Friday, November 07, 2003

Money Isn't Everything


Paul Krugman wonders, in
today's column how poor white Southerners, traditionally Democratic stalwarts, could have been bamboozled into voting for conservative Republicans against their economic interests. Answer: the race card.

Yes and no. We all agree that Dean's remark about wanting to get guys who drove pick-ups with confederate flags was a faux pas--but not on the "subtext."

Dean wasn't, as Krugman hints, accusing poor white Southerners of racism--he was implicitely characterising them as that type of person. He might just as well asked support from "housewives who shop at Walmart" or "people who live in trailers"--or for that matter "soccer moms," "Jewish lawyers" or "Baby Boomers who drive Volvos."

People don't like to be a type of person. We think of themselves and our peers as being beyond type--it's outsiders, the people with whom we don't socialize, who are person-types. I have a pop book on class in America which divides the social landscape into 6 classes and describes minutely the decor, dress, cuisine and personal habits of members of each division. At the end there is an escape route for "Class X," individuals who transcend class categories--that is readers of the book who, after tittering nervously at the author's insights about the habits of their demographic group, are assured that they themselves are really out of the box, not people of a certain type at all.

Appealing for the support of a type of person was bad enough, but the class message made it worse. Money isn't everything when it comes to the appearance of class affiliation. Bush's inarticulate pronouncements from the Texas Ranch--our very own answer to Marie Antoinette's Royal Cowshed--win hearts and minds. Even if we don't get no bucks, better a good ol' boy who tawks like us then a damn Yankee professor like Krugman.