In a review of Stanley Greenberg’s The Two Americas, Chris Lehmann recently launched a persuasive argument against the idea, drawn from the 2000 election maps, that the U.S. is neatly split into “red” and “blue” regions. He urges us to remember the third category of voters–those who have become so disengaged that they don’t even bother to vote:
The Two Americas ultimately suffers, in other words, from a fatal means-and-ends mismatch. Electoral maps, after all, are less the cause of the nation’s political distemper than passing symptoms of it: They represent fewer and fewer voters concentrated into narrower and narrower conceptions of a meaningful political life. When the leading lights of our political class seriously hold forth “Friends” (or the Dixie Chicks or Madonna or Darryl Worley) as measures of tolerance, cosmopolitanism, free expression, patriotism or any other virtue, you know that our political system is not in the throes of acute demographic or ideological polarization so much as in a state of imaginative bankruptcy. You know as well that voters who see their interests as something they should define for themselves will quite simply and rationally opt out. And so while pundits and political leaders alike dote over the tail-chasing cultural conflicts that keep them gainfully employed, the nonvoting ranks of that third America no one talks about anymore drop further and further off that storied map. As we are known to say in my own native stretch of Heartland Iowa, you just can’t get there from here.
The political book network map, courtesy of Terry, supports Lehmann’s line of reasoning. The map depicts the political book-buying habits of consumers and reveals that “two distinct clusters with dense internal ties have emerged”–in other words, if you read What Liberal Media?, as I did, you’d never buy Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism or The Enemy Within.
Now, it’s not big news to me that people entrenched in their positions don’t want to read the other side’s arguments. (I can’t even read the full title of the Hannity book without wanting to kick things.)
But it does suggest something I hadn’t considered until now: that consumers in the third, non-voting sector of which Lehmann reminds us aren’t buying any of the books on the map.