Monday, December 17, 2007

Big Table Fantasies - New York Times

Big Table Fantasies - New York Times: "Barack Obama insists that the problem with America is that our politics are so “bitter and partisan,” and insists that he can get things done by ushering in a “different kind of politics...John Edwards blames the power of the wealthy and corporate interests for our problems, and says, in effect, that America needs another F.D.R. — a polarizing figure, the object of much hatred from the right, who nonetheless succeeded in making big changes...I have to say that Mr. Obama comes off looking, well, naïve. "

I agree. Like Krugman, who almost always gets it right, I support Edwards and for the same reasons.

What I wonder is why anyone would prefer a vacuous pretty-boy, sponsored by Oprah, to someone who promises to bring about real material improvement. But apparently Oprah has rallied the troops who like Obama for much the same reason that they like Oprah.

I suspect that the reason is that after 30 years of eating shit they don't believe that the conditions of their lives can be improved. Oprah's constituency is almost exclusively female and largely working class. Over half of them have family incomes under $40,000 a year. They spend their days doing dead-end, boring, drudge work without either security or any real chance of advancement. They're uninsured or underinsured and know that one major illness could wipe them out. They're in debt, juggling to make mortgage payments and pay back Pay Day Loans. But they're so used to it, so imbued with peasant-fatalism, that they don't seriously believe that things can be any better. They think that the best they can hope for is niceness and hand-patting.

Oprah is the Opium of the People. When material improvement is impossible, people read self-help books and work on their souls. When they can't get the real goods they revel in smarm, obsess about "relationships," aspire to a "purpose-driven life" and delude themselves into imagining that these cheap intangibles are what make life worthwhile.

Marx was right, though he got the details wrong. He couldn't have anticipated the new secular religion of Oprah, self-help and generic "spirituality"--religion minus the cult, art and metaphysics. It isn't the pie-in-the-sky doctrine or religion in the narrow sense, liturgy and theology, that lulls people into a stupor and induces them to collaborate with their oppressors. It's the religious attitude, the idea that what matter are these intangibles, the search for "meaning," the taste for niceness, the obsession with "relationships" and psychological matters, the drippy sentimentality and self-deception, that block us from achieving the Good Life.

6 comments:

Roland said...

1. Marx was not right. The class-warfare paradigm does not work as a general description of reality. It is politically useful to any manipulator who can characterize his own interests as corresponding to an "oppressed class," but any clever debater can turn the Marxian technique to his own ends.

Let's apply Marxian analysis to feminism: Feminism is a scheme invented by capitalists to push women into the workplace, where they can be harnessed to capital and exploited for a profit. Moreover, the continuing shift of women into the labor market maintains the reserve army of the unemployed, permitting continued exploitation of labor. As with most Marxian analyses, there is some truth here, but it is more a polemic than an objective description of reality.

Marxism is ultimately gnostic, and it shares the same defects as all forms of gnosticism.

2. John Edwards' picture of class warfare falls short because most Americans these days do not fall exclusively within either of the economic classes encompassed by his worldview. To be sure, there is a small class of super-rich capitalists who exploit the system to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else, aided and abetted by the Bush administration (and the whole Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party). But the trial lawyers and union leaders who like John Edwards exploit the system just as much as the capitalists do. And the political hacks who run both of the entrenched political parties are bought and paid for by these special interests. Ultimately, the class-warfare rhetoric of John Edwards is just another facet of this corrupt system. These narrow special interests may fight among themselves, but they collude to keep anyone else from entering the game.

John McCain scares the special interests more than John Edwards ever will.

H. E. said...

So who are these "special interests"? Women? Poor people? Racial and ethnic minorities? If these are "special interests" who are the general interests--middle-class white Anglo males?

And what's McCain going to do for me if I'm a working class woman cashiering at Walmart? Enforce equal opportunity regulations so that I have a real chance of advancement? Raise minimum wage so that I, and my kids, aren't living in poverty? See to it that I can get health insurance? Affordable child care? How is he going to make my life better or provide more opportunities for me--or am I just one of those special interests that isn't worthy of support.

ChrisLee said...

Femanist Lobby, the union lobbies, the hispanic and black lobbies, I believe these correspond to your "Women? Poor people? Racial and ethnic minorities?"

Of course there is also the NRA, envronmental lobbies, and an army of lobbiests working for private corporations. Special interests run the whole gamat of the American ethnic, econimic and social demographic.

ChrisLee said...

"And what's McCain going to do for me if I'm a working class woman cashiering at Walmart?Enforce equal opportunity regulations so that I have a real chance of advancement?"

Are equal opportunity regulations being regularly 'unenforced'. All of the companies I've worked for bend over backwards to comply with equal opportunity regulations.

Furthermore, I don't like the attitude of, "What are you going to do for me." That attitude is the hallmark of a civilization in decline. The attitude of my immigrant ancesters of working 14 hour days and pride in their new home is what made life for their children a golden opportunity, and not a hopeless nightmare.

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