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Monday, April 21, 2008

"Obama's Touch of Class"

Thomas Frank on the culture war:

Obama's Touch of Class, by Thomas Frank, Commentary, WSJ [open link]: ...According to the general clucking of the national punditry, my 2004 book – "What's the Matter With Kansas?" – is supposed to have persuaded Barack Obama to describe the yeomanry of Pennsylvania as "bitter" people who "cling to guns or religion or . . . anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." ...

The media flurry kicked up by Mr. Obama's gaffe powerfully confirms an argument I ... make: That as they return again to the culture war, what the soldiers on all sides are doing is talking about class without actually addressing the economic basis of the subject.

Consider, for example, the one fateful charge ... fastened upon Mr. Obama – "elitism." No one means ... Mr. Obama is a wealthy person... What they mean is that he has committed a crime of attitude, and revealed his disdain for the common folk.

It is a stereotype you have heard many times before: Besotted with latte-fueled arrogance, the liberal looks down on average people... He scoffs at religion because he finds it to be a form of false consciousness. He believes in regulation because he thinks he knows better than the market. ...

Mr. Obama reminds columnist George Will of Adlai Stevenson, rolled together with the sinister historian Richard Hofstadter and the diabolical economist J.K. Galbraith, contemptuous eggheads all. Mr. Obama strikes Bill Kristol as some kind of "supercilious" Marxist. ...

Ah, but Hillary Clinton: Here's a woman who drinks shots of Crown Royal... And when the former first lady talks about her marksmanship as a youth, who cares about the cool hundred million she and her husband have mysteriously piled up...? Or her years of loyal service to Sam Walton, that crusher of small towns and enemy of workers' organizations? ... Didn't he have a funky Southern accent...? Surely such a mellifluous drawl cancels any possibility of elitism.

It is by this familiar maneuver that the people who have ... brought the class divide back to America – the people who have actually, really transformed our society from an egalitarian into an elitist one – perfume themselves with the essence of honest toil, like a cologne distilled from the sweat of laid-off workers. Likewise do their retainers in the wider world – the conservative politicians and the pundits who lovingly curate all this phony authenticity – become jes' folks, the most populist fellows of them all.

But suppose we read on, and we find the news item about the hedge fund managers who made $2 billion and $3 billion last year, or the story about the vaporizing of our home equity. Suppose we become a little . . . bitter about this. What do our pundits and politicians tell us then?

That there is no place for such sentiment in the Party of the People. That "bitterness" is an ugly and inadmissible emotion. That "divisiveness" is a thing to be shunned at all costs.

Conservatism, on the other hand, has no problem with bitterness... They have welcomed it, they have flattered it, they have invited it in with millions of treason-screaming direct-mail letters, they have given it a nice warm home on angry radio shows... There is not only bitterness out there; there is a bitterness industry.

Consider the shower of right-wing love that descended in February on small-town newspaper columnist Gary Hubbell, who penned this year's great eulogy of the "angry white man," the "man's man" who "works hard," who "knows that his wife is more emotional than rational," and who also, happily, knows how to "change his own oil and build things."

This stock character, unchanged ... in the culture-war battles of the last few decades, is said to be as furious as ever, and still blaming the same villains for his problems: namely intellectuals, in the guise of "judges who have never worked an honest day in their lives." But what he really wants is a chance to vote against Hillary Clinton, and "make sure she gets beaten like a drum." I guess our angry toiler didn't yet know about the Crown Royal.

If Barack Obama or anyone else really cares to know what I think, I will simplify it all down to this. The landmark political fact of our time is the replacement of our middle-class republic by a plutocracy. If some candidate has a scheme to reverse this trend, they've got my vote, whether they prefer Courvoisier or beer bongs spiked with cough syrup. I don't care whether they enjoy my books, or would rather have every scrap of paper bearing my writing loaded into a C-47 and dumped into Lake Michigan. If it will help restore the land of relative equality I was born in, I'll fly the plane myself.

    Posted by on Monday, April 21, 2008 at 12:18 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (42)

          

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