Irregular Americans

The Democratic Party stretches over but is divided by two different demographics, upscale liberals and the working class, notes David Brooks on todays’s New York Times‘s op ed page:

We’re used to the ideological divide between Red and Blue America. This year’s election has revealed a deep cultural gap within the Democratic Party, separating what Stuart Rothenberg calls the two Democratic parties.

In state after state (Wisconsin being the outlier), Barack Obama has won densely populated, well-educated areas. Hillary Clinton has won less-populated, less-educated areas. For example, Obama has won roughly 70 percent of the most-educated counties in the primary states. Clinton has won 90 percent of the least-educated counties. In state after state, Obama has won a few urban and inner-ring suburban counties. Clinton has won nearly everywhere else.

This social divide has overshadowed regional differences. Sixty-year-old, working-class Catholics vote the same, whether they live in Fresno, Scranton, Nashua or Orlando.

Likewise, younger upscale liberals across the country are voting for Obama. There are lots of factors involed: rural vs. urban, income, age. But the main factor seems to be education. The more educated, the more likely to lean toward Obama.

Oddly, among Democrats (and Republicans, for that matter), being favored by the educated is nothing to brag about it. To the contrary, Clinton brags that she represents regular Americans, meaning, I suppose, those with at most a year or two of college. According to this logic, I gather that every degree I’ve gotten (and I have racked up several) has made me less and less regular or less and less American. Is this the land of the free and the home of the quasi-literate?

Oops. Sorry. I’m being elitist.

Perhaps we’d be better off in the world if we started valuing intellect instead of trying to hide it.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.


  1. I had missed this one by David Brooks though it is not a new tune at all.

    What I find most disconcerting – in addition to your post – is the reaction to Obama’s ‘bitter’ remarks. Regardless of the validity of his claim, even as an insult, it pales in tone and in frequency compared to the other side.

    Every single day on conservative shows (and even on the more main stream media), the educated, northeastern ‘elite’ is attacked. College professors are especially accused of all sorts of things. No one seems concerned by the daily insults and the verbal assaults coming our way; his one remark about the ‘heartland’ though is unforgivable.

  2. On my night stand is the most recent book by R. Florida. I really want to think about how the Obama-Clinton divide (as succinctly summarized by Brooks) illuminates Florida’s basic thesis that the world has gotten “spikey” (economic vibrant cities that are centers of entrepreneurial growth v. everywhere else). Could it be that the Obama message/rhetoric about post-partisanship works well in those urban centers but fails in places where the only “hope” is redistributive policies? Maybe not, but strikes me there two data observatives (Brook’s and Florida’s) that bear thinking about.

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