Monday, February 16, 2004

AND THEY'RE OFF

The Bush campaign announced late last week that they are ready to get aggressive, and they did on Sunday when Bush waved the flag at the start of the Daytona 500. As most media outlets were quick to point out, the President pro tem's appearance constitutes more than just ceremonial duty, he was courting a key voter demographic demeaningly called "Nascar Dad's".

Here is how the Financial Times describes Nascar Dads:

"The average fan of stock-car racing is a white middle-aged man with an above-average income and more than likely to have children under 18...The sport's origins lie in the south, where drivers once took their souped-up sedan cars around the backroads to bootleg moonshine."

Nascar Dads, as a political prize, are markedly unlike the "soccer mom's" of yore or the "office park dad's" with whom the DNC flirted briefly (and unsucessfully) in 2002. These groups conjured images of hard working parents struggling to raise families in an era of growing economic insecurity for America's middle-income households. They represented a set of policy interests related to kitchen table economic issues and the fragmentation of social space spawned by the suburbanization of the American population, the stagnation of median wages and the increase in hours worked.

Whereas soccer mom's were heralded as national heros deserving ofpublic support for their commitment to work and family, Nascar Dads are a demographic derisively constructed on men's passion for sport and "moonshine" which distracts from the rather daunting anxieties and challenges they face as a socioeconomic class in America today. And thus one can see why Bush would need to woo these people in order to secure re-election. These are the people who have been left behind by Bush's maldistributed tax policies, by the pain of recession and the job-loss recovery, by his efforts to slant the playing field for corporate interests--at the expense of Nascar Dads--at every turn.

The rapacious spread of the Nascar Dad story begs the question of whether the Bush team actually planted this message. By my count, the WP, the NYT, USA Today, the WSJ, and CNN all also ran stories today on this newest entry in America's political lexicon.

Where the national media goes, so too will all other media outlets follow. You can expect a rash of pundits and analysts spewing conventional wisdoms on Nascar Dads in radio talk shows, and the local evening news throughout the country profiling these same Dads. Nascar Dads, as a news item, meshes nicely with the media's desire for political stories wrapped up in sporting metaphors and their desire to distill political discourse to a lowest common denominator (whether accurate or not). Factor in the major commercial/advertising appeal of Nascar, and the story becomes a news trifecta.

While the Nascar Dad label smacks as condascending, if not patently offensive, it does conveniently divert the political dialogue away from debates on specific policy issues and Bush's failures/successes to the Nascar phenomenon and Bush's folksy swagger. I'm wondering whether it could backfire on him, though. As Howard Dean found out, Southerners for some reason don't like to be labeled as slack-jawed red necks. Go figure.

**UPDATE: Charlie Cook of National Journal had this to say:

"But this business about the "NASCAR dad" being the swing voter group of the 2004 election, or any other national election, is one of the dumbest ideas I've heard in my 32 years in and around politics...This is Bush's absolute strongest group, unless you put a Texan qualifier in there. NASCAR dads haven't voted Democratic in a presidential election since Moby Dick was a guppy."

So there goes the Nascar Dads debate.

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