Dr. Dewey Clayton

I was driving through the Highlands the other day and noticed plenty of Obama/Biden yard signs, but not a single Romney/Ryan sign.

Kentucky is one of the most reliably red states in the nation, but Louisville consistently bucks the trend.

This is no anomaly: Most big cities tend to vote Democrat.

The question is “why?”

I turned to Dr. Dewey M. Clayton at the University of Louisville for some answers.

Clayton is a professor of political science and author of “The Presidential Campaign of Barack Obama: A Critical Analysis of a Racially Transcendent Strategy.”

He attributes much of the Democratic support in the cities to age.

“Younger people tend to live in the cities because the cities are more affordable, edgier, entertaining – a clear antidote to the bland suburbs they grew up in,” the professor told me. “And young people have grown up in a different society.

“They have friends or relatives who are gay, or they’re part of multi-racial social groups. In many respects, they’re color blind. Not to say that they all vote Democrat, but they tend to reject the divisive campaigns that were waged during the Republican primaries by, say, Newt Gingrich or Michelle Bachmann.”

Then there’s the unavoidable factor of race.

Minorities have tended to vote for Democratic candidates, and not just minority candidates. On the other hand, said Clayton, “those white families who moved to the suburbs, starting in the 1950s, have largely supported Republicans. But that’s becoming less and less valuable to the Republican Party.

“If Mitt Romney wins this election, he’ll be the last president to be elected purely on the white vote,” Clayton said.

“In 1976, only one in 10 voters was non-white. In 2008, it was one in four. By 2042, demographers predict that white voters will be in the minority.”

Our current minority voters may not vote automatically Democratic.

The strong religious traditions of African-Americans and Hispanics reject abortion and gay marriage.

Asian-Americans, a growing population group, have a cultural aversion welfare.

But the various arguments of the last two years on immigration have cemented the Republican Party as being more rigid and punitive on immigrants, the Democrats as being more welcoming.

Let’s get back to the central question of, “Why are cities Blue, even in Red states?”

It’s hard to believe there used to be simple calculi for all this:

Democrats represented the “little guy” – labor unions, minorities, working poor, small farmers, the disadvantaged. Republicans represented the “fat cats” – bankers, business executives, landowners, Wall Streeters.

There were also historical patterns. The solid South voted Democrat because Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, led the Union in the Civil War.

Anti-Communist cold warriors voted Republican because Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, brought creeping socialism to our institutions with all his New Deal programs.

But much has changed.

The solid South is still solid, but solidly Republican. Labor union members are neither reliably Democrat nor much of a voting factor anymore. The cold war is over.

Republicans no longer get automatically higher marks for their international policies. The attack of 9/11 happened on a Republican president’s watch; the terrorist who ordered the attack was killed by a Democratic president.

The historical factors are pretty well-known. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, he said to Bill Moyers, “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican party for a long time to come.” He was right of course, just short a couple of “longs.”

After the violence of the civil rights and peace movements had peaked in 1968, Richard Nixon employed his “moral majority” strategy, tying lawlessness to the Democrats, which was also code for minorities, cities, crime, gangs, drugs, hippies and liberals.

In the 1970s, urban issues like busing and integration – all relegated to the Democratic playbook – painted a sharp contrast between the dark, sinister cities and the clean, green, placid suburbs.

And in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan completed the effort, conflating traditional Republican fiscal conservatism with Christian family values, good old American self-reliance and patriotism.

When Reagan invoked the “shining city on the hill,” chances are he wasn’t talking about Harlem or the South Side of Chicago or South Central Los Angeles – or West Louisville.

Twenty years later, Sarah Palin was talking about “the real America.”

So it’s perhaps no surprise that urban blacks and other minorities vote Democrat. They feel the G.O.P. has no interest in representing them. But those front yards with the Obama signs in the Highlands weren’t necessarily the homes of blacks or minorities. And if the South is solidly Republican, well, Louisville’s in the South.

Peculiarly, that vote is often registered against the voter’s own best interests, said Clayton. “The Affordable Care Act should be enormously attractive to the vast rural part of Kentucky,” he told me. “This is one of the poorest states in the country.

“If we didn’t live in this strange universe, every Kentuckian – especially outside of Louisville – would be saying, ‘This will help take care of the thousands of people in poverty.’

“But the Republicans have been very good at getting people to vote against their interests.”

“You have a lot of rhetoric about how government has too big a role in our lives or is there only to provide handouts,” Clayton said. “But if you check the record, most people have benefited in one way or another. Many of the suburban white families who say they wouldn’t take a penny from the government benefited from the G.I. Bill that sent their fathers or grandfathers to college, and subsidized home loans that allowed those ex-GIs to buy their first homes.”

And, said the professor, most businesses did not, in fact, “build it themselves.”

“They likely benefited from governmental contracts or some other form of governmental assistance. The government even contributed heavily to the profitability of one of the Olympic games here in the U.S. – I believe it was in Salt Lake City, or somewhere.”

Please be sure to vote tomorrow.

Vote “R” or “D,” but just vote.

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Steve Kaufman
Steve Kaufman has been writing professionally since the Johnson administration (Lyndon, not Andrew) on all manner of subjects, from sports to city hall to sales and marketing to running a medical practice to designing stores. His journey has taken him from Chicago to Buffalo to New York to Atlanta to Cincinnati, before landing, finally, in Louisville.

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