Sunday, May 11, 2008

DEMOCRAT CLASS WAR: Us versus them

Obama at brew pub in Bethlehem, PA. Relative absence of baseball caps and older white guys in frame indicated he would not do well, losing both Northampton and Lehigh counties by a good margin.

"[It is not] helpful to insult the groups that supported Mrs. Clinton, either by suggesting that racism was their only motivation or by minimizing their importance," wrote Paul Krugman the past week.

"After the Pennsylvania primary, David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, airily dismissed concerns about working-class whites, saying that they have 'gone to the Republican nominee for many elections.' On Tuesday night, Donna Brazile, the Democratic strategist, declared that 'we don’t have to just rely on white blue-collar voters and Hispanics.' That sort of thing has to stop."

Actually, DD doesn't think it does. Furthermore, having lived in Pennsyltucky most of my adult life, I say: "Let's do it more!"

Let's have the class war out in the open. DD endured it in Pennsy for decades. If you were educated, you were an elitist. If you spoke well, you were worse than that -- an elitist and a pansy. You were someone to be ridiculed, ostracized and bullied.

Whatever work the educated person did was not real work, not like the toil of the blue and gray-collar class. If you were the offspring of a teacher in a place like Pine Grove, Schuylkill County, you were a "richie" even though the profession is solidly middle class. One or both of your parents had gone to college and now had three months off every summer while betters were breaking their backs making a real living. Those who went to college were rich and lazy. If you went to grad school you were a total douchebag, not to be tolerated among real folks.

And some of the same things are playing out for Barack Obama. It is not only about race but also about a white class war.

The Los Angeles Times sent a reporter to West Virginia, which is somewhat like Pennsy only demographically more destitute and poorly educated. The article published the most unpleasant and inflammatory quotes it could find from a handful of heevahavas, some of them allegedly the declining species known as the "Reagan Democrat."

These were ugly things to say, just like many of the utterances from the central counties of Pennsylvania a few weeks ago.

"Osama, Obama and Chelsea's Mama" -- [the] sign belongs to Eric Hardy, 38, a former Democrat who works at a woodworking plant. Now a die-hard Republican and president of the West Virginia Coon Hunters Assn., Hardy opposes any Democrat 'who wants to go after my guns ...' He suspects Obama for his 'Muslim name' ..."

"I'm not yet convinced that Barack Obama is more substance than fluff," Clyde M. See Jr., "a former Democratic speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates and two-time gubernatorial candidate," told the Los Angeles newspaper.

"He's a fine speaker, mind you, but I'm still not sure he's got the right stuff to win the general election."

Go out to the piece and one reads more anonymous poison tongue about Obama being a terrorist and -- always -- a Muslim. The newspaper has to go out of its way to state the man's a Christian and include the qualifiers that bigotry and stupidity are commonplace among the locals. See here.

It's too late to hope we can all come together and sing songs of unity around the campfire. The America DD knows is divided into tribes, cliques and claques which have very little in common with each other and very little desire to live and work together. DD is used to it. Stratification and separation are the way of things in the good ol' USA. It's now your civic duty to find your tribe and fight against, or at least passively oppose, those who are not part of it. And it's important to get more of your tribe to the polls than the other tribe can muster.

So if the white American churchgoing blue-collar undereducated Americans are angry and blue, then -- eh -- what can ya do?

Author Paul Fussell wrote "Class: A Guide Through the American Status System" and while it is not entirely up to date for 2008, it is an entertaining, educating and supercilious book.

Fussell states repeatedly, often in a dryly humorous way, that class in America is "a touchy subject."

" I have experienced many times that awful truth of R. H. Tawney's perception, in his book 'Equality': 'The word class is fraught with unpleasing associations, so that to linger upon it is apt to be interpreted as the symptom of a perverted mind and a jaundiced spirit'."

"Especially in America," Fussell adds, "where the idea of class is notably embarrassing."

Fussell notes that your reaction to any discussion of class reveals much about which class you are actually in. If you blow your stack or become "very anxious," it "suggests you are middle class and nervous about slipping down a rung or two ... It is the middle class that is highly class sensitive."

Fussell argued that his research found nine classes. "Top out-of-sight, upper and upper-middle" in a top tier. "Middle, high prole, mid-prole and low prole" in a middle slot. And "destitute" and "bottom-out-of-sight" on the low end.

Money, however, is not the only defining distinction in the American classes. Values, tastes, and traditions are among many things which separate us. These are hard distinctions -- engraved during upbringing -- and they persist from birth to death, being generally inescapable, Fussell concludes.

"Class," which was published in 1983, is not always still on the money.

"Showing off used to be the main satisfaction of being very rich in America," he writes. "Now the rich must skulk and hide. It's a pity."

Heh-heh. Time and progress has changed some things.

Fussell describes a portion of the middle-class, actually the lower middle-class, and it fits those in Pennsyltucky who did not vote for Obama and, in many cases, appeared to be in a snit over being dissed as bitter. This, one sees, is the same as getting upset over discussions of class.

"Our former lower middle-class [Fussell calls them high proles] ... are identifiable as people things are done to," he writes. "They are in bondage -- to monetary policy, rip-off advertising, crazes and delusions, mass low culture, fast foods, consumer shlock."

"If you're a high prole, you do the things a commercial society has decreed you're supposed to do."

And if you do not "embrace" the doing of such things, Fussell notes, you are branded as an "elitist."

One suggests "Class" as good reading for the thick-skinned. This normally excludes many, many Americans and seems to suggest why "Class" never found its way onto bestseller lists. Everyone is gored in it, equally.

High prole Pennsyltucky Clinton voter. Bitter over being described as part of a now bitter class.


Anonymous RM said...

I love Paul Fussell!!
Dang- this is really a good time for him to do a new edition of CLASS.
Verrrrry interesting as it applies to Obama.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Class anecdote: my good friend grew up in a small town in rural West PA. According to him, most people made their livings there working in factories, on farms, or in service industries relating to I-80, which passed through town, or eked out a living from government checks, seasonal road work, and venison (from deer hunted legally or otherwise). His dad was a professional who made a good salary, one that would've made him solidly middle-middle class in east coast suburbs, but that made him upper middle class or even "rich" in the small town. When my elite college-educated friend moved from the small town to West Philly (ie, from rural white surroundings to urban black surroundings), I half-jokingly commented to him about the culture shock he must've been experiencing. His answer surprised me. I don't remember his exact words, but they were something like "It's not that much different from where I grew up. Most people I see in the neighborhood remind me of the guys I went to high school with."

10:10 AM  

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