Thursday, June 03, 2004

How the Other Half Votes

The central electoral phenomenon of the past thirty-five years has been the movement of working-class and lower-middle-class voters from the Democratic to the Republican Party....[T]hey now vote for the party that has engineered their exclusion. Real wages in the United States are roughly the same now as they were in 1980; fewer jobs provide adequate health or retirement benefits; the percentage of working people protected by unions has declined precipitously; unemployment benefits are less generous; and the federal government's finances are so gravely impaired that Social Security and Medicare benefits may well be reduced and/or delayed, beginning with the next generation of retirees. At the same time, financial profits and the income of the richest Americans have increased dramatically. That most of the blame for all this can be laid at the door of Republican tax, labor, regulatory, agricultural, antitrust and trade policies has not shaken the allegiance of these working-class and lower-middle-class Republicans. It is, for some reason, completely off their radar screen...

Why, we liberals splutter, this amazing obtuseness? ...The answer, apparently, is anti-intellectualism. Grassroots conservatives have convinced themselves--with a great deal of help from what David Brock's important new book calls "the Republican Noise Machine"--that secular intellectuals form a class (yes, the fabled "New Class") with designs on state power and popular liberties...

The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meat-packing. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining


How, and when, did the political in the US become personal with partisan politics dominated by "lifestyle issues"? Is there any other nation on earth where abortion is a major political issue or where a ban on gay marriage is seriously proposed as a constitutional amendment? It's easy to see why the Republican Noise Machine promoted the socially conservative agenda--who but the well off, a shrinking minority, would vote for them on the basis of their economic policies?

But why did Democrats take the bait? It's too late to fix that now because we're hooked. No one dares to say that abortion is no longer an issue because the majority of Americans favor keeping early term abortions legal and partial birth abortions may not such a good idea anyway. No one dares to say that making gay marriage a major political cause is pointless since most Americans already favor civil unions and in all likelihood there would be little effective opposition to low keyed piecemeal legislation guaranteeing domestic partners the social, political and economic benefits of marriage.

Working class conservatives are afraid of a world spinning out of control with kids on drugs and welfare queens in Cadillacs. Liberals obsess about the Handmaids Tale, a puritanical theocracy where women are kept as sex slaves and political liberties are eliminated in favor of Old Testament sharia.

The war in Vietnam may be part of it but that's old news. Maybe Liberals simply didn't want these working class types at the party--but didn't realize how small the party would be if they weren't invited. We didn't like their accents, their tastes in music and entertainment, their religious and patriotic sentimentalities, the way they dressed or the way they decorated their homes but couldn't face the fact of our own snobbery so we put it out that we didn't like them because they were bigots and reactionaries. Now they are. Archie Bunker has the last laugh at us meatheads.

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