Political Animal


November 12, 2012 9:56 AM Lost In Babylon

By Ed Kilgore

A WaPo piece by Eli Saslow that’s getting a lot of buzz today profiles a Republican activist in Tennessee named Beth Cox who is wandering through the tasks associated with standing down the Romney campaign in her town in something of a fugue state, baffled by the outcome. She represents the ultimate consumer of the endless spin being churned out by conservative gabbers (really since 2009, but accelerating in the month prior to the election) that Mitt could not lose, and that the aberration of an Obama presidency would soon come to a close amidst the humiliation of the media and secular elites and the quieting of rebellious underclass “takers.”

You can read it all yourself; most of us probably know or have known someone like Beth Cox, who among other things symbolizes the ironic benefit conservative causes have derived from the Christian Right’s insistence on the formal submission of women. Women have for a variety of reasons always dominated Republican grass-roots politics, and to the extent that they have been denied a proportionate share of leadership roles in the conservative evangelical churches (Cox’s husband is apparently a Southern Baptist minister) that serve as all-purpose outlets for civic impulses, their presence in political activism is all the more apparent and intense.

What Saslow seems interested in is the highly insulated conservative “bubble” in which Cox lives, where it’s obvious Obama has been an abject failure, that the country is quite literally going to hell in a hand-basket if such misgovernment continues, and not much of anyone thinks otherwise. I gather this is an especially common phenomenon among southern white folks who have little or no interaction with minorities. It’s not just Fox News or talk radio: it’s an environment in which quite literally no one has anything positive to say about Barack Obama (my mother, an Obama voter who lives in an Atlanta suburb, tells me that friends, family members, and even total strangers assume she shares their antipathy to the president because her skin is white). You could argue there’s ultimately no difference between this sort of white identity politics and old-fashioned racism, though I am sure people like Beth Cox would be horrified at the idea (according to Saslow she thinks the GOP is “way too white”).

But if you can stop thinking for a moment about Cox’s particular allegiances and imagine Obama had lost and the subject of Saslow’s article was, say, an Obama organizer in California, it’s an interesting reflection of something rarely discussed in politics: the winner-take-all nature of our elections for executive offices. In presidential elections, the winning coalition more or less runs the country, while the losers have nothing; “coalition governments” don’t exist in the United States other than as occasional aberrations. In times of exceptional polarization like the present, the isolation of grass-roots Republicans from Democrats will be increased, not diminished, by their defeat. Some will retreat from politics; some (as appears to be the case with Cox) will keep on keeping on, perhaps suggesting to her colleagues a different kind of message or leadership; but a lot will just get angrier and more puzzled by the terrible thing that is happening to their country, inflicted by people whose point of view they find both absurd and threatening.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • evodevo on November 12, 2012 10:28 AM:

    I get the same stuff from my conservative relatives and friends - all college-educated. Talking to them is the same as talking to my winger working class Fox Noise-addicted co-workers who just managed to finish high school. They ALL live in the same bubble. No introspection, no analysis, no facts, no reasoning, no logic. What is it about being Republican that immediately negates the frontal lobes of your brain?

  • Rip on November 12, 2012 10:35 AM:

    I have a modicum of empathy for the woman. In 1984 I lived in NYC, and in that pre-internet era without daily tracking polls, it was easy to believe that Mondale, while obviously an underdog, had a shot at beating Reagan. While his loss was not a surprise, both the margin and the fact that he lost 49 states, including New York, was a shock. Like Beth Cox today, many of us in 1984 NYC wondered what the hell had happened to our country.

  • Mudge on November 12, 2012 10:37 AM:

    It's interesting that Ms. Cox, who lives in the tax exempt world of the church, rails against takers. I guess they forgo police and fire protection, street cleaning, sewers and other such tax provided benefits.

  • Bo on November 12, 2012 10:40 AM:

    Poor Ms. Cox -- she is devastated by the "hurricane" that swept through her community; she is left to rebuild the tattered remnants of her life (while listening to Glenn Beck!); and she's confused about what happened and how to prevent it from happening in the future).

    She is such a pathetic victim.

    [sarcasm intended]

  • the seal on November 12, 2012 10:40 AM:

    The 800 lb gorillia in the room is that the GOP has morphed into a good old fashion cult. It really explains quite a bit of the craziness.

  • martin on November 12, 2012 10:41 AM:

    You could argue there’s ultimate no difference between this sort of white identity politics and old-fashioned racism, though I am sure people like Beth Cox would be horrified at the idea (according to Saslow she thinks the GOP is “way too white”).

    There's a documentary floating around called Fear of a Black Republican. It is a wonderful bubble film in that it's point of view, and that of most of the people in it, is "Why can't black people see that the GOP is the best thing to ever happened to them."
    Very enlightening in a sad way.

  • Anonymous on November 12, 2012 10:47 AM:

    Here's the money quote:
    "Later that night, she left her two-story house in the suburbs and headed to a church a mile outside of town. It was her place of comfort — the place where she always found an answer. She drove onto the church’s sprawling campus, past the children’s center, the volleyball courts and techno-lit recreation room for teenagers and parked in front of a small building"

    Live by the bubble, die by the bubble.
    These people have NO CLUE as to the troubles and trials that so many of her fellow American's suffer through each and every day. It is hard to see that when you're told lies by the television, by your church, by your political leaders.

    I'm sure her home is beautiful, and her place of worship is clean and warm.

    It isn't because you're living a 'godly life' that you have these things, lady. It isn't because you're 'better than 'them'' that you have these blessings.

  • T2 on November 12, 2012 10:55 AM:

    Having had a mom politically similar to Beth Cox (oddly, Cox was my mom's maiden name), I think I can reasonably say that Ms. Cox is a racist. And yes, she may be horrified at that thought, but that's for her to deal with. There simply is no other reasonable reason to think the things that segment of the Republican Party believes.

    I'm interested in what will happen to Ms. Cox and the others like her when some morning a couple years down the road, she wakes up to find that the United States is still alive and well. The economy has clawed its way back, the sun is shining although it's hotter than years past, and Obama is still president with an approval rating of 56%.
    And the GOP has just lost the House of Reps. How long are they willing to wait until having a black president ruins the nation? Another year or two and he'll be gone. Who willl they hate then?

  • Ron Byers on November 12, 2012 10:58 AM:

    The sad thing is if the past is any guide, the leaders of the national Democratic party are saying something like "the election is over, the foe is well and truly vanquished, time for the Party to stand down until 2016." The Democratic party won't even try to reach out to Beth Cox and the millions like her. The conservative entertainment industry will, however, reach out to her and draw her back, telling her that somehow someone outside the conservative entertainment industry betrayed her.

    By the way, lots and lots of evangelicals actually do engage in serious charity outreach. They see and work with the disadvantaged and downtrotten on a regular basis. That work is what is best about the evangelicals. They seem, however, to be able to divorce what they see helping the poor from what they are told by Fox News and Rushwanda.

  • Don Elliott on November 12, 2012 11:11 AM:

    One follow on to your comment about the denial of leadership in the evangelical churches. Back while I was part of that environment, I observed that it was, in the words of Carlyle Marney, the "little old ladies" that really made things work in those congregations, and they could, and did, see to it that their thoughts and ideas were incorporated into the life of the church. For sure, it the Pastor wasn't doing a good enough job for them, he, and it was always he, would find it necessary to put his resume out there to find another gig.

  • latts on November 12, 2012 11:12 AM:

    Cox probably lives about half an hour from me, but you couldn't pay me to live in one of Nashville's collar counties. BTW, the Democrat has won Nashville/Davidson County by at least 10 points in every presidential election since I moved here in 1995, and as far as I'm concerned the only way I'd leave Nashville is to move to bluer areas elsewhere. Being from an equally right-wing and noticeably less cosmopolitan area originally, I'm even more impatient with the local suburbanites: they enjoy the benefits of living near a city but despise the city itself, which is cowardly at best. She chose to retreat from the world as it was-- she says so herself (although again, she likes some of the trappings of the outsider world)-- and then is bewildered & angry when the rest of the world proceeds apace.

    I swear that the validation that right-wing media provides is the worst imaginable influence on the conservative character; historically, even the worst reactionaries had some grounding in reality, but now they seem to think they'll prevail in the long run and that it would be a good thing, when their hoped-for regression is actually a symptom of decline.

  • Tim on November 12, 2012 11:15 AM:

    It honestly sounds like she wants and expects the rest of the country to act and think like evangelical Southern Baptists. This has never been and never will be the case, and I wish that, even if she doesn't agree with other people's political beliefs, that she could take the time to at least somewhat understand where they're coming from.

    There seems to be somewhat of a parallel between the model of evangelical religion, which angrily denounces even other protestants, and the political beliefs. Not only does she think that people who disagree are mistaken, she thinks their beliefs are unamerican, or unbiblical.

    I think it's great that she is passionate and involved in politics. But if you think that your belief system is the "one true belief system", and that everyone who disagrees is a soulless barbarian who is going to hell, then you're going to have trouble dealing with the real world.

  • Peter C on November 12, 2012 11:28 AM:

    It feels to me that the root of the problem is the combination of 'insulation' and 'hyperbole'. It is not just that Ms. Cox lives in a media bubble where she hears only FOX News and Glenn Beck. It is also that the information piped into her 'bubble' is SO toxic. She knows no liberals; she has no understanding of our thoughts. So, she has no defenses against those who would have her believe that liberals seek to destroy her way of life. She needs to meet a liberal and learn that we're not monsters; we don't have secret plans to implement 'death panels'; we don't want to impose 'sharia law'; we don't worship Stalin or Mao; we don't have plans to confiscate all wealth or impose 'political correctness' upon her husband's sermons.

    Then, it would be nice if she could learn to distrust hyperbole, too. It used to be known as 'crazy talk'. It's still crazy, but no one in the bubble realizes it is.

  • martin on November 12, 2012 11:38 AM:

    Peter C: "She knows no liberals; she has no understanding of our thoughts."

    She doesn't need to. Rush and Sean every day tell them "This is what liberals think." Ask her or anyone like her and they will be able to spew forth what liberals thoughts are AND be able to tell you that you are wrong and deluded to contradict her.

  • James E. Powell on November 12, 2012 11:44 AM:

    But if you think that your belief system is the "one true belief system", and that everyone who disagrees is a soulless barbarian who is going to hell, then you're going to have trouble dealing with the real world.

    This. And it is important to recognize that Republican Party's hold on voters like Beth Cox requires that she have these beliefs. The Republicans do not keep their voters by adopting policies that deliver results. The Republicans have done nothing, not one thing, that benefits the white middle class voters who keep them in power. So they have to hold onto them with this whole cult-like belief system.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on November 12, 2012 11:47 AM:

    Ron Byers more or less nailed it. While someone as deeply in the bubble as Ms. Cox is going to be very hard to direct outreach toward, TN is a diverse state and should have plenty of other, more persuadable Romney voters. Winning over a few of them would start to pierce Ms. Cox's bubble.

  • rdale on November 12, 2012 11:56 AM:

    The Salt Lake Tribune just ran an article about this very thing, titled "GOP's future: Change or die." Romney's loss hit here especially hard; many Utah Mormons not only were sure he'd be the next President, they also believed that his candidacy fulfilled a prophecy given by Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS church. Called the "White Horse Prophecy," it said that in the latter days, the US Constitution would "hang by a thread" and a savior on a white horse would come to the rescue. You can google "white horse prophecy" if you want to know more. Utah is very much inside the conservative bubble; also look up Chip Ward's article from TomDispatch called "glenbeckistan" for an idea of just how insulated we are here.


  • bluestatedon on November 12, 2012 11:58 AM:

    I believe Mrs. Cox is a clueless dingleberry who is going to hell.

  • David Carlton on November 12, 2012 12:03 PM:

    To add to what latts said, as a fellow Nashvillian I suspect that the "bubble" of Sumner County is only part of it. She's close enough to Nashville to have views about the city, and undoubtedly she regards it as an alien place, full of immigrants and gangs and trendy urban neighborhoods full of unmarried, sexually suspect people and hoity-toity academics. She undoubtedly doesn't know any Obama voters personally, but she doesn't just hear about them from Beck or Hannity--she hears (something) about them on the local news.

  • John on November 12, 2012 12:06 PM:

    Lattes makes a good point. The toxic aspect of Fox is that it validates the thoughts and feelings that most people find unhealthy.

    "It's OK to be selfish because it is your money and they are trying to take it away from you."

    "It is OK to hate President Obama because he is a Muslim and a Kenyan. He is not American."

    "It's OK to hate the government and push for lower taxes because it is inherently incapable of doing anything useful or productive."

    And on and on.

  • c u n d gulag on November 12, 2012 12:12 PM:

    For her, and a lot of Southerners, it's "Too Soon!"

    After all, it's only 147 1/2 years ago that they lost the Civil War.

    These things take time, people.

  • David Patin on November 12, 2012 12:14 PM:

    This isn’t new. It reminds of a time back in the early 90s, I worked in a company outside Chicago that had a plant in Searcy Arkansas. Shortly after the election in 92, a visitor from that plant remarked over a large lunch meeting that he didn’t even know anybody who had voted for Clinton. Imagine that, he didn’t even know anybody who was part of the majority that voted for Bill Clinton for Governor or President.

  • Ken on November 12, 2012 12:33 PM:

    I doubt that it's occured Mrs. Cox's prayer group that President Obama's election/reelection may be God's way of telling them to get with the program.

  • Sean Scallon on November 12, 2012 12:36 PM:

    If she really wants to fix things for her party the first thing she can do is to stop listening to Glenn Beck.

  • Ruth in NC on November 12, 2012 12:41 PM:

    I grew up very close to where she is and I have many relatives like her and a few, serious liberal Christians, who are not.

    Did she never consider that many of the 400,000 who have recently signed up for food stamps would much prefer to have jobs?

  • Barbara on November 12, 2012 1:03 PM:

    The problem with crossing this divide is, frankly, that so much of what she sees as "problems" arise out of the perceived inadequacies of "others." That is certainly what Glenn Beck is all about. Nothing about what she wants is about changing her goals, her aspirations, her lifestyle. It's always about how the others are getting in the way -- notwithstanding that, as far as I can tell, she has been leading the life she wants for herself for quite some time, both before and after Obama became president.

    I am guessing that she would be offended if I told her what parts of her life I find deficient. Trying to accept a person's situation as they see it and their own expression of their problems and their desires as the first legitimate means of understanding them would help enormously. The day after the election, I read the NRO On-line (frequently to my amazement). This obsession with moocher nation (against a lot of evidence I might add) is the road to self-confabulation that guarantees we never address any real problem (like health care costs).

    When was the last time she read something written by someone she didn't already know she agrees with? She could try Andrew Sullivan or John Cole for starters -- expatriates from her side of the divide.

  • Anonymous on November 12, 2012 1:15 PM:

    You could argue there’s ultimately no difference between this sort of white identity politics and old-fashioned racism, though I am sure people like Beth Cox would be horrified at the idea (according to Saslow she thinks the GOP is “way too white”).

    After I voted at the courthouse last Tuesday, we had some other business to do there, and I had to go retrieve a receipt or something from our car. As I walked past the throng of campaign workers stumping for their candidates outside, one of them asked if I'd voted. I replied that I had, but since this was Texas, I might as well go back and vote again. That was sort of a lame reference to the shenanigans of the "Landslide Lyndon" era, but the guy replied, "well, that's the way they do it in Chicago!" Apparently I was supposed to find that funny because, you know, I'm a middle-age white dude in the South, or something.


  • jim filyaw on November 12, 2012 1:40 PM:

    what baffles me about this lady and her little clique is not that she deems herself a 'real american', but how easily they let themselves be used. for time immemorial, baptist preachers (her husband included) have damned the mormon church as a satanic cult. yet, when it comes to politics, religion be damned. at times, when i've encountered this kind of stupidity and hypocrisy, i've had to fight the urge to slap someone up the side of the head and shout, "open your g.d. eyes!" no more. last tuesday did it far more effectively. maybe sweet jeebus will take it up with her the next time she goes to her knees.

  • TCinLA on November 12, 2012 2:09 PM:

    I never met an Obama organizer in California who wasn't well aware of the facts - since they were all members of the 'reality-based community" - and therefore would not have been surprised by an alternative outcome to the election. They might not have liked it, but they wouldn't be sitting there trying to pick their teeth up off the floor like The Preacher's Wife is. Always nice to be reminded that most Southern whites are lower on the evolutionary scale than amoebas.

  • TCinLA on November 12, 2012 2:32 PM:

    It was a path that had worked for her, providing strength and stability during her parents’ rocky divorce, and then helping her transform from a stubbornly independent woman — the “feminist, I-am-woman, hear-me-roar type,” she said — into a mother and a wife who respected what she called the “natural order of the household.”

    How pathetic. Surrender your brain and become a "Christian." No wonder the Romans used to chase them out of their communities - the only "persecution" most of them ever saw, since the stories of the Christians and the lions in the Colisseum are all Christer Mythology. (It happened once, under Nero, and the public was so aghast it helped lead to his downfall, and never happened again)

  • Kevin J Williams on November 12, 2012 4:35 PM:

    I am the Director/Co-Producer of the documentary film, FEAR OF A BLACK REPUBLICAN, which "Martin" referred to in his comments. Having read his comment, I don't believe "Martin" has seen our film because if he did - he would have seen how many Republicans are challenging the very GOP Bubble that Mr. Kilgore writes about.

    There are many Republicans who can't figure out why more Blacks aren't Republican or Conservative like they are. Our film shows folks like these. Our film also shows a number of Republicans like Michael Steele, Edward W. Brooke, Mike Huckabee, Michelle Malkin, Christine Todd Whitman and Democrats like Douglas Palmer, Cornel West, Maxine Waters, and Tavis Smiley who all help to provide some of the answers to a very complex and fraughted question - "Does The Republican Party Really Want More African Americans?"

    As a society, we are all self-segmenting our media and our life experiences by choice every day. No where moreso than politically. Liberals, particularly Suburban White Liberals are just as "bubbled" as the Mrs. Cox portrayed in this article. I could select 100 Liberals who live eight miles away in Princeton, NJ and take them to Trenton, NJ where I live and these 100 folks would be as uncomfortable and out of their element as anyone Conservatives from suburbia. This central tension between Suburbia/Urban is one of the major threads of our film and is one we all should watch out for in the coming decades.

    It took us 6 1/2 years to make a non-partisan documentary, which forecasted many of the problems Republicans and Conservatives had this past Tuesday. I, myself, was once denied Bush doorhangers by my own County GOP (and is shown at the beginning of FEAR OF A BLACK REPUBLICAN). While that would not likely happen today... the lack of Minority Republicans or "ticket-splitters" in Urban areas serves the Democratic Party well and causes our Two-Party Political System to whither away. President Obama's team is to be commended for their hard work and knocking on so many doors that my fellow Republicans did not. My hope is that the GOP will break free from its "Bubble", reach back into greater America and present itself to more people on their own terms.

    Kevin J. Williams

  • Barbara on November 12, 2012 4:39 PM:

    Maybe Ms. Cox should look at it this way: All of us here, mostly liberal, took the time to read a long article about her (in addition to another one about some couple in Florida that came out last Friday, also WaPo). When was the last time she took the time to read about someone whose political point of view was opposed to her own?

    Why is it our job to understand her but not hers to understand others?

    But for all that, I'd rather be me than her, because while savoring her bubble existence, Ms. Cox has no idea who or what the "opposition" is.

  • clevergirl on November 12, 2012 5:24 PM:

    I read this and remember the despair I felt in 2004 when Bush won reelection. And how I felt looking at an electoral college map two weeks ago not willing to put Florida, Virginia, and Colorado in anyone's column. I didn't want to jinx Obama by losing faith.

    Cut her some slack for knowing where the problems in her party are. And appreciate how invested she is. I hope her neighbors can convince her to run for office because someone has to turn the GOP leadership around from its scapegoating, war mongering, borrow-happy ways. I bailed from the GOP over 20 years ago and despair at their inability to reject the politics of isolation.

  • Crissa on November 13, 2012 6:49 AM:

    But it's just basic stuff: You can't, shouldn't change who gets to vote. You can't, shouldn't, preach to the choir when you could be working with who's out there in swing states.

    Obama didn't campaign in California. I know, I accept that; if I wanted to campaign I'd be driving to Nevada or calling across the country. I wouldn't be operating an office in my home town... There wasn't one. There were a few across the Bay Area, but they were mostly clearinghouses for local campaigns and directions to the other states.

    But I suppose that's the difference between accepting who makes up America, vs trying to turn back the clock to a time that didn't exist.

  • jsjiowa on November 13, 2012 11:55 AM:

    Barbara posts "The problem with crossing this divide is, frankly, that so much of what she sees as "problems" arise out of the perceived inadequacies of "others.""

    This reminds me very much of a recent Facebook exchange with an acquaintance who lives in Georgia. She huffily posted that it only took 15 minutes to drive her son to the DMV to get his photo ID, and so no one should be be complaining that it was too difficult. When I suggested that she might have advantages that others in her area did not have (car transportation, flexibility in scheduling, proximity to a DMV office, money to pay for the birth certificate and the license, for starters), her Georgian friends jumped on the bandwagon. People who don't get an ID just aren't trying hard enough, I was told. If voting is that important, you'll find a way to get the ID. One even told me she didn't want such people voting anyway, because it would dilute her vote. I didn't want to call anyone racist, but it was clear who she was referring to. I suggested instead that she was treading a dangerous path, suggesting that she was better than other people, because she had advantages that made it easier for her to get an ID, while it was definitely more difficult for others. That made her angry, and somewhere along the line I was called a liberal (clearly meant in a derogatory way). No, these people think they are true Christians -- they go to church, they work with elderly and the poor (and the truly deserving poor understand that they have to work for what they get, and they don't complain, I was told). They couldn't understand why anyone wouldn't have an ID anyway -- you have to have one to have a bank account, after all. They had no comprehension of the millions of people who don't have bank accounts -- or the fact that 40% of those unbanked live in the South. No, they preferred to live in their bubble where everyone has the same chances, and if you don't succeed, it must be your character at fault. The changing state of America is going to be especially painful for these people. It would help if Fox would help them gently, gradually acclimate, rather than instilling hatred and resentment. I suppose they'll do so only (1) if it is profitable to do so, and (2) someone can convince Roger Ailes that it is in the best interest of the Republican party to peddle different propaganda. Rush is beyond hope -- he'll keep peddling the hate as long as there's an audience.
    It's not just in the South, either. The rural areas of the Midwest have a lot of these people, too. I grew up in a small town like that, and it hasn't changed much.
    I have sometimes wondered if this is what the country felt like just before the Civil War: two completely different worldviews on a collision course. I think it is interesting that since the election, talk of secession by some states has reached a fever pitch by some on Twitter. I don't think it will actually come to violence, but I don't see a lot of compromise in the future, either. It's not going to be pretty.

  • Crissa on November 13, 2012 3:59 PM:

    No, the absence of a viable Republican option does not serve Democrats well.

    It means that people who would be a reasonable opposition - Andrew Sullivan, etc - are in my party, and neither of us get the representation we wish in Congress.

    But at the same time, they should not be Republicans as long as that requires toeing the line with bigots and theocrats.

    Republicans need to change to follow the fact-based world before I'll suggest anyone even vote for their lowliest of positions in the General election.