9 years ago: What’s the matter with Alabama?

September 27, 2004, here on slacktivist: What’s the matter with Alabama?

This wasn’t a case of poor Alabamans voting to stop abortion and then receiving a regressive tax structure. It was a case of poor Alabamans voting to increase their own tax burdens and to reduce those of industry and wealthy landowners. They received exactly what they knew they were voting for. Given a choice, they chose a feudal horror-show, a playing field raked steeply against the interests of their own families.

And this vote had nothing to do with the genital politics of abortion or homosexuality, nor with the evangelical anxiety that imagines a vague menace of religious “persecution” for the majority.

So what’s the matter with Alabama?

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LBCF, No. 190: ‘Something happens’

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  • Laurent Weppe

    I’ll say it again: this is the result of a screwed up calculus. If you’re convinced that the upper-class is too powerful to be defeated and forcefully brought back to Earth from its lofty position of hereditary privilege, then it makes sence to be complacent toward them: better be the house servant who feeds off his master’s banquet’s scraps than the poor wretch starving in the cold; better be a pet than cattle.

  • Daniel

    Your question basically is: What are you doing, Alabama? You’ve got the rest of the union to help you along. What’s going wrong?

    I’ve just read the previous post from nine years ago, and several of the comments there made the point that the US is by nature a very aspirational country, and that people seem to vote for tax breaks for the rich because they think that one day they will be rich themselves. In a weird way the fact that the UK has had a rigid class structure for so long seems to prevent that happening here. It’s not desirable- compared to the US no one here can grow up seriously imagining they could become our head of state, for instance. But the one advantage it does have is that the class divisions being so strongly felt in Britain mean it’s harder for the poor (genuinely poor) to be taken in by schemes to reduce the burdens on the wealthy. It’s an irony- the opportunity believed to exist in the states seems to make it easier to crush access to those opportunities.

  • aunursa

    There’s nothing the matter with Alabama. Or Kansas. Or California. Or Texas. Or New York. Or North Carolina. Or Vermont.

    People vote based on what they perceive are their self-interests … not what a writer or blogger who’s never lived there believes are their self-interests. And people sometimes vote in a manner that outsiders may believe is against their self interests, because they may place certain values above financial motives.

    The wonderful thing for those of us who live in the United States is that if you don’t like the direction that your state is going, you are allowed to move to a different state, a state whose citizens and policies more closely align with your political views.

  • Fusina

    You are Pangloss. Congratulations…or something.

  • dpolicar

    Well, first of all, some people vote based on what they perceive as their values, even when the pragmatic situation is such that a vote based on what they perceive as their self-interest would be different. But even if we restrict our attention to people who, as you say, vote based on what they perceive are their self-interests… it doesn’t follow that nothing is wrong.

    If I perceive A to be in my interests, so I vote for A, and down the road I realize in retrospect that actually, A was against my interests, and my perception was incorrect… something was wrong.

    I _think_ we can all agree to that, regardless of our partisan alignment? That is, if I vote for Obama and later it turns out that Obama is a Communist dictator who ushers in a period of evil awfulness, and living under an evil awful Communist dictatorship isn’t actually in my interests, then there was something wrong. If I vote for Bush and later it turns out that Bush is a Capitalist stooge who ushers in a period of evil awfulness, and living under an evil awful Capitalist stoogocracy isn’t actually in my interests, then there was something wrong.

    That being said, I certainly agree that ignorant bloggers and writers are often mistaken about things. (This, too, is something I think we can all agree to.)

    You seem to be trying to obliquely suggest that Thomas Frank is ignorant of the realities of Kansas voters, and that his analysis is therefore mistaken, but in the pursuit of obliqueness I think you’ve ended up claiming more than is defensible.

  • Because all of us can afford to move at a moment’s notice, giving up our jobs and spending a few thousand dollars to get a new place in unknown territory.

  • And if someone’s values are the kind of values that make other people second-class citizens or even get them imprisoned for factors beyond their control (such as having a miscarriage and then having to prove that it wasn’t actually a deliberate abortion), I’m sure the justice system will be happy to help them relocate to a new voting district.

  • aunursa

    I don’t think everyone can. But I think that most citizens could move in a few month’s time to a state that offered them employment opportunities and whose citizens shared their political views. Then liberals can unburden themselves from draconian conservative laws and policies, conservatives can unburden themselves from draconian liberal laws and policies, and everyone would get what they deserve.

    And I would support programs that would provide free assistance for a one-time relocation for those low-income citizens who are dissatisfied with their current state of residence.

  • smrnda

    You make the assumption that all people can actually accurately assess what policies are in their own self-interest. If a person votes for tax cuts for the rich because they think it will somehow increase the earnings of other poor people and themselves, they are just factually incorrect.

    Are you an equal opportunity relativist? Does a heroin addict willing to steal and risk jail for more money for smack, or a disease by having sex for money to get more drugs and using dirty needles since they’re conveniently at had just have a *different* set of priorities than the rest of us?

  • lol draconian

    Piss off, troll.

  • smrnda

    The problem is that, liberals are not asking for draconian laws and conservatives are. Unless you can somehow re-define draconian to imply “taking away the right of privileged people to make others second class citizens.

    What you think is also totally ignorant fucking bullshit. You can’t move without THOUSANDS of fucking dollars which will pretty much never accrue since poor people barely earn enough to meet their basic expenses – they have no surplus.

  • smrnda

    Please, give me an actual *example* of a draconian liberal policy. Just because someone *says* its draconian, does not make it so.

  • smrnda

    I’m not sure we can really blame poor people in these states. Owing to lack of transportation and the inability to vote when she worked (her place of work was too far away, the county clerk was too far away, and she was only eating 3 or 4 days a week since grocery stores were too far away and she didn’t have a car), my partner was never able to vote when she lived in the south.

  • smrnda

    There’s also the issue that some people have their facts straight, and other cannot. If we find that conservative voters get factual matters wrong (for example, that legalizing same sex marriage will force churches to perform same sex marriages) then they are ignoramuses whose opinion on the issue should be mockingly dismissed.

  • aunursa

    It’s all subjective. I’m sure there are conservative policies that many liberals would consider oppressive or draconian, and which conservatives would find them just peachy and would scoff at the idea that they’re oppressive.
    I say, let everyone live where they want and impose on themselves and their fellow citizens whatever laws they want that are in alignment with the U.S. Constitution. Whichever states prosper, other states will want to adopt their laws and policies. Whichever states suffer, other states will want to reject those policies. Everyone gets what they deserve.

  • aunursa

    Maybe they hope one day to be rich. Maybe they value other things higher than the government “spreading the wealth around.”

    Yes, I trust each person to accurately assess their own values and their own self interests. It’s incredibly condescending for one person to dismiss what another person has determined is their own self-interest.

  • dpolicar

    I’m curious: what is your position on federal subsidies to nonprospering states?

  • Oh my god I cannot believe the sheer out of touchness dripping off your post.

    You want to live up to your lovely uplifting bumpf? Commit to covering the moving expenses of anyone who wants to take you up on it.

  • As always I find it just amazing that the most obscure pieces of literature I’ve read nonetheless offer fasincating insights into the world of today. From Starworld (1981), by Harry Harrison, a man named Reverend Montour sketches out the history of a post-oil crash world, the relevant extract for this discussion being:

    “A completely different course was followed here. The American tradition has been to declare that the needy are really slackers and that the unemployed are that way because they are naturally lazy. The Retrocession saw the complete victory of laissez faire, which is simply institutionalized selfishness carried to the extreme.

    “It is amazing, the nonsense that people will believe when it is in their own interest. There were actually adherents then of an intellectually bankrupt theory called monetarism, which enabled the rich to get richer, the poor to get poorer, by applying a completely disproven economic theory in place of intelligence.”

    It is always fascinating in a kind of depressing way how in Canada or the USA it seems to be so easy to whip up this absolute wall of hatred for poor people, especially the homeless.

  • You know, when asked a direct question common fucking courtesy mandates giving a direct answer.

  • ChristianPinko

    I wonder whether the “classless” ideal of U.S. society has been a mistake. In many European nations, it seems that there’s no shame in being working class or lower class, because people understand that in an unequal society, some people are necessarily going to be on the bottom. The lower classes have a right to exist. In the United States, however, there’s this idea that there should not be a lower class — society’s scut work just gets done, somehow. (Historically, of course, black Americans have filled this role — at least in white Americans’ minds.) Accordingly, it is unacceptable openly to advocate on behalf of poor people’s interests, except in the framework of “charity,” “kindness,” or “mercy,” which suggests that you’re giving something to people that they haven’t earned and don’t deserve.

  • aunursa

    Your sudden concern for demonstrating common ******* courtesy is duly noted. Nicely done.

  • AnonaMiss

    I have one, actually.

    There’s a small town in the Alaskan wilderness which is only accessible by boat and air – and apparently during the winter the winds are so bad that they often can’t use their airstrip. They want to build a road to the nearest town with an airstrip that’s usable year-round, but it would have to cut through a wildlife refuge. The nearest hospital is 600 miles away, so if you have a medical emergency during the winter, you’d better hope the wind isn’t blowing. http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/09/11/220598032/proposed-alaska-road-pits-villagers-against-environmentalists

    It’s on a much smaller scale than, say, trying to legalize discrimination in compensation against Vagina-Americans under the auspices of religious freedom, but let’s not make the mistake of thinking that we are unable to/don’t also have some draconian thinkers in our tent.

  • … Anything a little less in the category of “extreme circumstances”? o.O Because it’d be kind of sad if you have to go out in the middle of a town that probably shouldn’t exist to find an example.

  • aunursa

    Under my proposed scenario, I don’t believe that the federal government should reward those states that choose poorly at the expense of the states that choose wisely. Instead, let the former learn that in order to turn around their misfortune, they will need to consider the policies that proved successful for the latter.

  • smrnda

    It’s not condescending if the person in question has demonstrated ignorance of objective facts or is engaging in bad reasoning. It is not condescending that I tell someone that deleting files on their hard drive will not make their computer stop displaying the ‘out of memory error’ when they are trying to play video games, it’s just the person doing that doesn’t understand the difference between hard disk and RAM. It’s just that the person in question *does not* understand the difference between these two types of memory and I do. That person in question cannot accurately assess what is in their interest to do.

    Or… do you disbelieve in any sort of facts or objective knowledge or reasoning? You seem to be suggesting that it’s somehow wrong to consider some people better informed than others. I suspect that it’s just convenient for you to say this since it allows you to dispense with any arguments that some people are uninformed – or deliberately misinformed – and that their actions are taken based on a false and distorted picture of reality.

  • smrnda

    Yeah for relativism then. There’s no such thing as objective facts – it’s only an *opinion* that the existence of slavery is oppressive, and only an *opinion* that owning other people that you paid for is a right. The opinions of people who are upset that they can’t own people anymore is just as valid as the opinion of people who don’t want to be owned.

    Keep in mind, the constitution is just a piece of paper.

  • dpolicar

    (nods) That’s what I figured.
    Is this not also your position under the current scenario?

  • Your sudden concern for appearing totally “Relative” and therefore apparently in the exact center of an issue is amusing.

    Also? Your sudden concern with booping out swear words is also mildly amusing.

  • aunursa

    Your sudden concern for common courtesy is equally amusing.

  • aunursa

    I didn’t say that. You are putting words into my mouth. In addition to being illegal in virtually every civilized nation, slavery is rejected as immoral by virtually all liberals and conservatives alike.

    The Constitution isn’t just a piece of paper. It’s the supreme law of the United States.

  • Alix

    Totally off-topic, but the sheer number of places we go to build settlements is kind of mind-boggling sometimes.

  • aunursa

    In most cases you don’t know the person’s reasoning — whether it’s based on personal financial motives (lower taxes for the rich will create more job opportunities for me), personal values (the government should not be playing the role of Robin Hood), or some other reason.

    And if it’s the case that conservative policies are certain to cause harm and more liberal policies are certain to cause prosperity, then everyone will get what they deserve. And then the residents of those states that are suffering from their oppressive laws and regulations can decide whether they want to adopt more liberal policies in order to relieve their suffering. Conversely, if liberal policies cause more harm, then those states that adopted those polices will suffer more. Seems quite fair, and with 50 states each allowed to decide their own policies, it should provide irrefutable objective proof of which laws and policies lead to prosperity and which ones lead to misery.

  • smrnda

    Slavery was once legal by the same Constitution. It was the supreme law of the land, and slavery was legal under it. I was making that point to show that you can’t equate Constitutional with good, just, or sensible.

  • stardreamer42

    to a state that offered them employment opportunities

    This is where you’re palming the card. The people who are going to be preferentially damaged by this are precisely those who cannot easily find employment elsewhere, because the economy sucks EVERYWHERE. In many cases, they’re struggling just to stay afloat where they are. And you can’t just handwave that away; that’s exactly what we keep complaining about the Republicans doing.

  • AnonaMiss

    It was originally/still largely is an indigenous settlement, from the days when boat was the most reasonable way to access… pretty much anywhere in Alaska.

  • AnonaMiss

    I happened to hear about it on NPR when it aired, and remembered it because I take interest in/like to signal boost the concerns of Native American communities. I don’t keep a mental archive of “people screwed over by liberal policies” or anything, so I don’t have any other examples readily available.

    Though I’m perturbed at the idea that because we find settlements inconvenient to accommodate, they shouldn’t exist.

  • My reasoning is more along the lines of, “If they establish a settlement without the necessities, they are woefully underprepared and should scale back on their ambitiousness (establish a rural suburb rather than a remote town, for example).” I’m a firm believer that any population center should be prepared ahead of time with a certain basic level of preparedness to be as self-sufficient as possible — police, fire, means of gathering food, means of repairing and constructing homes, and yes- a hospital. Places like this, for all their simplified living standards, are kind of like resort locations — you don’t have to live in the middle of nowhere, and if you do, be prepared to deal with all that that entails.

    I’ve actually heard debates similar to this related to, of all things, establishing underwater communities similar to the Poseidon Undersea Resort around coral reefs and other locations with a lot of delicate sea life. At some point, a lot of the blame has to fall on the people living there if they can’t do so without constant intervention which threatens the local flora and fauna. We’re the ones encroaching on nature; it’s our responsibility to do so with a minimum of interference with the existing life. If we can’t do that, well, then, maybe we shouldn’t have settlements in such places.

  • Alix

    Sure, and I’ve said the same thing in regards to places built in the desert or places built where there are pretty predictable natural disasters. I do wonder, though, whether it’s really fair to expect older settlements to continually upgrade to what we think of now as the basic necessities.

  • To the extent excepting the obstacle of getting the resources and professionals necessary for such things – I do, especially if they want a road built through the land they’re supposed to be enjoying so that they can make use of someone else’s.