Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Palin v. Obama, Attitudes, Ideology

I keep asking (pleading with) everyone to get a copy of John Brady's magnificent biography of Lee Atwater. It's called "Bad Boy." Atwater engineered George H. W. Bush's unexpected victory over Michael Dukakis in 1988 and was thereafter head of the RNC. (He died in 1991 of inoperable brain cancer.)

Atwater is often looked at as a highly ideological (conservative) political figure, but that's not exactly the case. Atwater believed that people voted much more on attitudes than on ideology. Atwater saw, for example, that Baby Boomer, with all their confidence and power, also had some feelings of guilt about environmental pollution.

He believed people were still putting emphasis on doing good (making money) but there was also a growing interest in being good (in what Christians call "good stewardship" of the earth). Atwater used his own love for rock and roll (and blues music) are a political pathway to young voters. A "good ole Southern boy" in so many ways, Atwater's hero (and one of his best friends) was . . . James Brown. In politics, Atwater, a chronic philanderer, would have seen Bill Clinton (a constant philanderer) as a political adversary . . . but a kindred soul on matters sexual.

The "attitudes rather than ideas" concept from Atwater is very important but rather slippery. People might not want to set the AC at 78 degrees, but they might put a brick in the toilet tank to save water. Modern culture does a great job of all making us feel guilty about various things. ("I have so much and THEY have so little.")

On more important matters, most people may be appalled at partial birth abortion and live-birth abortion, but they really (really) don't want to outlaw abortion. Also, they may be turned off by the phrase "global warming," but they may not regard it as a hoax (I do) . . . and they occasionally feel guilty about using so much energy.

Some of Sarah Palin's "problems" deal with attitudes, especially among married women. It amazed me (it shouldn't have) that some married women I talked to were obviously jealous of Sarah Palin's success. ("Let see, she's the mother of five and is running for V-P and looks wonderful, and I'm a mother of five and my hair looks like a fright-wig.") We've all read about women with high-powered, high-paying jobs who spend most of their time feeling guilty about something-or-other.

It is okay to be ideological, but we need to recognize (at least according to the brilliant Atwater) that attitudes trump ideology.

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