I've been a reader of Mark Thoma's blog for a while and I've pigeon-holed him as a "west coast liberal". On April 17, he posted a comment on Larry Bartel's NYT column titled "Who's Bitter Now?":
"... having grown up in a small-town in one of the poorest counties in California, a town where the inequality was stark, it seems to me that we are missing something with this type of analysis (in the town I grew up in, there were very few people in the upper middle class, there were wealthy rice farmers and others with wealth derived from other sources, there were a few doctors, dentists, insurance brokers, etc., but mostly the upper middle was absent, e.g. median household income in 2000 was $35,062). I tried to express some of what I think we are missing here in terms of perceptions of fairness, but I'm not sure that does a very good job of expressing what middle and lower class residents of small towns are frustrated about."
But what was more interesting was this:
"Maybe Bartels is correct, Democrats will never capture this demographic [small town] beyond breaking nearly even in vote shares, but I'd like to have a better understanding of what the problem is. It's not that this group is, from my experience, socially conservative (though this is Northern California), so I agree with Bartels on that point. Identity is big part of it I think, the Republicans have done a better job of tapping into the pickups with gun racks, duck and pheasant hunting, beer drinking, go to church on Easter, type of demographic (I no longer hunt, but I took my first hunter safety course at age 11, most of us did - I should write more about guns because rural residents view the issue very differently from urban residents, at least that's my experience)." (emphasis mine)
His posting on guns is personal and moving and can be found here. Some excerpts:
"[Recalling about duck hunting.] My uncle and cousin had extensive knowledge of ducks, I was always surprised by how much they knew. They'd see a duck flying pretty far away and could tell you if it was a wood duck, pintail, teal, widgeon, etc. ... In high school, we'd party until early into the morning, then a lot of my classmates would get up before dawn, go to the blind, set out the decoys if they weren't out already, then sit there in the cold, rain, and fog waiting for ducks and geese to fly by so they could call them in with their duck calls ..."
"If you shot a dove out of a tree instead of in flight, that was considered to be unfair and you’d be ostracized. As I said, there were rules, and you followed them."
"I followed the usual progression: Lots of exposure to guns, my own BB gun at age seven or eight, gun lessons and a shotgun by age 12. One thing, though, that I want to emphasize is how much respect for guns and gun safety was drilled into my head from day one. There were things you did, things you didn’t do, and it started from the very first time you tagged along just to watch. I won’t even try to detail all the rules, but anyone who knows them also knows that Vice-President Cheney did not have this kind of training "
"Maybe if I’d spent more time in a big city and observed first-hand the troubles that handguns can cause I’d feel different about the whole gun issue, but anything that might force me to have to register the guns I have, give them up, anything approximating that I would resist. ... hose are wonderful memories, and having the guns is somehow connected back to all of that, to my family history, to time as a kid with my dad, grandfather, uncles, and cousins. It recalls a way of life I no longer live, but it will always be with me. I can’t exactly explain how guns fit into all that, but I know that they do."
"There’s something about getting up early, trudging in the cold through wet fields until you and the dogs are dead tired, often coming up empty-handed but somehow that didn’t matter, generations of family together sharing stories from the past, and creating new ones to be told in the future. Because of all this, I think, I resist restrictions on guns. I guess it’s my history but I can’t logically explain why I resist more control over guns other than what I’ve said above."
"I have no emotional connection to the problems guns create in major cities. I see it on the news, read about it, but it’s not real. "