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What I Learned on My Red State Book Tour


What I Learned on My Red State Book Tour

Robert Reich

I’ve just returned from three weeks in “red” America.

It was ostensibly a book tour but I wanted to talk with conservative Republicans and Tea Partiers.

I intended to put into practice what I tell my students – that the best way to learn is to talk with people who disagree you. I wanted to learn from red America, and hoped they’d also learn a bit from me (and perhaps also buy my book).

But something odd happened. It turned out that many of the conservative Republicans and Tea Partiers I met agreed with much of what I had to say, and I agreed with them.


If the red states would see through the manner in which Big Money is exploiting them through social narratives at the expense of their best interests, maybe--just maybe, they could help right the ship. The organic Tea Party started in this vein, but was quickly co-opted by Big Money when it sensed the threat. I hope that the populist movements left and right will tear at the seams of Big Money's fabric.


And yet, they elect Teabaggers and libertarian nuts. It is amazing how the extreme right manages to take the righteous and often progressive anger of those most victimized by capitalism and turn it, like history and reality, on its head getting them to support their abusers in protest. As I wrote in a recent article on the growth of fascist ideology in our country:

I have given much thought to why people not served by this kind of ideology, people that actually bear the brunt of the corporate agendas that harm us and treat us as disposable commodities buy into it at all. I think for many it is just plain easier. The manipulation of culture, religion and hot-button issues are certainly part of it. It requires no thought, research or knowledge of history, science or of the world to simply accept this stuff and, unlike digging for uncomfortable truths, it's safe. Most of us struggle just to get by day to day fearing for our economic and real security. Fascist ideology stokes fear of change and of enemies, real or imagined. It also speaks to our frustration, to the lack of control we have over our lives and gives voice to our anger and resentments. Misplaced blame and the catharsis of judgment and hate, act as a pressure valve while protecting those actually responsible for our troubles. It must be the fault of Mexicans, Muslims, Gays, or Blacks and if you object than you must hate America. If you express any sense of economic and social justice or mention human rights or heaven forbid, the common good, then you're a godless commie! Just like in our proxy-fascist satrapies like Guatemala or Indonesia.


The religion item is MUCH stronger than you articulate.

Don't forget, human beings, AS social creatures typically identify with group standards. Not to do so risks being exiled from "the herd." That's why anyone who is different typically pays a high price.

In the heartland and "the red states" what's the strongest identifier is being "Christian." When someone like Paul Ryan--aiming at the arteries of workers in the manner of a polished serial killer--can gain respect, it's because he markets himself as the white Christian family man BRAND.

You are correct that many of the individuals mentioned do not study science (or understand it), and many don't read. Therefore, their opinions come to them pre-packaged by the opinion-shapers who occupy the mainstream media (along with print magazines, newspapers, radio programs, etc.)

What's interesting is that Jesus made a name for himself by exposing the hypocrisy of the leaders of his day. If only more Christian ministers were willing to expose the hypocrisy of today's leaders: Those who say they represent the people while signing away citizens' rights, liberties, and basic safety to corporate overlords who demonstrate socio-pathic tendencies in all that they do.

If Christian leaders showed the hypocrisy of "the brand" and how it's exploited by politicians who are ready, willing, and able to absolutely sell out The People, then maybe the heartland wouldn't vote in the various and sundry reptiles who indeed have seats of power.

It's still close to 90 degrees in North Florida in nearly mid-November. It used to be about 60. I wonder how hot it will have to get before the global-warming deniers own up?


I too regularly visit a Red State, and my experience with the residents there is the same as Reich's: apart from religious issues, their opinions about Wall Street, crony politics, uneven playing field, and economic injustice are the same as mine.

Those who systematically exploited religion to divide us, with abortion, gay marriage and creationism, are slowly running out of stream, not least because they themselves never believed their own lies. I have come to realize that the Red Staters and I can make common cause, to push back against those who plot at nothing less than the re-establishment of a serf and lord world.


"Heartland Republicans and progressive Democrats remain wide apart on social and cultural issues. "

So could you outlined the differences as well, and explain how they do not effect economics? Social and culture issues cost us taxpayers money and are part of the budget in many cases. Cause and effect cost us taxpayers money which I will simply put that well rounded citizenry costs less than a less rounded citizenry. Well rounded citizens make better decisions.


You're probably a Caucasian male and you've likely commented before using a different screen name.

With that being said, it's very easy for white males to make all this noise about finding common cause with right wing rednecks. Of course, the flagrant racism and sexism that's so much a part of the right wing ideology is of no consequence to them.

Life may rely upon economics and capitalism is certainly a form of predatory economics, but capitalism alone hardly accounts for the kinds of prejudices--and policies reflective of them--that have so harmed the Black community and many women... for many centuries.

How is it that those who exalt guns and think their manhood is found in an automatic weapon can make common cause with those who advocate for a society based not on armed domination, but actual peace?

It's a good thing that right wing ranchers are realizing what Fracking (as "free enterprise") will mean to their lands and futures; and it's a good thing that persons from all points on the political spectrum sense and feel the outright betrayal being done to them by elite interests.

But that doesn't mean that what the right wing symbolizes can harmonize with the core beliefs of Progressives.

As one example: Quite a few Christian Conservatives think that it's THEIR freedom to tell others what to do and how they can live. It was quite amazing to hear one such individual insist that courts granting licenses to gay couples (who wish to marry) violated HIS freedom.

In other words, to this highly rigid and aggressive group, others' ways of living are a violation to the freedoms of those who don't want them to live this way.

How then can intolerant types find common cause with persons who truly do honor others' freedom?

To drive the point home further, years ago I had a friend who turned gay and she invited me to Miami to meet her new female partner. The female partner required the AC to be turned up high while she smoked cigarettes inside. I, on the other hand, abhor cigarettes and like a place "open to the elements" with fresh (if it is fresh) air flowing through.

My friend, as it was, was a Libra, the sign known for reconciling others' problems. So I joked, "Mary, Libra-middle man, how is it that you can resolve this issue?"

I left. There WAS no reconciliation between the smoker--whose unhealthy habit jeopardized others; yet in her view, THAT was her right; and the individual who sought to take personal responsibility for their own health by avoiding destructive habits.


Having lived and voted in blue states most of my 60 something years, I have noticed a trend that fewer and fewer progressives vote for Democrats while more and more former GOP voters vote for Democrats. several of the GOP converts have told me they can't believe how liberal they have become in their old age, despite the fact that the Democrats they vote for are further right than the GOP candidates they supported 30 years ago.

Let's pretend that a significant number of red state voters stop voting GOP in 2016 and they vote for whatever corporate gunner the Democratic Party leadership weasels on to the general election ballot. Help me understand what that solves ?


Part of that religion meme is exhibited in those that continue to cite the "founding fathers" and the "constitution". In no other nation that I know of have past politicians been elevated to the levels of worship that they are in the USA where the founding "fathers" have reached God and his archangels status and where the Constitution is seen as "holy".

This is IMHO a direct result of that meme of religion and is to me an example of how some of these relgions of the patriarchy (notice there no founding mothers) got off the ground all those years ago.


I have often thought that people who live on the far side of the capitalist utopia cannot really lend themselves (completely) to the myths and lies that sustain our demented society. In my experience, there is a great deal of "bad faith," willful self-deception, among working class rightists. They lay claim to supporting policies that they cannot actually support if they really thought about them. I'm not surprised that Robert Reich found a significant vein of "progressive" populism in Red State working class communities. When common sense is combined with a keen understanding of the pressures brought to bear on everyday life, most people arrive at intelligent insights about the way the world actually works. If someone opens their eyes and is prepared to look at the beast, is it possible for them to see something other than domination of American society by corporate forces?

There are many reasons that working class people turn rightward, when their sensibility is really populist. One reason is magical thinking: such has been the ideological assault on collectivism and political solidarity that many Americans can't even envisage a social solution to the problems of American life. Instead they are content to place their hopes in a great individual savior, like Obama or Donald Trump. In this regard, Bernie Sanders' run is truly historic, because the "democratic socialism" brings the collectivist/communitarian vision back to center stage, where it belongs.

One needs sociology, anthropology, psychology, politics and economics to get at the logic of working class "conservatism." But a key explanatory factor (not developed by Reich) is the huge significance of white racism in American culture generally. As we all know, Racism is a simple logic of divide and conquer. But the question has to be asked: what exactly makes it take hold, so that it can be exploited for reactionary purposes by the plutocratic elite that owns the United States and the world? Racism appeals to lower some lower class people because it flatters them that they are important, simply in having "white skin." But the appeal of racism also shows the ethical backwardness and spiritual emptiness of US culture. When people find hatred and contempt to be good, and when they find life meaning in such things, some thing is definitely wrong. The Republican Party will never tire of using racism just to long as it proves effective in mobilizing supporters. The Democrats have their racist moments, too.

If racism did not flourish in this country, we would surely have a flourishing socialist movement. The conditions are right!


Pay no attention to that thermometer. Dubya's EPA chief, Christine Todd Whitman, today told an NPR reporter that we "shouldn't be too concerned about the streets of Miami being underwater during high tide". I would LOL at such a comment if it wasn't so sad that millions of people are being or will soon be impacted by such trends.


Well, any present govt. structure is a remnant of patriarchy to be sure. But don't forget, the Founders did something extraordinary by erecting a wall between church and state. Since they were the direct "beneficiaries" of what church-state orthodoxy felt like, they determined to get the religious component OUT of politics. And they were right!

I'll tell you where I sense that remnant on a daily basis... it's working on the very deeply embedded meme of Original Sin.

Every time "the band" cries out that WE are all guilty sinners... it's playing off that original tune (or leit motif).

Every time Robert Koehler makes gender invisible, as do so many otherwise intelligent writers, it's part of that same blinded-by-the-light of Absolute Patriarchy.

Guilt is a powerful detractor. The "Course in Miracles" says that an ounce of guilt is sufficient to draw all things to a halt. I truly think it's used for that purpose.

The Right used to define "bleeding heart" liberals as weaklings because they felt for their fellow man and woman. That level of empathy is taboo when war, competition, the primacy of the gun, macho shows of force, and the mentality of "every dog for himself" are held up as twisted ideals.

In the preface to his novel about Nazi Germany, Armageddon, Leon Uris begins by explaining the German idolatry of the male super-hero.

Germany IS an Aries nation as is England. And while the U.S. began as a Cancer entity (July 4), its emphasis on (National) security, and "family values" are drawn directly from its European ancestry.

Mythology--whether its derivation is orthodox religion or the nature-worshiping belief systems that predated it--informs our existences.


Although that dingbat isn't high on my list of people to disdain, I truly believe that those who hold positions of power, authority, and influence owe it to others... the act of expressing Truth, not lies. And it's all the more important now when so much is on the line.

Those of us who believe in karma and recognize that souls are engaged in a process that moves from lifetime to lifetime, also know that persons given special positions have a LOT to answer for.

The Kennedy Family years ago all showed up on Oprah's program and she asked why so many of them went into public service. They answered by expressing the Catholic idea demonstrated through the St. Thomas Admonition: "that to the one much is given, much is expected."

I think there's a lot of merit to that comment and its implied commitment.


Yes they were right to get the Religion component out of Government , yet it remains and remains in the US Government more than many other Western Democracies.

Religion , like Military service for political leaders is still much more a factor in the USA than places like Germany or even the UK. To Militarism even now in the USA Hilary Clinton tries to burnish her credentials by claiming that she tried to join the military but was refused by a male recruiter because she was a woman and heaven forbid a person running for office proclaim themself openly as an Atheist or Muslim.

That all said it IS very hard for people to see outside the constraints that their immersion in a particular culture has restrained them inside of.


There is valid documentation of the use of Christian chaplains INSIDE the military. And some of them work to couple patriotism with religious fealty with enthusiasm for aggressive acts of war. It's a very sick and sickening combination.

I agree with the points you've made. I also find it noteworthy that very few people on this site dare to discuss this. Either they ARE Christian and don't see an issue with its increasing merger into govt. entities as well as the make-war state; or in following some form of "political correctness," they keep this topic off their radar.

I plan to purchase the book, "God and Government" by Barry Lynn as like myself, he sees a serious problem in the amount of money being funneled out of public education directly to religious/Christian schools. In too many articles the religious component is left out of discussions about the Charter School movement, and this absence is insidious.

Note the way this ilk is pushing against women's reproductive rights all over again. For all the talk about "right to life," they form an enthusiastic demographic when it comes to determining the next enemy for the War Machine to slaughter.


Several months back I linked to a video alleged to be of a researcher for one of the Corporations involved in the MIC giving a presentation to a group of Generals deep in the Pentagon.

In it he claimed that using technologies they are able to map parts of the human brain that are linked to religiosity.

In any case he claimed that in brains of individuals that were deemed fundamentalists a certain area of the brain lit up when discussing religion.

He then claimed his company had developed a type of virus that could be spread as a contagion through the air that would actively suppress these regions.

This reminded me of rather obscure research by a researcher in South America that concluded the genetic component of human behaviour was greatly understated and that a lot of said behaviour had genetics at its roots. He did not say that children born greedy because there parents were but that due to the nature of those genes the likelihood of such a child becoming greedy went up in societies where said child exposed to the same while a neighbors child would better resist.

Now whether the two things related I have no clue on but the fact remains as you well know the US military and the CIA have long been trying to shape and direct human behaviour .


A cautionary:
There is a great danger that our oligarchy and allies may further co-opt populist
causes in a scenario which mirrors the rise of fascism in the late twenties and
thirties. This needs to be taken into account by any serious movement which
wants to propel reform or even systemic change, since disaffected and well-
meaning people can indeed be fooled and pandered to by unscrupulous but
charismatic ideologues. Historically, such co-optation caught traction when
oligarchies felt seriously threatened by increasingly angry and disaffected
publics which had begun searching for alternate ways to change and improve
their lives. Especially if workers and middle-class people of all races and
walks of life showed signs of actually coming together in larger organizations,
having commensurately increased power and potential for creating change.


If Lincoln hadn't feared that California would join the confederates in secession he would have let the South secede in 1861.

Losing California would have stopped manifest destiny (Murka's guiding light then and now) in its tracks.


Well, I have observed the same thing as Mr Reich and Mr Kosher..My republican friends (yes I have them, sue me) are close , on many issues, to progressives. Denigrating them as uneducated, biased people is not only false..but counter productive. We should seek things that bring us together, not just things that divide us.


Yeah, and attitudes like yours will almost guarantee that progressives stay a minority. Peace.