Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The identity flaw

When listing the various foibles of voters and politicians the other day I omitted a very important one: cultural identity/signaling. Simply put, it is my belief that a non-trivial number of voters cast ballots for their preferred candidate based on how much they identify culturally with that individual. A vote for a candidate says much not only about what one believes, but who they are (why else did people continue sporting Obama buttons on their clothing for months after the election had been held?).

As Barry Rubin says of Obama voters:
To support Obama makes them smart, sophisticated, anti-racist, modern, members of an intellectual and social elite standing against the yahoos with the pitchforks out in the provinces [aka Jesusland]. From the defenders of the downtrodden, the left has transformed itself into the well-financed aristocracy sneering at the peasantry.
Of course, those on the other side of the political divide could level the same charge. A vote for, say, Rick Perry, could be a statement meant to mark someone as a God-fearing, salt of the earth, self-made rugged individualist, standing as part of the bulwark against the effete, arugula-chomping, latte-sipping, overeducated and arrogant elites.

Speaking of Rick Perry, check out this statement of his yesterday regarding Ben Bernanke:
“If this guy prints more money between now and the election. I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we -- we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous -- or treasonous in my opinion.”
There are two possibilities to explain Perry's word choice. One is that Rick Perry basically is a tumbleweed blown straight out of rural Texas and actually thinks like this, believing the chairman of the Federal Reserve to be a turncoat in need of some rough justice. The other possibility is that Perry is resorting to the use of some cultural dog whistles, playing up his image as a no-nonsense Texan from a hardscrabble background for all it's worth in the knowledge that many primary voters will find this appealing. 

So either Perry -- a leading presidential contender, mind you -- really is quite strange and an almost cartoonish version of a stereotypical Texan, or he is just playing the electoral game that has been set before him (at least as he sees it) and is acting accordingly. Now there may be plenty of good reasons to vote for Rick Perry, but casting a ballot for him simply because he uses the word "y'all" and seems like an extra out of a John Wayne movie isn't one of them. 

That doesn't mean it won't happen. Such is democracy.

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