What Is Red-State Liberalism?

By The Editors

Tagged politicsrural

We know all about blue-state liberals, and we know all about red-state conservatives. And goodness knows, we’ve been reading nonstop since the election about the angry red people in previously blue states who tipped the election.

But there’s a fourth category of people who are almost completely invisible in American political media: red-state liberals. Yes, they exist. Maybe not in large-enough numbers to flip a state. But that doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. They are, and for two reasons.
First, they’re trying to uphold our values in some places where doing that isn’t easy. And the four short essays in this package describe for readers what exactly that work entails. Lydia Bean runs a religious advocacy group in Texas. Sue Malek is a Democratic state senator in Montana. Alvin McEwen is an LGBTQ activist in South Carolina. And Jennifer Riley-Collins runs the ACLU of Mississippi. Talk about being in the trenches.

Second, their liberalism, while rock-solid, is nevertheless a little different from yours. Mostly, these differences aren’t about issue positions but come down to questions of sensibility and lifestyle. How does it affect a person to be in the decided minority, to have many conservative friends, to live outside the blue bubbles many of us inhabit? These are the questions Mary Wolf probes in her essay, which is required reading for blue-island liberals.

Finally, we’re delighted that the package includes an important piece by Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor and agriculture secretary under President Obama. Vilsack offers up smart and specific steps progressives need to take to reconnect to rural voters and their concerns. No one can look at the county map of last year’s election, showing Hillary Clinton winning 487 out of 3,141 counties, and fail to see, in graphic terms, that our side has a big rural problem. Some wave it away. We say address it. Here’s a start.

Yes, Red-State Liberals Exist

By Mary Logan Wolf


Reconnecting With Rural America

By Tom Vilsack


Out and Proud Down South

By Alvin McEwen


Yes, We Speak ‘Faith’ Here

By Lydia Bean


Outnumbered, Not Out-Passioned

By Sue Malek


Keeping the Flame Alive

By Jennifer Riley-Collins


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The Editors of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas are Michael Tomasky (Editor), Jack Meserve (Managing Editor), and Delphine d'Amora (Associate Editor).

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Bernard Schwartz, 1925-2024

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