Wednesday, March 19, 2008


A commenter to my post about the Obama speech writes,

The reality is, what he patronizingly calls 'white resentment' is going to kill him in the Rust Belt, and all the blogging about how dumb, racist, and illiterate working class whites are isn't going to make things any better.

Well, as I've said before, I'm a truck driver's kid originally from an Italian-American neighborhood in Boston (and I mean in Boston, not in the 'burbs), so I think I know a little bit about this particular voting bloc.

And I'm afraid there's some truth to this. In the speech, Obama made the point that the non-elites of all races have common enemies:

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many.

And that's the message the white working class hasn't seemed to want to hear, certainly not since the 1960s. The white working class has been much more receptive to arguments like this, from a Rush Limbaugh bloviation on the Obama speech:

...But this business we all want to move in the same direction. Yeah, we all want freedom, we all want liberty....

We all want opportunity for our kids. We all want a growing, expanding economy. The argument we have is how do you get there? The argument is very simply put, or the distinguishing aspects of the argument are: Liberals want to use government based on a contempt and lack of understanding and confidence that average Americans can overcome things in life. Conservatives like us believe that if you just trust people, the inherent goodness and decency of people will come to the forefront if you don't tamper with their freedom, if you don't tamper with their liberty.... We know that liberty is under assault. Don't make me give you all the examples. This is something that's not even arguable. We're talking about banning certain kind of lightbulbs; talking about how you can use your property, all these examples -- liberty is under assault at the leadership level of the Democrat Party....

A couple of key points. First, "confidence that average Americans can overcome things in life." Many in the white working class hear that and don't think about Milton Friedman or Ayn Rand -- they think about something a bit nastier. As my commenter said:

The problem is not with the color of your skin, but with a subculture that doesn't understand their core values. Like hard work, or taking responsibility for yourself.

Turning down the government cheese and assimilating into the culture.

In other words: We work hard. They commit crimes and deal drugs and sponge off welfare. (As if there are no white criminals or drug dealers or fifteen-year-old mothers on public assistance.) And if they were more like us, they'd reap the benefits. (As if the subprime mortgage crisis and the disappearance of manufacturing jobs in America and the death and crippling injury in Iraq are somehow bypassing the white working class.)

Another key Rush point is his identification of the real enemy: It's Democratic yuppie scum! Of course! It's not the plutocrats who actually run things. (They're heroes.) It's upper-middle-class frou-frous who force you to buy those stupid expensive squiggly lightbulbs! Everything's their fault!

There's one more Rush riff, from elsewhere in the rant, that's significant:

Those of us my age, my generation have been hoping and praying to get rid of race as a dividing issue and as an identity issue in politics and in our culture for as long as I've been an adult, thinking and caring about these things. But there's an entire race industry on the left that will not allow that to happen. You know the kind of people I'm talking about. It's become very profitable for them.

Yes, "profitable."

I actually don't think Limbaugh means by this what his some of the demagogues who are his spiritual forebears might have meant -- i.e., that Jews are the real enemy, that they pit blacks against whites for profit. I think he's alluding to the notion of the "poverty pimp" -- a phrase New Yorkers remember hearing from our ur-Lieberman, ur-Zell Miller phony-Democratic mayor a generation ago, Ed Koch. Here's a more recent use of the phrase, from an online discussion in fall '06:

Poverty Pimps-Pimping the poor for politics!!

the so called black leadership have been pimping the poor black community since the 1960s in order to push an agenda of if I cry the loudest, people will give me what i want, and they have won again with Imus firing.

sharpton and jackson are leaders because they get society feeling bad about being non black and its pathetic

And the money these "pimps" are demanding is coming out of your pocket, white working-class man. In fact, that's the real problem -- not a system that sweet-talks you into a mortgage you can't afford and ships your manufacturing job overseas and has so little opportunity for your kid that his best shot economically is getting part of his brain blown away by an IED in Iraq. No, the rich aren't the people responsible for your economic struggle -- it's Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton (and Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright) who are taking your money.

Them and those damn Prius-driving chardonnay-swillers with their squiggly lightbulbs.

No comments: