past people's reactionary defenses.

-- Joanna Bryson

I'm writing this from one of those states in the middle of the country that went red. I voted for Kerry, and now I too am disappointed at the prospect of four more years of Bush and an evangelical Supreme Court. However, I think the Dems on the coast need to hear a few things about the middle of country if they want to take this region in 2008.

First of all, sending celebrities to the Midwest is a profoundly stupid idea. The Midwest may be backward in many ways, but people here are proud and do not want to be preached to by folks who make a million plus per movie. People here make decisions based on their communities and families and do not give a rip about what a celebrity thinks they need to know. The Bush folks got to the leaders of Middle America: clergy of various churches. The Dems need to be willing to engage these people, and not just the African-American ones. I'm talking Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic and so on. And when I say engage, I mean go to these churches and see their rituals and interact with people there. Sending Julianna Margulies door to door with her Good Bush/Bad Bush T-shirt isn't going to cut it.

Also, don't the Dems realize that groups new to this country establish themselves via churches? I bet the Latino population that boosted Bush in Florida probably has a church connection somewhere.

Thirdly, don't tell people what is wrong with their lives. I'm stunned at Bush's ability to create an alternative reality for the working families of America. On a day-to-day basis here, most people are content, even if they are poor and have lousy health insurance. Why? Because people here are proud and value hard work and a certain degree of suffering. The Dems need to find a way to appeal to this psychology.

-- Catherine Regni


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