Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Politics of Fantasy

American Prospect Online - ViewWeb

Some time ago I had a big fight with I., who reviews romance novel mss. for a living, about Princess Di. I couldn't fathom why I.'s readers not only followed her career and wardrobe but sympathized with her marital problems and mourned her death. I hated Di. To me it was all very simple: Di was was tall, thin, blond and rich; if she hadn't screwed up, she would be Queen of England eventually. What more could anyone want? Why should she care if Charles had a mistress on the side? Big deal. Yet she had the gaul to want even more--a Harlequin Romance with Charles.

I.'s readers apparently didn't feel that way. Those truckers' wives, waitresses and Walmart cashiers wanted Di to have even more.

Matthew Yglesias wonders why Americans, aren't more enthusiastic about Kerry's proposal to increase taxes individuals who make more than $200,000/year or why they resonate to Bush's stump speech:

Kerry "said he's only going to raise the tax on the so-called rich. But you know how the rich is: They've got accountants. That means you pay. That means your small business pays. It means the farmers and ranchers pay."

After all, Yglesias notes, only 2% of Americans make over $200,000 a year, and very few are small business owners, farmers or ranchers.

Yglesias ignores the Princess Di Phenomenon. Millions of women who were not tall, thin, blond or rich, but wished they were wanted Di to have even more. And millions of Americans who don't stand to gain from tax cuts for the rich or benefits to small business owners, farmers or ranchers, will get on board with Bush's proposal because, while they're fatalistic about their own prospects, they want people of these sorts to do well. They want the rich to do well--so long as they imagine them as entrepreneurs and benefactresses, heroic CEOs with well-dressed wives promoting suitable charities. They want small businessmen, farmers and ranchers to do well because they like that idea of Main Street with Gillis' Grocery Store and Cunningham Hardware, where Grandpa Miller gets his chicken feed and plowshares.

Main Street is as remote from their lives as Buckingham Palace, but it doesn't matter. They don't believe that politics can make any difference in the their lives so they opt for politics as fantasy--that vision of America where the Cartwright Boys herded and hunted, the Real McCoy menfolk worked the South 40 while Kate and Hassie cooked grits, and Archie and Veronica hung out at the Malt Shop on Main Street..


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