Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Brooks on demography

David Brooks describes, well, not exactly class conflict in the Democratic Party. Obama is the bobo candidate and HRC, a bobo herself, has become the default candidate of the working class Catholics from places like Scranton and Fresno. I have several questions, beginning with: if the bobo Clinton can win among working class Catholics, why can’t the Obobobama? The next is: is Clinton’s relative success with downmarket white and Hispanic voters in the Democratic primaries "authentic"? Is she appealing to them on her own merits or simply as the anyone-but-Obama candidate?

Then, finally, there’s this: one of the "facts" about at least some churches that social scientists have pointed to is that they can bridge class divides, with educated professionals worshipping alongside guys who work in garages. Jeremiah Wright’s church isn’t alone in being that way. Of course, I recognize that the distribution of socioeconomic "types" varies from denomination to denomination, with the Episcopal "center of gravity," for example, differing from its Southern Baptist or Pentecostal counterpart. I also recognize that this varies somewhat from congregation to congregation, especially to the degree that the congregations are located in socioeconomically defined neighborhoods. And now, finally, for the question: does the catholicity of the Catholic church do more to bring folks together across socioeconomic divides or does its parish system encourage a kind of separation? A couple of generations ago, one could, in certain northeastern and midwestern cities, speak of the Polish parish, the Irish parish, or the Italian parish. Ethnicity to some degree qualified catholicity. Can one now speak of upscale or bobo parishes and of downmarket or working class parishes? Or not?

Update: I meant to note, but initially didn’t, that Brooks could have written a similar column about Republicans, as there are clearly gaps between the business-oriented Wall Street types and the exurban evangelical social conservatives, to pick up a couple of stereotypes. And I haven’t even mentioned the neoconservative intelligentsia. One difference is that, for the most part (there are exceptions), Republicans have dealt somewhat more respectfully with intraparty "cultural" differences. That is, they’re aware of the gaps and have, from time to time, tried to bridge them.

Discussions - 4 Comments

A couple of generations ago, one could, in certain northeastern and midwestern cities, speak of the Polish parish, the Irish parish, or the Italian parish. Ethnicity to some degree qualified catholicity. Can one now speak of upscale or bobo parishes and of downmarket or working class parishes? Or not? Yes . . . but. The catholicity of the Church provides a big "but" in this. It provides a direction for the "evolution" or, as I prefer to call it, the fluidity of these things to trend. For example, in the town I grew up in we had an Irish parish and a German parish. I'm not sure how old the Irish parish is, but the German one is now just over 100 years old. These two parishes are just about a mile and 1/2 apart. So there is no geographical reason for the distinction. By the time my Austrian/German (Ressler and Baughman) great-grandparents enrolled in a parish (circa 1925) they picked the Irish one. When it was time for my mother to choose a school and parish for our family, we went to the "German" one. In other words, there was no particular reason for any of it anymore. Today both parishes are virtually the same. There are not more Irish or Germans in either one. There are no class distinctions between the parishes. People choose one or the other one on the basis of pedestrian things like mass times or whether they prefer one or the other's priests or habit or the color and quality of the stained glass windows. Most do like my mother and toggle between them! At this point, the two parishes share a school instead of supporting two separate ones. The Catholic community is, indeed, catholic.

What I'm getting at is that today's parishes reflect the fluidity of our society and the real divisions in it. There are few ethnic parishes today that remain constant. The Italian parish where my husband's grandfather and his family were original members, today maintains it's celebration of St. Joseph's Day and the customary table and pasta dinner. But the membership of the parish is not so Italian anymore. There are many Hispanics (probably more of these than any other group) and Filipinos and assorted others. It is probably more accurate to say that there are more parishes distinguished by their socioeconomic make-up (rich, poor, and middle class) than by their ethnic heritage (except as this also reflects geography). But, of course, this will change over time and--as it does--the example of the Italian parish (and the German and Irish ones in my old town) proves that there is room for accommodation because of the larger things shared in common. There are some really poor parishes (we get the appeals for them all the time) and there are a few very wealthy ones. The Diocese of LA requires each parish to contribute to the "Together in Mission" fund a designated amount based on their weekly contributions from parishioners. Each year, they list the amount each parish must contribute from least to greatest. It is easy to predict where each parish will fall on that list, mainly because of location. But if you go mass at one of these struggling parishes or you go to mass at an upper middle class parish, I don't think you will see a lot of differences. Indeed, what strikes me is that sometimes when you attend mass in a poorer area, the people at mass there are dressed better and seem more serious than the folks at my parish! I actually saw a couple of teenagers last week at our church dressed in pajama bottoms! Well, hey, it was 7:30 in the morning. At least they were out of bed.

Julie,

Thanks. You gave some substance to my suspicion that location is, to some degree, destiny. If the default position is the neighborhood parish, and if we sort ourselves according, mostly, to something like SES, then catholicity is qualified by these considerations. Of course, to the degree that Catholics behave somewhat like Protestant and choose their parishes, the catholicity might even be more qualified.

Republicans have dealt somewhat more respectfully with intraparty "cultural" differences. That is, they’re aware of the gaps and have, from time to time, tried to bridge them

I don't think so. I think it has been all rhetoric and false promises, and the realization that this has been so is more of a betrayal than outright conflict. It certainly is not "respectful" by any reasonable sense of the term...

First of all I would like to say that David Brooks writes a great and true article. The problem is that as soon as he states his case, the case is ignored...because the political(and poker playing) imperative is to classify and explain.

"But these theories only scratch the surface. The mental maps people in different cultures form are infinitely complex and poorly understood even by those who hold them. People pick up millions of subtle signals from body language, word choice, facial expressions, policy positions and biographical details."

"None of these theories really fit the facts. It’s more accurate to say that the country has simply drifted apart into different subcultures. There’s no great hostility between the cultures. Americans have a fuzzy sense of where the boundaries lie. But people in different niches have developed different unconscious maps of reality. They have developed different communal understandings of what constitutes a good leader, of what sort of world they live in. They have developed different communal definitions, which they can’t even articulate, of what they mean by liberty, security and virtue. Demographic groups have begun to function like tribes or cultures."

"They can win a stunning victory, but the momentum doesn’t carry over from state to state. They can make horrific gaffes, deliver brilliant speeches, turn in good or bad debate performances, but these things do not alter the race." I certainly agree with this to a much larger extent than a lot of the major media pundits...and once again I think this is because, these specific "cultures/individuals" have developed a unique language/lens to filter any reality...on the other hand I seriously doubt this, it is quite likely that this is simply a poker player staring at politics...there are an equally large number of ways that we are all alike and a focus on these can be just as important, with empathy(isothymia at its core)(perhaps I just set it up this way because I look for differences to exploit as a poker player+politics and similarities in friends? fellow citizens? Americans?) In a certain sense you could ignore a lot of contradictory detail and set up a synthesis antithesis between Clinton and Obama on this score...Clinton it seems to be running a mathmatical demographic campaign and Obama a more spiritual/meta-narrative one...but this is not factually perfect(but it still may be operative in the background of conciousness, and indeed this is assumed by Brooks in saying that: "But people in different niches have developed different unconscious maps of reality.") and Obama may be loosing this perception by his failure to square Wright, even among those who expect black churches to be a predictable source for you-tube fueling radicalism.

I don't know for sure how this will develop(but neither do the experts, except those who won't tell you for free.), but I suppose that Obama will maintain most of his support, contra the momentum theory...but that simultaneously such statements by Wright will hurt him against McCain with Clinton voters, and that this argument can be advanced by Clinton to superdelegates(whose base is less likely to evaporate back into the democratic party, than they would have reasonably been expected to otherwise, contrary to previously inflated republican hopes.) That is a crap shoot.

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