Wednesday, April 23, 2008


More Bittergate

Based on what various friends of mine who are more in touch with "Middle America" than I am (I guess, c.f. Emerson on where America begins, coastal dwellers, people who are not exactly white -- no matter how working class they are -- non-Christians, etc., are not real Americans?), Obama's bitter remarks really are hurting him amongst white, working class folks.

Ironically, they seem to be hurting him because he's struck a nerve. Many white, working class Americans are bitter. They see the social liberalism that dominates the Democratic party (mainly because (1) talking about teh sex is more fun and (2) the media is afraid to talk about class issues because they know on which side their bread is buttered -- so the political discourse, Dem and GOP is dominated by "social issues") as being liberalism by and for rich people and involving tax increases the working classes can ill afford. To the working stiffs, all those rich liberals who think everyone can afford the governmental programs those rich liberals propose, are out of touch.

However, when Obama points out that white, working class Americans are bitter and eschew social liberalism because they are economically not comfortable, those same working stiffs consider him to be an example of the very sort of out of touch liberalism that drove them into the "Reagan Democrat" camp 30 years ago? I guess people so dislike even a whiff of condescension they'd rather shoot themselves in the foot than vote for someone who dares merely repeat what white, working class Americans themselves have been saying all along? It reminds me of those Jews who, in the run up to the Iraq war, were practically bragging about how good it was that the US was gonna fight Israel's battle for it but then, when Walt and Mearsheimer made the same point, referred to the latter as "anti-Semitic".

And it's not just Obama who has suffered from this problem. Edwards too was dismissed by the very people whose words he echoed. In general, it's gotten to the point where X says "I am Z" but when Y says "X is Z" that is taken as evidence, even by X himself, that "Y is out of touch with X"? What's going on here? And how do we fix our body politic so long as the very evidence of being "in touch" is taken as a sign that one is an out of touch elitist?

Have we become so bogged down by the sins of envy and pride that the mere existance of limousine liberals becomes evidence of liberals being out of touch and liberalism as being too expensive for the working stiff to afford? If so, how do we liberals address these perceptions of liberalism as being costly? The real victory of the right in the class wars, after all, was convincing working stiffs that they benefit from conservative maintainance of social hierarchies and that liberalism was by and for the professional classes and thus too expensive for the working classes.

We've discussed at length, here and elsewhere, how the right did this -- in terms of a focus on virtue, perverse effects, etc. Of course, the coincidence of great upward mobility by women and minorities reaping the rewards of the civil rights era with general economic problems due to global economic issues like the oil embargo and "malaise" sure didn't help us as it seared a zero-sum mentality into the minds of white, working class males -- as much as the right claims we liberals are only concerned with "dividing the pie" rather than growing it, the conservative obsession that "taxes take away my share of the pie" and ignorance of how a more evenly divided pie might result in growth (as it historically did -- the 1950s the conservatives so like was the result of a more equitable economic system created by liberal programs) belies that a zero-sum mentality on the right that resonates with working stiffs (who see their economic situation as zero-sum for good reason) and that is projected onto the left.

But again, I ask -- how do we address these problems when people think that you being "in touch" enough to address them is a sure sign of you being out of touch? Working stiffs will tell you they'd vote for a Dem who is [] and then they proceed to describe an Obama or Edwards. And yet, immediately they label Obama or Edwards as exactly the kind of "out of touch" Dem. that drives them away from our party? What gives? And how do we change whatever gives here?

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