The Big Ho-Hum from Louisiana

From Louisiana, a big ho-hum for the primary fight

SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER  As was predictable,* Rick Santorum won Louisiana’s presidential primary Saturday. Also predictable, the word ‘evangelicals’ has been all over the air waves. Again predictable, almost all of the commentary has come from people who have not lived in Louisiana, not stayed here for any length of time, not come from any place near here.

I say ‘here’, because I happen to be in the western part of Louisiana this week. What I saw, in the lead-up to the GOP primary March 24, was no sign of political activity. None. Virtually no campaign signs/posters, even. No discussion, unless you count a couple of Limbaugh-listening cab drivers. No movement on the street–any street–or indoors, regarding any candidate. Newspaper reporting was decorous to the verge of tepid. Interest, in short? –Scant. Virtually the only sign of life, outside communities who gratefully turned out to give President Obama their endorsement, has been the Etch-a-Sketch. And even that has been touched on from a different angle than that on air, at least in my hearing. Where the news media  reported that stock in the company manufacturing the Etch-a-Sketch went up, in the wake of the breathtakingly candid comment, locals note that sales of Etch-a-Sketches in stores went up.

So much for all those hordes of bible-waving frothing-at-the-mouth evangelicals, running amuck down the main streets in a grand stampede to vote for the man of their choice–the ‘devout’ Santorum.

There is one thing the topics of religion, the South, Christianity, ‘evangelicals’, the ‘Bible Belt’ and kindred terms all have in common, much more strongly than any other objective (actual) common denominator including demographics: These are all topics on which commentators feel it legitimate to speak without knowing anything about them.

Someone who talks about basketball on television knows at least something about basketball. Someone who talks about fashion knows something about clothes. Someone who reports on the economy, health issues, commerce–you name it–usually knows at least something about the topic, in spite of flaming gaffes like overlooking the mortgage-derivatives debacle.

But someone on air who uses the term ‘evangelical’? With rare exceptions, you could safely bet your mortgage balance–if anyone offered to take the bet–that the speaker has never even met an actual evangelical. Ditto most of the speakers who sweepingly characterize the South, etc.

One simple point, kept short: Genuine evangelicals spend a lot of time trying to convert other people to their faith. In these parts, their interest in voting for either Santorum or Newt Gingrich–the two Catholics in the race–or in Mitt Romney has been consistently tepid, and getting more so.

Try to believe me when I say that most true believers, the overwhelming majority of same, are not parading an eagerness to vote for any of the GOP candidates above as a hallmark of faith, nor are they exacting a promise to vote for Santorum as proof of faith in their neighbors.

Media analysts are obsessed with ‘evangelicals’. It may be a form of xenophobia in our major media hubs.

Back to the prevailing commentary–It’s good that media analysts have waked up to the demographics separating Santorum supporters, by and large, from Romney/Gingrich/Ron Paul voters. But the logical step that should come next has not yet come–the question why far-flung unreached voters would be more willing to go for Santorum. This logical step is being blocked by the ‘evangelicals’ dodge, a fig leaf for journalism not informing.

The answer is not religion. There are plenty of devout African-Americans, Latinos, Caucasians and others not lining up to vote for Santorum. The same holds for income level, occupation and industry.

The answer has to do with level of information. The local newspapers try hard, sometimes, but are withering on the vine. USA Today, read more often than the local paper, is beating the drum for the co-called ‘oil pipeline’. Not all three traditional television networks even air a national evening news program in the Shreveport-Bossier City metro area. Bookstores are few and far between, found mostly in large malls–chain stores. Internet access is more limited than in larger, healthier metro areas. Rush Limbaugh dominates the radio, feeding his audience false stories–that Canadians have to wait “four months” for health care, for example.

In regard to the limited topic of the GOP primary race, there is just about no information on Santorum’s lobbying in D.C. over recent years. There is no detailed evaluation of what Santorum’s policies, including the Paul Ryan budget and more global bellicosity, would do to the average Santorum voter. Santorum goes out and feeds his limited audiences the line they want to hear–I’m one of you, and we are under attack. That’s his campaign, in a nutshell. And people who would be unduly influenced by this thin line are people suffering a dearth of information on the issues that affect their lives.

Take this simple question on health care: How many Americans would be able to pay a high-six-figure medical bill? How many, or what proportion of the U.S. population, would be able to foot big hospital bills for themselves, even if they have insurance (or think they have)? Regardless of income level–how many people could count on being able to keep paying their mortgages, keep their kids in college, take care of their older relatives, meet any of the other demands of ordinary middle-class life, if they abruptly faced hospitalization for serious illness or injury?

And yet we have exactly the people who would be very sadly off, in such a situation–among the millions of people, probably the overwhelming majority of the population–reluctant to have single-payer health care. Why? Because they see it as ‘paying for other people’. What would THEY do, themselves, if faced with medical necessity?

Uh.

btw these untapped reservoirs of obliviousness to the basic question on health care–What would you do–also tend to be people resistant to keeping their own health. These are not, by and large, your joggers, your soccer coaches, your non-smokers. Remember the ‘Thank you for smoking’ line being pushed by a youngish rightwing writer? Them. Driving without a seatbelt? Them. Fast-food junkies? Them.

And these are the people we’re all supposed to listen to, as salt-of-the-earth, backbone-of-America types? People who think they’re showing independence and self-reliance by not buckling up?

Back to the topics above: These people are not evangelicals. They are not born-agains. They are not ‘the base’. They are GOP voters, largely staying home from the primaries because they don’t care too much who wins and just don’t want to know too much about the candidates. And the candidates are pandering to them with all their might, with the exception of Paul.

Granted, most of us are not actuaries. But given the proven shortfalls when an insurance policy has to be relied on, the number of people who don’t even have insurance ‘coverage’ in the first place, the likelihood of hospitalization in the ordinary lifespan–you would think that the concept of sharing the risk, or spreading the risk, would be viable.

As to the remaining contests, so far everything looks going by the metric below. I thought Gingrich and Romney might pull more votes out of Louisiana, but the lack of interest is fierce here, far more fierce than the commitment to any candidate. Former Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania has said he thinks Santorum will pull Pennsylvania; he should know. If it’s only the most abjectly ill-informed voters who go to the polls, the outcome is predictable in a low-turnout vote.  

*Run-down of contests by metro-versus-rural metric, re-posted

  • Missouri March 17 Santorum, 52 delegates
  • Puerto Rico March 18 Romney, 23 delegates Winner-take-all statewide
  • Illinois March 20 Romney, 69 delegates
  • Louisiana March 24 Close three-way race, one of Santorum’s better hopes, 46 delegates Proportional
  • DC April 3 Romney, 19 delegates Winner-take-all statewide
  • Maryland April 3 Romney, 37 delegates Winner-take-all combined
  • Wisconsin April 3 Maybe Santorum, 42 delegates Winner-take-all combined
  • Connecticut April 24 Romney, 28 delegates Winner-take-all at 50%+
  • Delaware April 24 Romney, 17 delegates Winner-take-all statewide
  • New York April 24 Romney, 95 delegates Winner-take-all at 50%+
  • Pennsylvania April 24 Romney, 72 delegates
  • Rhode Island April 24 Romney, 19 delegates Proportional
  • Indiana May 8 Santorum, 46 delegates Winner-take-all combined
  • North Carolina May 8 Close three-way, something for Santorum, 55 delegates Proportional
  • West Virginia May 8 Santorum, 31 delegates Proportional
  • Nebraska May 15 Santorum, 35 delegates
  • Oregon May 15 Santorum, 28 delegates Proportional
  • Arkansas May 22 Santorum, 36 delegates Proportional/mixed
  • Kentucky May 22 Santorum, 45 delegates Proportional
  • Texas May 29 Romney/Gingrich, 155 delegates Proportional
  • California June 5 Romney, 172 delegates Winner-take-all combined
  • Montana June 5 Santorum, 26 delegates
  • New Jersey June 5 Romney, 50 delegates Winner-take-all statewide
  • New Mexico June 5 Romney, 23 delegates Proportional
  • South Dakota June 5 Santorum, 28 delegates Proportional
  • Utah June 26 Romney, 40 delegates Winner-take-all statewide
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