Why Blue Collar Populism Works for the RepublicansNews at Home
In fact, blue-collar workers were more pro-Bush than professionals and managers among whom only 40% of men and 32% of women, when polled, favor him; that is, people who reported to Roper such occupations as painter, furniture mover, waitress, and sewer repairman were more likely to be for our pro-big business president than people with occupations like doctor, attorney, CPA or property manager. High-school graduates and dropouts were more pro-Bush (41%) than people with graduate degrees (36%). And people with family incomes of $30,000 or less were no more opposed to Bush than those with incomes of $75,000 or more. (2)
We should think about this. The blue-collar vote is huge. Skilled and semi-skilled manual jobs are on the decline, of course, but if we count as blue-collar those workers without a college degree, as Ruy Teixeira and Joel Rogers do in their book Why the White Working Class Still Matters, then blue-collar voters represent 55% of all voters. They are, the authors note, the real swing vote in America."Their loyalties shift the most from election to election and in so doing determine the winners in American politics."(3)
This fact has not been lost on Republican strategists who are now targeting right-leaning blue-collar men, or as they call them,"Nascar Dads." These are, reporter Liz Clarke of the Washington Post tells us,"lower or middle-class men who once voted Democratic but who now favor Republicans."(4) Nascar Dads, commentator Bill Decker adds, are likely to be racing-car fans, live in rural areas, and have voted for Bush in 2000. Bush is giving special attention to steelworkers, autoworkers, carpenters and other building-trades workers, according to Richard Dunham and Aaron Bernstein of Business Week, and finding common cause on such issues as placing tariffs on imported steel and offering tax breaks on pensions.
We can certainly understand why Bush wants blue-collar voters. But why would a near majority of blue-collar voters still want Bush? Millionaires, billionaires for Bush, well, sure; he's their man. But why pipe fitters and cafeteria workers? Some are drawn to his pro-marriage, pro-church, pro-gun stands, but could those issues override a voter's economic self-interest?
Let's consider the situation. Since Bush took office in 2000, the U.S. has lost 4.9 million jobs, (2.5 million net), the vast majority of them in manufacturing. (5) While this cannot be blamed entirely on Bush, his bleed-'em-dry approach to the non-Pentagon parts of the government has led him to do nothing to help blue-collar workers learn new trades, find affordable housing, or help their children go to college. The loosening of Occupational Health and Safety Administration regulations has made plants less safe. Bush's agricultural policies favor agribusiness and have put many small and medium-sized farms into bankruptcy. His tax cuts are creating state budget shortfalls, which will hit the public schools blue-collar children go to, and erode what services they now get. He has put industrialists in his environmental posts, so that the air and water will grow dirtier. His administration's disregard for the severe understaffing of America's nursing homes means worse care for the elderly parents of the Nascar Dad as they live out their last days. His invasion of Iraq has sent blue-collar children and relatives to the front. Indeed, his entire tap-the-hornets'-nest foreign policy has made the U.S. arguably less secure than it was before he took office. Indeed, a recent series of polls revealed that most people around the world believe him to be a greater danger than Osama Bin Laden. Many blue-collar voters know at least some of this already. So why are so many of them pro-Bush anyway?
Wondering about the Nascar Dad
Among blue-collar voters, more men than women favor Bush, so we can ask what's going on with the men. It might seem that their pocketbooks say one thing, their votes another, but could it be that, by some good fortune, blue-collar men are actually better off than we imagine? No, that can't be it. About a fifth of them had household incomes of $30,000 or less; 4 in 10 between $30,000 and $75, 000; and 4 in 10 $75,000 or more. Among the poorest blue-collar families (with household incomes of $30,000 or less) a full 44 % were pro-Bush. Perhaps even more strikingly, $75,000-plus Nascar Dads are more likely to favor Bush than their income-counterparts who hold professional and managerial jobs.
Even if poor blue-collar men were pro-Bush in general, we might at least assume that they would oppose Bush's massive program of tax cuts if they thought it favored the rich? If we did, then we'd be wrong again."Do you think this tax plan benefits mainly the rich or benefits everyone?" Roper interviewers asked. Among blue-collar men who answered,"Yes, it benefits mainly the rich," 56% percent nonetheless favored the plan. (6) Among blue-collar men with $30,000 or less who answered"yes" and who believed that yes, this tax cut"benefits mainly the rich," a full 53 % favored it. This far exceeds the 35% of people who make $75,000 or more, knew the tax cut favored the rich, and still supported it.
So, what's going on? Should we throw out the classic Clinton-era explanation for how we all vote:"It's the economy, stupid"? (7) Not right away. Maybe the blue-collar man who favors that tax cut is thinking"the economy stupid" but only in the short term. He badly needs even the small amounts of money he'll get from a tax cut to repair his car or contribute to the rent. But then many working-class men labor decade after decade at difficult jobs to secure a future for their children. So if they think long term as a way of life, why are they thinking short-term when it comes to their vote?
One possibility is that the Nascar Dad is not well informed; that indeed, like the rest of us, he's been duped. For example, he may have fallen for the Karl Rove-inspired bandwagon effect."Bush is unbeatable," he hears, or"Bush has a $200,000,000 re-election fund. Get with the winner." It makes you a winner too, he feels. This might account for some blue-collar Bush support, but it doesn't explain why the Nascar Dad would be more likely to be taken in by the bandwagon effect than the professional or managerial dad. Anyway, most blue-collar men would seem to be no less likely than anyone else to vote their conscience, regardless of whom they think will win, and that's not even counting those who root for the underdog as a matter of principle.
But another kind of manipulation could be going on. A certain amount of crucial information has gone missing in the Bush years. As has recently become clear, information that would be of great interest to the Nascar Dad has been withheld. With jobs disappearing at a staggering rate, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ended its Mass Layoff Tracking Study on Christmas Eve of 2002, thanks to this administration. And although Congressional Democrats managed to get funding for the study restored in February of 2003, the loss of 614,167 jobs in those two months was unannounced.(8)
Conveying the truth in a misleading manner is, of course, another way of manipulating people. As the linguist George Lakoff astutely observes, the term"tax relief" slyly invites us to imagine taxes as an affliction and those who propose them as villains. If we add in such distortions to the suppression of vital information, the Nascar Dad who listens to Rush Limbaugh on the commute home, turns on Fox News at dinner, and is too tired after working overtime to catch more than the headlines is perhaps a man being exposed to only one side of the political story.
But then Nascar Dad could always turn the radio dial. He could do a google search on job loss on his kid's computer. He could talk to his union buddies -- if he's one of the 12% who are still unionized -- or to his slightly more liberal wife. It could be he knows perfectly well that he's being lied to, but believes people are usually being lied to, and that Bush is, in this respect, still the better of two evils. But how could that be?
Maybe it's because Bush fits an underlying recipe for the kind of confident, authoritative father figure such dads believe should run the ship of state as they believe a man should run a family. Republican rhetoric may appeal to the blue-collar man, Lakoff suggests, because we tend to match our view of good politics with our image of a good family. The appeal of any political leader, he believes, lies in the way he matches our images of the father in the ideal family.(9) There are two main pictures of such an ideal American family, Lakoff argues. According to a"strict father family" model, dad should provide for the family, control mom, and use discipline to teach his children how to survive in a competitive and hostile world. Those who advocate the strict father model, Lakoff reasons, favor a"strict father" kind of government. If an administration fits this model, it supports the family (by maximizing overall wealth). It protects the family from harm (by building up the military). It raises the children to be self-reliant and obedient (by fostering citizens who ask for little and speak when spoken to). The match-up here is, of course, to Bush Republicans.
Then there is the"nurturing parent family" model in which parents don't simply control their children but encourage their development. The government equivalent would be offering services to the citizenry, funding education, health, and welfare, and emphasizing diplomacy on a global stage.) The core values here are empathy and responsibility, not control and discipline and the match up is to the pro-public sector Dean/Kucinich Democrats. Studies have shown that blue-collar ideals are closer to the strict father than to the nurturing parent model. But that's been true for a very long time, while the blue-collar vote sometimes goes left as in the l930s, and sometimes goes right as it's doing now. So we can't simply pin the pro-Bush Nascar Dad vote on a sudden change in blue-collar family ideals.
Appealing to the"forgotten American"
Maybe, however, something deeper is going on, which has so far permitted Bush's flag-waving and cowboy-boot-strutting to trump issues of job security, wages, safety, and health -- and even, in the case of Bush's threats of further war -- life itself. In an essay,"The White Man Unburdened," in a recent New York Review of Books, Norman Mailer recently argued that the war in Iraq returned to white males a lost sense of mastery, offering them a feeling of revenge for imagined wrongs, and a sense of psychic rejuvenation."(10) In the last thirty years, white men have taken a drubbing, he notes, especially the three quarters of them who lack college degrees. Between l979 and l999, for example, real wages for male high-school graduates dropped 24%. In addition, Mailer notes, white working class men have lost white champs in football, basketball and boxing. (A lot of white men cheer black athletes, of course, whomever they vote for.) But the war in Iraq, Mailer notes, gave white men white heroes. By climbing into his jumpsuit, stepping out of an S-3B Viking jet onto the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, Bush posed as -- one could say impersonated -- such a hero.
Mailer is talking here about white men and support for the war in Iraq. But we're talking about something that cuts deeper into emotional life, and stretches farther back into the twin histories of American labor and Republican presidencies. For Republicans have been capturing blue-collar hearts for some time now. In the summer of l971, Jefferson Cowie tells us in a recent essay, Richard Nixon worked out a semi-clandestine"blue-collar strategy." Nixon instructed Jerome Rosow of the Department of Labor to draw up a confidential report, only 25 copies of which were circulated. One of them got into the hands of a Wall Street Journal reporter who exposed it under the banner,"Secret Report Tells Nixon How to Help White Workingmen and Win Their Votes."
As the article noted,"President Nixon has before him a confidential blueprint designed to help him capture the hearts and votes of the nation's white working men -- the traditionally Democratic 'forgotten Americans' that the Administration believes are ripe for political plucking." (11) According to close advisor, H.R. Haldeman, Nixon's plan was to maintain an image as"a tough, courageous, masculine leader." The never-ending Nixon tapes actually catch Nixon talking with aides Haldeman and Ehlichman about an episode in the popular television show"All in the Family" in which the working-class Archie Bunker confronts an old buddy, a former football player who has just come out of the closet as gay. Nixon then recounts on tape how civilizations decline when homosexuality rises, and concludes,"We have to stand up to this." Nixon sought to appeal to the blue-collar man's straightness (at least he still had that), his superiority over women (that, too), and his native-born whiteness (and that.). As Cowie sums it up,"It was neither the entire working class nor its material grievances on which the administration would focus; rather it was the 'feeling of being forgotten' among white male workers that Nixon and his advisors would seek to tap." (12)
Until Nixon, Republicans had for a century written off the blue-collar voter. But turning Marx on his head, Nixon appealed not to a desire for real economic change but to the distress caused by the absence of it. And it worked as it's doing again now. In the l972 contest between Nixon and McGovern, 57% of the manual worker vote and 54% of the union vote went to Nixon. (This meant 22 and 25-point gains for Nixon over his l968 presidential run.) After Nixon, other Republican presidents -- Ford, Reagan, and Bush Sr. -- followed in the same footsteps, although not always so cleverly.
Now George Bush Jr. is pursuing a sequel strategy by again appealing to the emotions of male blue-collar voters. Only he's added a new element to the mix. Instead of appealing, as Nixon did, to anger at economic decline, Bush is appealing to fear of economic displacement, and offering the Nascar Dad a set of villains to blame, and a hero to thank -- George W. Bush.
Let's begin by re-imagining the blue-collar man, for we do not normally think of him as a fearful man. The very term"Nascar Dad" like the earlier term"Joe Six Pack" suggests, somewhat dismissively, an"I'm-alright-Jack" kind of guy. We imagine him with his son, some money in his pocket, in the stands with the other guys rooting for his favorite driver and car. The term doesn't call to mind a restless house-husband or a despondent divorcee living back in his parents' house and seeing his kids every other weekend. In other words, the very image we start with may lead us away from clues to his worldview, his feelings, his politics and the links between these.
Since the l970s, the blue-collar man has taken a lot of economic hits. The buying power of his paycheck, the size of his benefits, the security of his job -- all these have diminished. As Ed Landry, a 62 year-old-machinist interviewed by Paul Solman on the Lehrer News Hour said,"We went to lunch and our jobs went to China." He searched for another job and couldn't find one. He was even turned down for a job as a grocery bagger."I was told that we'd get back to you.""Did they?" Solman asked."No. I couldn't believe it myself. I couldn't get the job." In today's jobless recovery, the average jobless stint for a man like Landry is now 19 weeks, the longest since l983. Jobs that don't even exist at present may eventually open up, experts reassure us, but they aren't opening up yet. In the meantime, three out of every four available jobs are low-level service jobs. A lot of workers like Ed Landry, cast out of one economic sector, have been unable to land a job even at the bottom of another.(13)
For anyone who stakes his pride on earning an honest day's pay, this economic fall is, unsurprisingly enough, hard to bear. How, then, do these blue-collar men feel about it? Ed Landry said he felt"numb." Others are anxious, humiliated and, as who wouldn't be, fearful. But in cultural terms, Nascar Dad isn't supposed to feel afraid. What he can feel though is angry. As Susan Faludi has described so well in her book Stiffed, that is what many such men feel. As a friend who works in a Maine lumber mill among blue-collar Republicans explained about his co-workers,"They felt that everyone else -- women, kids, minorities -- were all moving up, and they felt like they were moving down. Even the spotted owl seemed like it was on its way up, while he and his job, were on the way down. And he's angry."
Strutting the political flight deck
But is that anger directed downward -- at"welfare cheats," women, gays, blacks, and immigrants -- or is it aimed up at job exporters and rich tax dodgers? Or out at alien enemies? The answer is likely to depend on the political turn of the screw. The Republicans are clearly doing all they can to aim that anger down or out, but in any case away from the rich beneficiaries of Bush's tax cut. Unhinging the personal from the political, playing on identity politics, Republican strategists have offered the blue-collar voter a Faustian bargain: We'll lift your self-respect by putting down women, minorities, immigrants, even those spotted owls. We'll honor the manly fortitude you've shown in taking bad news. But (and this is implicit) don't ask us to do anything to change that bad news. Instead of Marie Antoinette's"let them eat cake," we have -- and this is Bush's twist on the old Nixonian strategy --"let them eat war."
Paired with this is an aggressive right-wing attempt to mobilize blue-collar fear, resentment and a sense of being lost -- and attach it to the fear of American vulnerability, American loss. By doing so, Bush aims to win the blue-collar man's identification with big business, empire, and himself. The resentment anyone might feel at the personnel officer who didn't have the courtesy to call him back and tell him he didn't have the job, Bush now redirects toward the target of Osama bin Laden, and when we can't find him, Saddam Hussein and when we can't find him... And these enemies are now so intimate that we see them close up on the small screen in our bedrooms and call them by their first names.
Whether strutting across a flight deck or mocking the enemy, Bush with his seemingly fearless bravado -- ironically born of class entitlement -- offers an aura of confidence. And this confidence dampens, even if temporarily, the feelings of insecurity and fear exacerbated by virtually every major domestic and foreign policy initiative of the Bush administration. Maybe it comes down to this: George W. Bush is deregulating American global capitalism with one hand while regulating the feelings it produces with the other. Or, to put it another way, he is doing nothing to change the causes of fear and everything to channel the feeling and expression of it. He speaks to a working man's lost pride and his fear of the future by offering an image of fearlessness. He poses here in his union jacket, there in his pilot's jumpsuit, taunting the Iraqis to"bring ‘em on" – all of it meant to feed something in the heart of a frightened man. In this light, even Bush's"bad boy" past is a plus. He steals a wreath off a Macy's door for his Yale fraternity and careens around drunk in Daddy's car. But in the politics of anger and fear, the Republican politics of feelings, this is a plus.
There is a paradox here. While Nixon was born into a lower-middle-class family, his distrustful personality ensured that his embrace of the blue-collar voter would prove to be wary and distrustful. Paradoxically, Bush, who was born to wealth, seems really to like being the top gun talking to"regular guys." In this way, Bush adds to Nixon's strategy his lone-range machismo.
More important, Nixon came into power already saddled with an unpopular war. Bush has taken a single horrific set of attacks on September 11, 2001 and mobilized his supporters and their feelings around them. Unlike Nixon, Bush created his own war, declared it ongoing but triumphant, and fed it to his potential supporters. His policy -- and this his political advisor Karl Rove has carefully calibrated -- is something like the old bait-and-switch. He continues to take the steaks out of the blue-collar refrigerator and to declare instead,"let them eat war." He has been, in effect, strip-mining the emotional responses of blue-collar men to the problems his own administration is so intent on causing.
But there is a chance this won't work. For one thing, the war may turn out to have been a bad idea, Bush's equivalent of a runaway plant. For another thing, working men may smell a skunk. Many of them may resent those they think have emerged from the pack behind them and are now getting ahead, and they may fear for their future. But they may also come to question whether they've been offered Osama bin Laden as a stand-in for the many unfixed problems they face. They may wonder whether their own emotions aren't just one more natural resource the Republicans are exploiting for their profit. What we urgently need now, of course, is a presidential candidate who addresses the root causes of blue-collar anger and fear and who actually tackles the problems before us all, instead of pandering to the emotions bad times evoke.
(1) According to Ruy Teixeira and Joel Rogers, white working-class voters (male and female) made up 55% of voters in 2000. If we define"working class" as people without a college degree, then three-quarters of Americans are working class. Three-fourths of the population is also white, so white working class voters make up 55% of those casting votes. See Why the White Working Class Still Matters, New York: Basic Books, 2000.
(2) I got these figures by reanalyzing a January 2003 national poll conducted by Roper and sponsored by NBC and the Wall Street Journal.
(3) Teixeira and Rogers, p. 16.
(4) Bill Decker,"Will 'Nascar dad' set the pace in 2004 election?" Internet posting, August 2l, 2004 (firstname.lastname@example.org). According to Matt Stearns, the term, NASCAR dad" was coined by Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, and described small-town and rural voters, especially white men in the South who switched from Democrat to Republican. I use the term to refer to men in blue-collar jobs in any region of the country. Matt Stearns,"NASCAR Dads' are latest hot political demographic," Sept 29, 2003.
(5) David Sanger,"Bush Defends Tax Cuts and Announces Jobs Post," the New York Times, September 2, 2003, p. A20.
(6) The Roper poll classified people into three groups: $30,000 and less annual household income, $30,000 to $75,000, and $75,000 and higher.
(7) In Michigan, Bush got a 63% favorable rating from white union members according to a May 2003 poll. (See"The Bad News for Big Labor: Blue Collars Love This Blueblood," Business Week, June 30, 2003.) As Thomas Edsall points out,"As recently as the l988 contest between Michael S. Dukakis and George Bush, voters making more than $50,000 a year voted for the Republican by a 25 percentage point margin, 62 percent to 37 percent. By the 2000 election, the spread in the $50,000-plus bracket fell to 7 percentage points." ("Voter Values Determine Political Affiliation," Washington Post, March 26, 2001, p. A1.) A poll by Stanley Greenberg for the Institute for America's Future also showed that whites without college degrees were significantly more inclined toward the Republican than the Democratic Party. See Dennis Farney,"Great Divides: Scenes from the Politics of American Culture," Wall St. Journal, l994, Dec 14, p. A1; John Judis and Ruy Teixeira,"Why democrats must be populists and what populist-phobes don't understand about America," the American Prospect, Sept 9, 2002, p. 25.
(8) Tom Dickinson,"Where the Sun Don't Shine," Mother Jones, September-October 2003, p. 19. The Times reports a loss of 2.5 million jobs (Sept 2, 2003, pA20. but does not reference the mass layoff study.
(9) George Lakoff,"Framing the Dems," the American Prospect, September 2003, p. 32.
(10) Norman Mailer,"The White Man Unburdened," the New York Review of Books, July 17, 2003, p. 4.
(11) Jefferson Cowie,"Nixon's class struggle: romancing the New Right worker, l969-l973," Labor History, August 2002, p. 257.
(12) Cowie, ibid. p 260, p 279.
(13) The Jobless Recovery, June 23, 2003, Lehrer News Hour on-line, Interviewer Paul Solman.
Arlie Hochschild is the author of The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work, The Commercialization of Intimate Life: Notes from Home and Work, and co-editor (with Barbara Ehrenreich) of Global Woman: Maids, Nannies and Sex Workers in the New Economy. She teaches sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Copyright C2003 Arlie Hochschild
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
comments powered by Disqus
Dave Livingston - 10/20/2003
Yours truly is in agreement, strongly, with Jesse virtually point-for-point.
For a while at the behest of an old acquaintance, a Leftt/Liberal journalist I subscribed to "The Nation." At times it was fun to read, to see how out-of-touch with reality some supposed opinion makers are, but eventually the Alice-in-Wonderland strain of thought in "The Nation" wore thin & I canceled my subscription to it.
Clearly, writers for "The Nation" would benefit if they'd get jobs in the real world for a few years before putting pen to paper. Likewise many academics who air their thoughts in this forum.
Josh Greenland - 10/10/2003
I intended that post to be critical with a little sarcasm toward Arlie Hochschild's views on "working class" white guys, and to express agreement with your sentiments about the article. I accidentally included a quote from you at the bottom that I should have deleted because I put it into another post so I could deal with it separately.
Jesse Lamovsky - 10/9/2003
Can't figure out whether this reply was sarcastic or laudatory. My guess is the former.
Jesse Lamovsky - 10/9/2003
You're correct. The last comment in my post was intemperate and unwise, and I regret making it. Mea culpa.
Josh Greenland - 10/9/2003
"Someday people are going to take their Republic back, and when they do, there will be no place in it for class-warfare, race-baiting leftists like him, or for publications like The Nation."
Jesse, I could not ignore this end to your post. You've said previously that you are a Pat Buchananite, and I fully believe it now. What are you talking about, internment, execution, assassination or "nacht und nebel" disappearance for anyone who says the wrong thing? Censorship and the shuttering of "bad" publications?
Josh Greenland - 10/9/2003
"Mr. Engelhardt's piece is typical Nation stuff- condescending, haughty, and with zero grasp on the real reasons why people vote as they vote, think as they think, and say what they say."
God, that is so true! The article implies that author Arlie Hochschild has done NO investigation of her NASCAR dads' attitudes. She's happy to theorize and doesn't need to know anything more.
"Yup, that's just it. White working-class men don't vote based on their beliefs or their interests. Rather, they're a.) stupid, or b.) brainwashed."
You've hit the nail on the head. But she goes further. When she talks about "working class" men, she can't even imagine that they could be informed, convinced conservatives. Someone ought to get her on a gun rights list or two so she can see what she's missing. She seems to assume that favoring liberal economics is a no-brainer for NASCAR dad, so it seems she assumes he has no brain. I agree with her that conservative and libertarian economics are not good for working class people, but Hochschild doesn't even credit them with enough brains to believe in an ideology, even one that doesn't serve their interests. According to her, they don't have enough of a head to be wrong-headed, they just mindless respond to slogans.
This is my favorite part:
"Maybe it's because Bush fits an underlying recipe for the kind of confident, authoritative father figure such dads believe should run the ship of state as they believe a man should run a family. Republican rhetoric may appeal to the blue-collar man, Lakoff suggests, because we tend to match our view of good politics with our image of a good family. The appeal of any political leader, he believes, lies in the way he matches our images of the father in the ideal family."
Working class men want a father figure. Never mind that the highly educated are the biggest suckers for an opinion from a "respectable source." And I can't help but remember the way college kids fell for fake liberal presidential candidate John Anderson with his white-haired patrician look.
"Someday people are going to take their Republic back, and when they do, there will be no place in it for class-warfare, race-baiting leftists like him, or for publications like The Nation."
Jesse Lamovsky - 10/8/2003
I mistakenly directed my polemic at Tom Engelhardt, who did not write this article. Sorry.
Jesse Lamovsky - 10/8/2003
Mr. Engelhardt's piece is typical Nation stuff- condescending, haughty, and with zero grasp on the real reasons why people vote as they vote, think as they think, and say what they say.
"We can certainly understand why Bush wants blue-collar voters. But why would a near majority of blue-collar voters still want Bush? Millionaires, billionaires for Bush, well, sure; he's their man. But why pipe fitters and cafeteria workers? Some are drawn to his pro-marriage, pro-church, pro-gun stands, but could those issues override a voter's economic self-interest?"
Well, gee, maybe it's because these voters aren't socialists. Maybe they don't vote based on greed, jealousy, and hatred (among the sinful emotions liberals play on at election time). Maybe most people don't have a problem with tax cuts, whether for the rich or not- after all, wealthy people pay most of the taxes in the first place, and, rich or not, it's still their money. Why shouldn't they get to keep it? Also, for the man struggling to get by, a "tax cut for the rich" is a lot easier to swallow than a "tax raise for welfare cases and illegal aliens".
"One possibility is that the Nascar Dad is not well informed; that indeed, like the rest of us, he's been duped. For example, he may have fallen for the Karl Rove-inspired bandwagon effect."
Yup, that's just it. White working-class men don't vote based on their beliefs or their interests. Rather, they're a.) stupid, or b.) brainwashed. What profound insight on the part of Mr. Engelhardt. Maybe he should put aside the cheap, Frantz Fanon-style psychoanalysing and try to really answer the questions he raises.
"As the linguist George Lakoff astutely observes, the term "tax relief" slyly invites us to imagine taxes as an affliction and those who propose them as villains."
So federal bureaucrats that steal our money at the pistol's point, and give it to someone they deem more "deserving" of it, like Mexican border jumpers and 16-year old welfare mothers, aren't villains, according to Mr. Engelhardt. But presumably, when we engage in a voluntary trade with a business like, say, Nike, and when they provide us with something we want in return for money we freely offer, we're being "exploited". Makes perfect sense to me.
"Norman Mailer recently argued that the war in Iraq returned to white males a lost sense of mastery, offering them a feeling of revenge for imagined wrongs, and a sense of psychic rejuvenation."(10) In the last thirty years, white men have taken a drubbing, he notes, especially the three quarters of them who lack college degrees. Between l979 and l999, for example, real wages for male high-school graduates dropped 24%."
More cheap psychoanalysis. Okay, first of all, white males didn't vote for George Bush in 2000 because they knew he was going to start a war with Iraq two years later. He got the white male vote because he posited himself as a tax-cut, small government conservative, and because, whether Mr. Engelhardt likes it or not, American populism has always been of a right-libertarian "don't tread on me" persuation. That Bush turned out to be a fraud doesn't diminish this point.
"But is that anger directed downward -- at "welfare cheats," women, gays, blacks, and immigrants -- or is it aimed up at job exporters and rich tax dodgers? Or out at alien enemies? The answer is likely to depend on the political turn of the screw. The Republicans are clearly doing all they can to aim that anger down or out, but in any case away from the rich beneficiaries of Bush's tax cut. Unhinging the personal from the political, playing on identity politics, Republican strategists have offered the blue-collar voter a Faustian bargain: We'll lift your self-respect by putting down women, minorities, immigrants, even those spotted owls. We'll honor the manly fortitude you've shown in taking bad news."
Got to like how leftists turn everything around. The Democratic Party and the "activist" Supreme Court has been screwing white men for four decades. Let us name the ways:
- The Civil Rights Act, which demolished property rights and freedom of association
- The Immigration Act of 1965
- Affirmative Action
- Title IX
- Teaching in public schools and universities that "white males" are responsible for every bad thing that has happened in human history
- The forced drugging of an entire generation of young boys in government schools
- The undeclared war against Confederate symbols and heroes
- The open contempt for white men displayed by black and feminist legislators and politicians (an example being Cleveland congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones)
- Articles like these
Yet, in Mr. Engelhardt's neat sleight-of-hand, white males (who still carry 65% of the tax burden in this country), are the ones who "hate". And as for Mr. Engelhardt accusing the Republicans of engaging in identity politics, well, that's a laugh. When Democratic candidates humiliate themselves in front of the NAACP, what are they doing? And oh, by the way, all politics is not personal. It's not all about what color we are, or how much we make, or who we choose to have sex with. It's this little thing called "first principles".
"What we urgently need now, of course, is a presidential candidate who addresses the root causes of blue-collar anger and fear and who actually tackles the problems before us all, instead of pandering to the emotions bad times evoke."
Well, I guarantee you one thing: it won't be a Democrat. More likely it'll be someone like Spiro Agnew or George Wallace. Blue-collar men in this country don't want to get taxed to death, they don't want play class politics for the Democrats, they don't want to see their free association, property, and self-defense rights trashed, and they presumably don't feel like playing the villain in the leftists' eternal game of "evil whites vs. saintly blacks/Mexicans/gays/women". Mr. Engelhardt is barking up the wrong tree. Someday people are going to take their Republic back, and when they do, there will be no place in it for class-warfare, race-baiting leftists like him, or for publications like The Nation.
Stephen Thomas - 10/8/2003
Here we have a feminist man arguing that Republicans represent millionaires, while Democrats represent the common man. The Democrats collect their contributions from the same folks as the Republicans, and just about everybody now knows this. The New Deal formulation that the author is trying to convey is long since dead. The factory work of the Boomer generation is software coding.
The irony is pretty rich.
It's the old class struggle language pasted onto a society in which hard working middle class people own two cars, vacation in Europe and settle into comfortable retirements. The author could hardly be more out of touch with the American middle class, or more contemptuous of its values, as the Berkeley address attests. This man despises middle class Americans.
How arcane! How totally out of date!!
So, let's be blunt about why middle class white men are leaving the Democratic party in droves. I'm one of them. The Democratic party long ago settled on white hetero men as the enemy, with particular emphasis on midwestern and southern men. I don't feel as if I left the Democratic party. I was driven out by racial and sexual quotas designed to punish me and my family, by legislation (hate crime laws) that make it more of a crime to murder my kind than a black man or a gay and by the slavish obedience to the insane feminist clique that now controls the Democratic party.
All this reminds me of a family dinner party I attended over a year ago. One of my young nephews, a college educated Marxist, was opining that, if only the working poor understood how evil the American system was, revolution would arrive in a week.
My response: "Poor Americans are happy."
To my surprise, this young man's parents, who live in a trailer park, raised their hands and laughed: "Yes, that's right, we're happy."
"And you are miserable," I told my nephew.
And, indeed, he is.
The average middle class American loaths feminism, because he believes in marriage and family, work and duty. He votes for Mr. Bush because, despite his flaws, Mr. Bush at least conveys a degree of sympathy for tradition male values. It is astonishing, the level of self-deception that the author practices.
I've suggested this several times to the writers and readers of this site. Read "A Hero of Our Times" by Mikael Lemontov. It explains this phenonenom in great detail, the Christlike leftist determined to bring revolution to the dumb masses who like the world the way it is. And, after you read it, you will understand that Arlie Hochschild's of this world are not possessed by "good intentions" or a love of the middle class.
What a laugh.
Oscar Chamberlain - 10/6/2003
Once upon a time, condescension was an acknowledged skill. It was the ability to speak to the lower orders in ways that suggested a common understanding.
Now, the term suggests a demeaning attitude. If we say that someone condescends, we are almost certainly being insulting.
But it is still common.
Modern condescension here means the ability to make symbolic appeals to the majority that may or may not have substance but which create an emotional bond.
Both Democrats and Republicans condescend.
To some extent it is an occupational hazard. So few people pay close attention to political issues that politicians from the local school board to the Senator holding forums has to restrain him or herself while listening to people who either don't know what they are taling about or who have a legitimate grievance but little ability to express it.
Lobbyists, thank God, are always prepared.
So it is easy for politicians to conclude that they must avoid a detailed consideration of the issues. That leaves symbols.
Modern condescension is also a bi-product of ideology, any ideology. Ideologues know the truth, and their purpose is to get the public to accept the truth or, if that fails, to get the public to elect people who know the truth. The former can be good, honest politics. On my side of the aisle the late Paul Wellstone was a good example of an pretty honest politician with firm ideological views. The latter, to simply get people to elect the right people all too often descends into--you guessed it--condescension.
After all, one might think, maybe what is good for the country is not good--in an immediate sense--for the majority. Maybe the people won't understand that. So politicians distort economic data, use any reason that sticks as a reason for war or (to harken back a ways) to deny the intention to go to to war until after the pesky election.
The only good thing is that dishonesty, when caught in a way that undercuts the users credibility, can result in a quick reversal of fortune.
- Indentured Students: Elizabeth Tandy Shermer on Student Debt (Monday, October 4)
- The Last Good Neighbor: Mexico in the Global Sixties (Washington History Seminar, Mon. 9/27)
- Stoic Wisdom: Ancient Lessons for Modern Resilience (Thursday, 9/23)
- Traveling Black: Mia Bay Joins the Washington History Seminar, September 20
- Why are Historians Facing Online Abuse Over Whether Atlantis Existed?