Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Notes from the Political Middle: Cracker Barrel vs Whole Foods; Protesters of the Year & Newt Leading GOP Pack

Cracker Barrel vs Whole Foods

Quick, which one do you prefer: The restaurant/gift shop chain Cracker Barrel or the supermarket chain Whole Foods?

If you selected Cracker Barrel, you must be a Republican. If you picked Whole Foods, you’re obviously a Democrat. It makes sense that if you buy the $7.39 Chicken n’ Dumplins from Cracker Barrel, where they play country music in the background, you must be a conservative, right? And if you’re in the market for anything organic or for fare like arugula, man, you’re a liberal, just count up them Priuses in the parking lot.

Wait . . . what? Well that’s what the Washington Post asserted in a recent story saying that there’s a cultural divide between the two venues which can serve as easy proxies for patrons’ political choices.

“In 2008, candidate Barack Obama carried 81 percent of counties with a Whole Foods and just 36 percent of counties with a Cracker Barrel – a record 45-point gap,” the Post reported. “. . . This growing divide signals shifts in the electorate. In the 2008 primary, Obama was able to overcome Hillary Rodham Clinton partly because the Democratic Party had become more Whole Foods than Cracker Barrel.” Hillary Clinton is a Cracker Barrel most valuable patron? Since when?

An author/journalist from Texas told the paper: “Politics is aligned with lifestyle right now, not policy. Food used to be political because it represented a class of farmers or workers. Now it represents certain tastes.”

While I’ll concede that there may be some discernible lifestyle correlation between an organic/free-range/Whole Foods-type lifestyle and voting Democratic, this type of false dichotomy makes my hair stand on end. It’s a lazy, simplistic shortcut which ideologically paints folks with one, broad brush. Even here in liberal, blue state Massachusetts, I know folks who defy this simplistic either-or stereotype. I know Republican Whole Foods shoppers and Democratic Cracker Barrel patrons. Scott Brown, in case you’ve forgotten, is from here, and we’ve had many Republican governors who likely never went to a Cracker Barrel but I'd wager they've set foot inside a Whole Foods, or a similar market because they can afford to do so.

Now picture Mitt Romney for a second. Which seems more likely to you, that Romney would be shopping at a Whole Foods or dining at Cracker Barrel? What about Jon Huntsman? Hillary Clinton? Chris Christie? The comparisons don’t always work as cleanly as people would like to make them seem. When you have such a growing body of independents in the electorate who could vote blue or red depending on the candidate – and regardless of where they buy their groceries, which is more related to income than a political culture – it seems more than a little insulting to try to pigeon-hole voters by grocery stores, restaurants or by what sport their kids play, as pundits are wont to do. (I’m a soccer mom AND a hockey mom AND a basketball mom . . . and none of that has anything to do with how I vote, rather it has to do with my kids’ interests.)

Protesters of the Year

Every year Time Magazine’s selection for “Person of the Year” creates controversy. That’s by design. At around Christmas, Time gins up some robust watercooler buzz as people debate their choice.

This year the magazine’s editors went out of their way to make an outside of the box selection by annointing “The Protester” -- whether it’s an Occupy Wall Streeter or an Egyptian woman or Tunisian street vendor, all of those who rose up in protest of their government, their economy, the elite class or all of the above -- was given the props.
“Protests have now occurred in countries whose populations total at least 3 billion people, and the word protest has appeared in newspapers and online exponentially more this past year than at any other time in history,” explained Time’s managing editor Rick Stengel. “. . . Everywhere, it seems, people said they’d had enough. They dissented; they demanded; they did not despair, even when the answers came back in a cloud of tear gas or a hail of bullets. They literally embodied the idea that individual action can bring collective, colossal change.”

I, for one, think it was an inspired choice. What say you?

Seriously, Newt’s Leading the Pack?

As I noted in this post in September (where I wrote about becoming a voter who’s unaffiliated with a political party), I don’t and never have towed any kind of a party line in the voting booth. I vote the person, not the party. Being of the moderate ilk, I tend to cotton to people who are not fire breathers and are apt to feed big, bloody slabs of red meat to their base. As Pollyanna/Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as it may seem, I like the person who doesn’t demonize his or her competitors and who is willing to work for the compromise that’s best for the most people, and who'll do so by collaborating with politicians with whom you don’t necessarily agree, as opposed to thwarting everything in order to just make a stand or prevent someone’s re-election.

Which brings me to my Newt Gingrich question: How is it possible that the GOP primary voters would think that the voters in what’s called the “mushy middle” (Independents and the like) would ever, in a million years, vote for a President Gingrich? I remain stunned by the phoenix-like rise of the former House Speaker as primary voters are scrambling to try to find anyone other than Romney to be their presidential nominee. Certainly there are more appealing candidates who do not have such steep negative ratings as Gingrich.

As I’ve perused the commentary from various political pundits about Gingrich's sudden surge in the polls, the piece that resonated most with me was from conservative Peggy Noonan who, in a blistering Wall Street Journal op/ed likened Gingrich to “a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, ‘Watch this!’”

“What is striking is the extraordinary divide in opinion between those who know Gingrich and those who don’t,” Noonan wrote, after calling him “ethically dubious,” “erratic and unreliable," "impulsive” and “egomaniacal.” “Those who do are mostly not for him, and they were burning up the phone lines this week in Washington.”

Once we hit 2012, I have to believe that the primary voters will go in a different direction, unless, of course, they’re just looking to cede the election to President Obama.

Image credits: Cracker Barrel, Whole Foods, Peter Hapak/Time, Charlie Neibergall/Christian Science Monitor.


carmencatalina said...

I'm a liberal who doesn't shop at Whole Foods (nicknamed "whole paycheck" by many) - sorry, those prices are too steep for me. And I love stopping at a Cracker Barrel for lunch when we travel.

And yet, still voting for Obama over whomever the Republicans manage to decide on.

People are much more complicated (and interesting) than the political talking heads ever give them credit for.

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