Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Living Poor, Voting Rich

[W]hether John Kerry's supporters are now celebrating or seeking asylum abroad, they should be feeling wretched about the millions of farmers, factory workers and waitresses who ended up voting - utterly against their own interests - for Republican candidates...In the summer, I was home - too briefly - in Yamhill, Ore., a rural, working-class area where most people would benefit from Democratic policies on taxes and health care. But many of those people disdain Democrats as elitists who empathize with spotted owls rather than loggers.

One problem is the yuppification of the Democratic Party. Thomas Frank, author of the best political book of the year, "What's the Matter With Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America," says that Democratic leaders have been so eager to win over suburban professionals that they have lost touch with blue-collar America. "There is a very upper-middle-class flavor to liberalism, and that's just bound to rub average people the wrong way,"

So, Bush has been re-elected, and now has a clear mandate to promote his ultra-right policies for the next four years and, likely, to make at least 3 Supreme Court appointments. We have become the first civilized nation on earth to establish the Dictatorship of the Proletariat--those farmers, factory workers and waitresses who voted him in.

Conservative Republicans exploited the cultural divide but it was we who created it decades ago when, as spoiled rich kids, we made over the Democratic Party in our own image. It was we who first politicized "lifestyle issues" and reconstructed liberalism as a program in support of our preoccupations and hobbies. It was we who imagined that our tastes and aesthetic preferences were moral imperatives and condemned hoi poloi for living in little boxes made of ticky-tacky, eating junk food and owning guns. We ushered in the Age of Aquarius but made it quite clear that people who lived in little boxes weren't invited.

After rushing to the center, abandoning the economic policies that benefitted the working class, and setting up as the party of gay rights and abortion on demand, cultural sensitivity and environmental concern, fruits, nuts and little herbal teas, the Democratic Party could not run any candidate--least of all a billionaire Brahmin--who could convince the proles that he was on their side.


Anonymous said...

I'm a _bit_ sorry you took down your posting of 2 November, 9:30 PM. It was a barking rant of course, but those have their place. I share a certain amount of background with you (working class/educated) and was nearly moved to write an even more cynical rant of my own. Probably best not, though.

One thing I enjoy about your commentary is that you regularly talk about what may be the last Forbidden Subject in "polite" political discourse -- social class. Based on the R/Reds (conservatives as "Reds" -- that's _so_ funny to me ) and D/Blues that I know, you are spot-on with this criticism.

No one will listen, of course, nor will it make any difference in how the political juggernaut lumbers on. Still, it's nice for a few of us to know that we are not entirely alone. :)


John said...

I have to say, Prof. Baber, that once again you hit the nail on the head.

I also think that the Democrats don't realize how patronizing they are of the proletariat. Billy Bob in Tennessee does not appreciate being constantly felt sorry for, and being told what programs could benefit him. He also cares jack/squat about how the French or British feel about the President.


Mr. Natural said...

That could account for the 10% or so Democrats who voted Resnublican...what a bummer!

H. E. said...

Oh bloody really I'm unlikely to read your post, Ann_Observer. Unlike the "old-guard" media, I never predicted that Kerry would win--I said that he should win.

So now, let's see what happens during the next 4 years to the 58+ million Americans who gave Bush a mandate to promote his right-wing agenda when it becomes apparent that the measly few bucks they get back in "tax relief" come nowhere close to making up for the public services, social safety nets and earnings they lose and the gratification of getting back at the latte-drinking liberals who've patronized and excluded them for the past 30 years starts wearing thin.

Anonymous said...

I too read your earlier 'rant'. I was struck both by its passion and its coherence. Perhaps your decision to remove it from this blog is an indication of the genuine fear that liberal Americans have of the Bush administration and of that 'other' culture which supports it.

H. E. said...

Not exactly. I was drunk when I wrote it--mad as hell about the election, I went for a stiff drink and, because I'm on a laptop with wireless internet I couldn't pull the plug in advance to avoid the temptation to rant. I also don't like to share biographical information.

Anonymous said...

I am the first "Anonymous" poster. I meant no offense by calling the earlier post a "barking rant", it was intended in good humor.

I had saved off a copy of that post, but since you do not like to share personal information (anyone posting as "Anonymous" seems logically _required_ to sympathize) I will erase that copy (not delete, but ERASE, with a crypto-class utility). I have not shared it with anyone, and since I will no longer have a copy, will not be able to.


"Anonymous #1"

MDBritt said...

Very insightful post!

To the individual who left the anonymous comment about fear: I see no rational reason for our host - or anyone else for that matter - to fear for the expression of their opinions. Let's be real, people. The long term march of human dignity is not turned back by the re-election of Bush nor has the first amendment been overturned.

There *will* be those that challenge your principles and beliefs and mine as well. Meet those challenges openly, honestly and with a commitment to your vision of a better world and, in the long run, you will triumph over those who wish to shout you down or who rely on half-truths or deception.

We need your truths, not your fears.

I say this in the spirit of a loyal opposition for I was one of those Bush voters over which you apparently despair. Despite my vote, I feel strongly that America needs a healthy, impassioned Democratic party in order to function as a nation.

Lindsay Beyerstein said...

I don't know which elitist Democrats everyone is complaining about or which condescending remarks are riling up David Brooks and the Republican base. Unions don't wield as much power as they should in the Democratic party (or in society at large), and class has more or less dropped out of Democratic rhetoric (as it has from "polite" non-academic discourse in general). But where's the dripping contempt? What national figure trashes Red staters? Who in the Democratic party or the mainstream media is insulting the working class?

George Bush campaigns on the slur "Massachusetts liberal." Nobody seems to mind when the Club For Growth runs ads about how Howard Dean and his latte swilling, Volvo driving, body piercing (!/?) freak show should go back to Vermont where they belong.

The Democratic party campaigned on security, Iraq, and healthcare. During the presidential debates, lifestyle issues surfaced only briefly, in response to direct questions. In the third debate, each candidate spoke respectfully about his own religious faith and that of his opponent.

Ironically, Little Boxes is a song for upper class kids to mock their parents. It's not about hippies trashing their "social inferiors." The lyrics make fun of people who play golf and drink dry martinis.

H. E. said...

Interesting in and of itself that I should misremember "Little Boxes" that way. It strikes me that maybe one thing that happened was that conservatives succeeded in parlaying adolescent rebellion into class warfare, making the generation gap into the culture gap.

One of the 5-minute ideas run during the late '60s was the "Bluing of America" thesis--that the countercultural children of those golfing, martini-drinking professionals and business executives were dropping out while the ambitious children of blue-collar workers were taking the places originally reserved for them--moving into those little boxes and joining the golf club. We didn't exactly drop out, at least not permanently, but currently the cultural picture we have (leave aside whether it's accurate) is that people who live in those suburban boxes, married with children, eating fast food and going to church are declasse. We live in urban condos or architecturally-interesting Victorians that we're fixing up.

Democrats were careful to avoid antagonizing the working class during the campaign but you can't undo the cultural myths that have formed over 35 years in a few months. Start with "All in the Family," the archetype. Consider also "Married with Children" and other sitcoms that represented the family as such as an object of ridicule. Then there were items like The White Trash Cookbook that represented the white working class as an exotic culture.

Moreover even though Democrats were careful, the ongoing discussion about how to appeal to "Joe Sixpack" and the Soccer/Security Moms and ham-fisted attempts to win them over were really condescending. When Kerry made religious noises or, worse, went goose-hunting it struck people as disingenuous and patronizing--"my marketing-research team has determined that you people are into religion and guns so I'm going to package myself accordingly."

Anonymous said...

But where's the dripping contempt? What national figure trashes Red staters? Who in the Democratic party or the mainstream media is insulting the working class?Here.

But the din from the losing side of this election - the embarrassingly petty shriek that has erupted - has revealed a childishness that no real adult, regardless of party affiliation, should tolerate. These people do not want to engage. They don't want to talk. They want to vent. And their venting is revealing, among other things, about their famous notions of tolerance regarding the views of others.

Syndicated columnist Molly Ivins equates the victorious Bush administration with a dead, rotting chicken corpse hung by wire around America's neck. And people call Ann Coulter venal?

Many, many commentators who claim the mantle of enlightenment and tolerance - oh, right! - have launched the kind of hissy fits that should get them stuck in corners. Paul Krugman of the New York Times all but declared that supporters of Bush are motivated by racism. Online, liberals are railing against Middle America like hired mourners at a wake shouting out the devil.

"The history of the last four years shows that red state types, above all, do not want to be told what to do - they prefer to be ignorant. As a result, they are virtually unteachable," wrote one Jane Smiley for the online magazine Slate.

Newspaper accounts of people on the street reflect the same petulance as the commentators. This wasn't supposed to be an election. It was supposed to be an acknowledgement of the superior virtue and intelligence of the Bushies' bettors.

From the New York Times: "I'm saddened by what I feel is the obtuseness of a good part of the country - the heartland," said a retired New York psychiatrist.

From a reader of The Arizona Republic: "The dumbest American voters in American history have just re-elected the dumbest American president in American history."
James Carville also called Bush voters "the dumbest people in the world," on national television - the day before the election!

Anonymous said...

What Carville actually said was this: "People who think the country's going in the right direction are the dumbest people in America."

Of course, people who thought the country was going in the right direction probably voted for Bush, so it's pretty much the same statement anyway.

Lindsay Beyerstein said...

Anonymous 1, you've misquoted at least two sources: Carville and Krugman.

Here's the Krugman quote that seems to be upsetting you, via Kaplan in TNR:

"The ever-reliable New York Times columnist Paul Krugman opined that "Democrats are not going to get the support of people whose votes are motivated, above all, by their opposition to abortion and gay rights (and, in the background, minority rights)."

Krugman said that some Americans are racist homophobes and that Democrats should never pander to them. Surely you agree that such people exist and that no decent political party should pander to their ilk.

If you think Molly Ivins hates ordinary Americans I can only shake my head and laugh. That column evinces contempt for today's Republican administration, not for ordinary people. The two aren't identical, you know. In fact, that's why Molly Ivins so down in the Republicans.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm both Anonymous 1 and Anonymous 2 - I came back to correct my original post. I saw the Carville thing as it happened and was quoting from memory; it wasn't a pretty sight, let me tell you. And I also linked the post above to its source; I'm not quite sure what more you want.

You asked the question. I responded. If you want to continue to pretend things are fine, help yourself. This country is now in the hands of a Republican White House, Republican majorities in the House and Senate, and a majority of Republican governorships nationwide. Enjoy.

Lindsay Beyerstein said...

I'm agreeing with you, Anonymous. We have a big problem. But is it a problem of reality or a problem of perception? I'm arguing that Democrats are internalizing the unfounded defamation of their opponents. This isn't just a semantic dispute. There are practical political implications. If we really are running haughty, condescending candidates, we'd better stop it. But I don't think we are. In fact we keep trying to run less controversial, less intimidating, less Democratic candidates, and still the stereotype doesn't go away.

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