|Tracy Mott, ecoomics professor at the University of Denver,
on Walter Russell Mead's comments on the "Jacksonian vote"
Date: Tue, 05 Aug 2008 22:29:43 -0600
From: "Tracy Mott"
Subject: Re: Walter Russell Mead on the Jacksonian Vote
To: "David A Anderson"
The interesting thing to me is how the Republican Party was
originally founded to achieve what the Whig Party (so named because they
argued that, like the British Whigs, they were opposed to the party of the
King, though in this case the King was King Andrew Jackson, as they called
him) had failed to achieve. The Whigs were pro the commercial interests and
wanted a protective tariff to protect US businesses from British
competition; "internal improvements," such as federal support for roads and
canals to help businesses move their goods; and measures to support the
financial system, like the First and Second Banks of the U.S. They didn't
believe that blacks and Indians were equal to whites, but neither did they
care that much for Indian removal or measures supportive of the
slave-plantation economy. But they didn't win many national elections
because most ordinary Americans didn't want to be taxed to support business
interests, didn't like the higher interest rates the Banks of the U.S.
tended to promote, and wanted the Indians out of the way. To attract votes
away from the Northern Jacksonian Democrats, the new Republican Party added
to the Whig program free land for homesteaders in the West, no slavery in
the Western territories to keep competition from slave production out, and
unrestricted immigration to provide a workforce to replace those moving
West. With the Democrats split in 1860, Lincoln won on this platform, and
subsequently, with the South out of the picture, the Republicans kept
winning elections to carry out their industrializing program until, apart
from some complaints from the Populist and Progressive movements, the Great
Depression hit. In the sixties the Republicans began using a variant of
that strategy with their appeals to working class whites on the basis of
anti-welfare, conservative "family values," and the like. Alexander
Saxton's book, The Rise and Fall of the White Republic, does a good job of
telling the 19th Century history of all this.
From: David A Anderson
Sent: Tuesday, August 05, 2008 9:57 PM
Subject: Walter Russell Mead on the Jacksonian Vote
The New Republic
The TNR Q&A: Walter Russell Mead by Barron Youngsmith
The foreign policy expert describes the trouble both parties face in
courting "real Americans" this election.
Post Date Friday, August 01, 2008
Ever since the primaries, when Barack Obama had trouble picking up votes in
Appalachia and Hillary Clinton posed as the candidate of "hard-working
Americans," strategists have been worried about his ability to pick up the
instinctively populist voters whom historian Walter Russell Mead dubs
Mead argues that Jacksonianism--which developed in the Scots-Irish
communities of Appalachia--has spread throughout the United States to become
the unwritten code that governs our gut understanding of ideas like honor
and patriotism, as well as our sense of who is and isn't a "red-blooded
American." In essence, Jacksonianism is the cultural ideology that unites
(to use a stereotype or four) the Florida speedboat owner, the Southern good
ol' boy, the toothless miner from West Virginia, and white-ethnic Joe
Sixpack. And when McCain tries to paint Obama as arrogant, elitist, and
somehow exotic, he's playing directly to them.
Key to the New Deal coalition and later central to the rise of Nixon and
Reagan, Jacksonians have held disproportionate sway over American politics:
During the 1960s and '70s, they participated heavily in the backlash against
civil rights; and, in Mead's telling, their honor-based commitment to
"staying the course" until a war is "won" has defined America's choices in
Japan, Germany, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq--sinking presidents in the process.
As Mead once wrote, "The United States cannot wage a major international war
without Jacksonian support; once engaged, politicians cannot safely end the
war except on Jacksonian terms."
How are these voters feeling today, after eight years of George Bush? How
will they swing this election? And how might they complicate Barack Obama's
positions on Iraq? I called Mead to find out.
Where do Jacksonians stand in the 2008 race?
I think it's right to say that Jacksonian voters are up for grabs in the
election, and that both parties have real problems with Jacksonians. They're
not happy about the way the war in Iraq has gone; they're not happy about
gasoline prices; and they're not happy about immigration. They're against
more things than they are for.
The Jacksonian agenda right now is that they want the government to protect
them from bad things outside--like terrorists, illegal immigrants, and
unfair competition. That's a big problem for both parties and for the
country. What you've got is two parties, each with pieces of a Jacksonian
agenda; but neither adds up to a full-fledged Andy-Jackson-we-love-it
program. That's why the election is close.
You could argue that Obama is everything Jacksonians hate rolled into one.
The Jacksonian defection from the Democratic Party since the 1960s has been
fuelled by the sense that there's a conspiracy of the underclass and the
überclass against the middle: Harvard-educated, puritanical elites with a
vision for reconstructing American life, plus a welfare-hungry underclass of
people who want one entitlement after another, or want affirmative action if
they're non-white. In that sense, the Obama campaign can look to a lot of
Jacksonians like the two blades of the scissors they feel are cutting at the
Those racial resentments were more prominent during the 1960s and 1970s.
Have the Jacksonians changed at all in their preferences?
Race is a less important factor for Jacksonians now than it was in the '60s.
There has been a move toward the concept that you don't have to be white to
be a "real American." I think that's one of the reasons the Obama candidacy
is possible--that, in fact, racial barriers have really fallen.
Then why is John McCain taking such pains to paint himself as the "real
American" candidate in this race?
McCain will have to show that his attacks on Obama aren't racial--that
they're cultural and ideological. To reach Jacksonians, he'll have to link
Obama with the überclass. You know, "The Georgetown glitterati love him. The
media loves him. He's the darling of Hollywood. Therefore, you don't like
him because you know all of these people are up to no good." McCain's
military history will come in as a way for him to capitalize on all of these
things, allowing him to draw a contrast between the intrepid POW and a
person who has only been a community organizer in Chicago. That is not going
to strike a lot of Jacksonians as the same kind of service.
One thing that may be important is Obama's past praise for Father Michael
Pfleger, the Catholic priest in Chicago, and the two ex-Weathermen. That
kind of connection with far-left figures and unrepentant ex-terrorists could
turn into an attack that would be very wounding to Obama in the eyes of
Jacksonians. All of the inflammatory quotes would be coming from white
His campaign will need to block the cultural attacks--it won't be so much
about the war or "tough enough," but a generalized concept of "unacceptable
because he's outside of the American folk community."
The economy doesn't overwhelm those negative associations?
Obama will have to counter McCain's narrative by explaining why white,
middle-class voters should vote for him. A lot of that will have to be
economic, but I haven't yet seen the kind of eye-catching proposals that
would excite the Jacksonians. If the American people felt that, whatever
else happened, a vote for Obama was a vote for $1.50 a gallon gas, that
would be the kind of red meat Jacksonians are looking for.
That's a lot to ask, though. Why shouldn't McCain have to produce $1.50 gas?
Here's where McCain's "maverick" image helps him. He doesn't start out in
the deep hole that a more "establishment" figure would. In this election,
neither candidate has a solidly pro-Jacksonian economic plan, so it becomes
a question of emphasis. Obama has actually been moving away from the more
Jacksonian position on trade, even though that's where he has the political
If McCain can frame the economic debate as "oil drilling vs. conservation,"
that's the kind of eye-catching thing that will really resonate with
Jacksonians. They like to drill. They don't like the idea of regulation,
they think drilling creates jobs, and they're not particularly
Jim Webb criticizes the Iraq war by calling it an idealistic, alien
enterprise that offends his Jacksonian sense of Scots-Irish honor. Do you
think that kind of counternarrative would make it easier for Obama to
withdraw from Iraq?
"The politicians have screwed up and we grunts have to fix it," is probably
the more authentic Jacksonian line. "And because they screwed it up so bad,
we should just leave," is the harder sell. Jacksonians like to win, and they
hate losing. What the Obama campaign should hope for is continuing good news
from Iraq that narrows the gap between what a McCain presidency would do in
Iraq after '09 and what an Obama presidency would do--and for Iraq to recede
as an issue.
How can Obama withdraw from Iraq without causing a Jacksonian revolt?
The easiest thing to do is to say, "We're winning, so we're going home." Say
that. Say, "Boy, that awful George Bush--he got us into this terrible
pointless war. But thank God to our glorious, brave soldiers we're winning,
so we can go home." The more it looks like victory, the more you can
The problem for the Obama campaign, I think, is that for a good chunk of the
base, it's so important on a gut level to repudiate Bush and punish the war.
It sounds like you think Republicans are still a lot closer to the
It's been a long time since they trusted the liberal policy elite, but,
during the Bush administration, the conservative policy elite has lost its
ability to communicate effectively with Jacksonians. Bush's perceived
failures as a war leader have, to some degree, discredited the whole
conservative schtick for a lot of them. They've lost confidence in Bush.
They've certainly lost confidence in the conservative pundits who backed him
to the hilt--and they've lost confidence in the entire conservative policy
Still, the gap between the conservative elites and the Jacksonians remains
substantially smaller than the gap between liberal elites and Jacksonians.
The Republicans have many, many easier roads back than the Democrats do.
What should the parties do in trying to make future inroads with
Any new approach to Jacksonians will have to keep in mind that, over time,
you're going to see more Hispanic voters fitting their profile. There is a
lot of common ground: a family values ethic, a hard work ethic, and a strong
desire by a lot of Hispanic immigrants to join the community--to be part of
the nation. You saw the same thing as turn-of-the-20th-century immigrants
moved into the Jacksonian column over time.
The slow, slow fading of the color line is one of the most important
long-term trends in America's self-understanding--the inexorable expansion
of who gets to be part of the American folk community. Once, Irish
Catholics, Italians, and Czechs couldn't take part in the Jacksonian
tradition. Now they're the heart and soul of it. Hispanics are now headed in
Barron YoungSmith is a web intern at The New Republic.