SIX DEGREES OF "LIBERALS SUCK!"
A lot of people are very seriously pondering Charles Murray's new book, and the column David Brooks wrote about it today. I think it's somewhat of a waste of time to expend too much gray matter on Murray; I did my bit on Saturday. Short of reading Murray's book, if you want to assess what the guy is saying now, read the Wall Street Journal article he adapted from the book, as well as the article Adam Serwer wrote last May when Murray previewed the book in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. Or you can go straight to this Roy Edroso post, which is informative and much funnier than anything else I've recommended, and also contains a link to an are-you-oppressing-the-proles-with-your-elitism? quiz from the book.*
The most interesting aspect of Murray's current work is his focus on blue-collar whites; he clearly feels burned by the reception to The Bell Curve. But his change in focus isn't all that interesting -- really, it's just a different approach to one of the main items on the wingnut intellectuals' mission statement, which is: Whenever possible, endeavor to demonstrate that big-government liberalism and liberal cultural elitism are responsible for everything bad in the world, and that the richest plutocrats are blameless. You may have read that Murray blames the well-to-do for failing to wag their fingers sternly at blue-collar workers who quit their jobs and have kids out of wedlock -- but he's not blaming the truly well-to-do, and he's certainly not blaming them for the things they did to become well-to-do. As David Brooks says, citing Murray's book:
... there are vast behavioral gaps between the educated upper tribe (20 percent of the country) and the lower tribe (30 percent of the country)....
Democrats claim America is threatened by the financial elite, who hog society's resources. But that's a distraction. The real social gap is between the top 20 percent and the lower 30 percent. The liberal members of the upper tribe latch onto this top 1 percent narrative because it excuses them from the central role they themselves are playing in driving inequality and unfairness.
So, see, it's not the people who actually decide where all the job openings are (China rather than the U.S. Rust Belt) who are to blame for the decline of blue-collar America -- it's the people who drink craft beers and avoid strip-mall restaurants who are at fault, just by dint of drinking craft beers and avoiding strip-mall restaurants. (No, really -- check out the quiz. Murray says that.)
But, um, how does this jibe with Murray's old thesis, that non-whites are simply less fit to function at the upper levels of society? Well, it doesn't matter whether it jibes -- it all functions like a parlor game, except one played with control of our dominant political narrative at stake. It's all in that statement I italicized above: if you're a right-wing "intellectual," your work has to proceed from the assumptions that the uber-elitists are blameless and that liberals bear 100% of the blame for everything. Then your task is to keep coming up with new, fresh, seemingly thought-provoking ways to connect these two premises. It's like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon -- it doesn't matter how you get to Kevin Bacon, it just matters whether you do it in a compelling way. Murray's winning the game right now. If he continues to win, the prize is control of our discourse on race and class for years to come.
*(Also see: Roy's follow-up on Murray and TBogg's two Murray skewerings.)