Wednesday, May 21, 2008

CLASS WAR: Pantsuits and prole caps

"This is to all the stupid Democrats (including myself) who always believed that every vote counts in an election," writes a bitter blue-collar, patriotic, hard-working voter to the Schuylkill County paper-of-record, The Pottsville Republican.

"Why should the Democrats vote when it’s the state delegates who decides who gets on the ballot? Why waste people’s time (taking time off from work, etc.) to vote your choice for the nominee of your choice? I have been a Democrat most of my life, but that’s about to change to either register Republican or not vote at all.

"In West Virginia, Hillary Clinton won by over 60 percent and they had 28 delegate votes. However, Clinton got 20 delegate votes and Obama got eight delegate votes. Why? Since Clinton won, why did she not get all 28 delegate votes?"

See here.

It's unfair, thinks the Democrat in Schuylkill County, a shire which went for Clinton. So unfair, it's time to threaten to join the Republican Party, a party that's been pretty bad to workers in the county for the last few decades.

However, DD calls the action similar to what he did when regularly rebuked while growing up in the county. When told a prescribed mode of action was good for me and I promptly did the opposite, I was told I was cutting off my nose despite my face. (Or, "You’re cutting off your nose to spite your face.")

It's simple human nature to give the middle-finger to the party or powers belittling you. And if that means setting fire to your own shed, then so be it.

So do it, guy! Quit and join the other side.

The "Democrat" in rural Pennsylvania, and many other places with similar demographics, threaten to leave the party daily, so much that it's become a shtick. If you watch Lou Dobbs in the late afternoon on CNN, there's a constant stream of alleged defectors, outraged and betrayed that the party isn't likely to imprison and deport all illegal aliens. (Coincidentally, this makes southern California a regular target, a region subverting the security of the rest of hard-working and patriotic white America.)

Dobbs publishes their angry e-mail; he's their Howard Beale -- mad as hell and not going to take it -- only he doesn't wear a dirty raincoat and pass out on the floor at the end of his broadcast. Instead, he allows some lucky viewers to do the I'm-mad-as-hell bit in e-mail, pitching a fit in which they announce they've left the Democratic party to become independent. It seems a surefire way to get one's words on television for a moment.

"Remember, government is supposed to be 'for the people and by the people,' writes the angry Schuylkill County voter. "Not anymore. The popular vote of the American people should take precedence over the delegate voting. Corruption and greed has [sic] taken control. Think about it."

And so DD has.

Having been an obedient and law-abiding citizen in Schuylkill County for more years than many, places like it are a lost cause to the candidacy of Barack Obama. But it's not a problem which can be cured by sensitivity and outreach. The animosity and distrust due to race and class difference is great and carved into stone for most. And you'd have a better than even chance of guessing right if you wager the Democrats of Schuylkill County, such as they are, regularly vote for Republican presidential nominees when all is said and done.

Now as predictable as the rising sun, the Tuesday primaries served only to reinforce the class war. The codger and uneducated voting bloc, an ugly but accurate slur, stood up and smashed Obama in Kentucky.

In Oregon, a different tribe held sway.

"Oregon: Male vote went to Obama; Clinton won only working poor, 65+ vote" went the wire service headline.

"Barack Obama won a huge victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Oregon primary, mostly with the support of men and younger voters ... But the Illinois senator also found plenty of votes among blue-collar workers who had been the staple of Clinton victories in other states, and among those who said that change was more important than experience in a candidate. Only the working poor making less than $30,000 a year and those over 65 supported Clinton."

See here.

It is said the white blue-collar class is an Obama problem. It appeared not to have been in Oregon, indicating the problem is one that exists in distinguishing between white tribes radically differentiated by geography, tastes and economic health.

Kentucky is poorer than Oregon. Kentucky is a coal-mining state. Most of the coal-mining states went for George W. Bush in the 2004 election. (Pennsylvania and Illinois were exceptions.)

In "American Theocracy," political historian Kevin Phillips discusses Republican voting blocs at length, this white class/tribe distinguished from Democrats by the influence of fundamentalist religion. Kentucky is described as a "traditionalist redoubt."

It's dry reading and while the analysis is a few years old, it doesn't spend time on the idea that blue-collar whites are a constituency Democrats must learn to win. (Technically, pursuing these voters now amounts to taking the political advice of Karl Rove, advertised now as a "Fox News Analyst," regularly invited to lecture the Obama campaign on how it's failing to reach real Americans, for the delight of viewers of like mind.)

On balance, Phillips' book indicates this is a particular constituency which can't be won because of many factors: its view of the work ethic and its belief in the lack of it among others, jobs, poor education, cultural traditions, values and hard-bitten judgmental religious beliefs. Phillips, a Republican, does not consider this to be a good development.

"Exit polls in Tuesday's Kentucky primary were the latest to point to [the blue-collar] problem," reported CNN. "The numbers suggest that Sen. Hillary Clinton's supporters are fiercely devoted to her."

"Nearly half of the state's Democratic voters said they'd either vote for Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, or not vote at all in November if Obama is on the ticket."

See here.

In other words, they would cut off their noses despite the cost to their faces.

However, if you were in Oregon, working white people went in the opposite direction. Ah yes, but white people who vote for Obama aren't real workers, not like the blue-collar proles of West Virginia, Pennsyltucky and Kentucky, retorts the received wisdom.

Experts differed on what it meant. Some political scholars in Kentucky couldn't imagine any Clinton voters going for McCain. If such people said so, it was all talk.

Another said some would vote for McCain but not enough to matter. All Obama had to do, among other things, was convince good American white workers that he wasn't a slick, Ivy League-educated lawyer. Blue-collar whites don't cotton to those types, it was said, leaving unasked the question, "Isn't Hillary Clinton the equivalent of a slick Ivy League-educated lawyer, too?"

DD prefers a simpler explanation, the one about the Reagan Democrat class. Ronald Reagan slummed successfully, convincing blue-collar whites he was one of them. It was a good trick.

In "Class: A Guide Through the American Class System," Paul Fussell describes Ronald Reagan and this fashion appeal, one which aligned him heart and soul with the class that now can't abide Barack Obama because he's elitist. And black.

"Ronald Reagan, of course, doesn't need to affect the establishment style, sensing that his low-brow God-fearing intellect-distrusting constituency regards it as an affront (which, of course, to them it is)," he writes.

Ronald Reagan's "style" -- Los Angeles or Orange County Wasp-Chutzpah, "registers that sense that if you stubbornly believe you're as good as educated people -- i.e., those eastern dudes, then you are."

Reagan, writes Fussell, was of the mind of the prole class Sun Belt. "He favors, of course, the two-button suit with maximum shoulder padding ... which makes him look, when he's dressed way up, like a prole setting off for church. Sometimes, for leisure activities ... he affects the cowboy look, which, especially when one is aged, appeals mightily to the Sun Belt seniles. One hates to even speculate about the polyester levels of his outfits."

Which brings us to Hillary Clinton and her appeal to the prole class. Could part of it be due to a successful fashion slum?

The low prole look for women, according to Fussell, is the pantsuit. (Yes, say it. You want to. Now go: "You misogynist bastard!")

The apotheosis, or nadir -- depending on your POV -- is a pantsuit in the color purple. "[The] pantsuit offends two principles that determine class in clothes: the color principle and the organic materials principle," maintains Fussell.

Polyester, wearing something that was never alive, marks the prole. Pastel-colored pantsuits, however, are classier than dark colors like purple, "the absolute bottom, the classic prole costume."

Before leaving today, DD evens the class fashion jibes by turning to a symbol of the white male blue-collar worker.

An important part of their uniform is the "prole cap," aka the baseball cap.

It is "made largely of plastic meshwork in primary colors ... with, in the rear, an open space crossed by a strap, for self-adjustment," comments Fussell. "Regardless of the precise style of the prole cap, it seems crucial that it be ugly ... To achieve even greater ugliness, the prole will sometimes wear his cap back to front ... President Reagan wore a prole cap while in performance once atop a tractor in Peoria. It looked natural."

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