Sun Oct 19th, 2008 at 02:30:37 PM EST
Earlier this week David Sirota wrote what I think is the best column I've ever seen on an important topic in American politics: the role of class in American politics and how the GOP has been able to capture the votes of working class whites. Let's be clear, it wasn't grand strategy by the Republicans that resulted in the white working class exiting the New Deal Coalition. It was the utter arrogance of the gang of liberal elitists that have seized the mainstream part of the American Left from the working class.
Movies may be fiction, but they represent the attitudes of the media and Hollywood elite who shape pop culture. In the difference between how Ed Sadlowski and Will Hunting were treated for their beliefs, we see one of the least examined shifts in how work is presented in popular discourse -- from both blue-collar and white-collar jobs being depicted as respectable ends, to blue-collar work portrayed as respectable inasmuch as it helps the laborer reach the venerated professional class.
This is the profound but subtle message of the last scene of another movie, Office Space, in which Peter Gibbons quits his suit-and-tie cubicle job and realizes his dream is to work construction. That we are trained to see this decision as rare only shows how deep the elitists' rabbit hole goes.
Sirota goes on to lay out how blue collar work in America has been denigrated, and how those who hold these jobs have increasingly been portrayed as somehow less worthy. Deserving of their hardship because they didn't get a college degree, and this of course is presented as evidence of their sloth. The reason, we are told, that their "American" dream is gone is because they have don't have an education, not because they have been the unwitting victims of an economic system that treats workers as the vessels in which labor is contained with no greater importance than a potato sack.
Now in recent years, the spreading of the pain from blue collar workers who seen their factories shipped abroad to college educated workers who have seen their jobs outsourced to India and elsewhere has called this into question.
The real possibility of a cross-class alliance in which the working classes (blue and white collar) unite against the excesses of the capitalist class has been denied. The white collar working class has sought to distance itself from its unwashed blue collar brethren, and instead ally with the capitalist class on cultural issues. Thus, culture not class becomes the primary axis on which American politics is oriented.
And the clueless jackasses in the Democratic party who have convinced themselves that culture trumps class, have excluded the blue collar working class from their vision of the world. Blue collar work is only respectable as a step to white-collar work, and manual labor is seen to make those who perform it somehow less human. The idea that all work should be treated with dignity and grant a man (or woman for that matter) a living wage is dismissed as socialistic. The entire working class is expected to embrace the white collar dream, and there's hardly a mention of the idea that blue collar workers are part of the American dream also.
Economic critiques from both parties are placed within this storyline, largely revolving around complaints about underfunded college grants, poorly administered job training programs or obstructive government bureaucrats who stunt professional advancement. This, rather than attacks against tax, trade, wage and healthcare policies that have made achieving the American Dream through blue-collar work increasingly impossible.
If manual laborers, farmers and small-business owners are involved in the stagecraft of national politics at all, they appear as a sepia-toned backdrop in 30-second TV ads aimed at making a candidate seem visually synonymous with Americana -- but that's about it.
And in the end, when the Democratic party is so damned intent on sticking to this white-collar dream that excludes blue collar workers, is it any damned wonder that they've left the party. The hegemony of the white collar dream and the denigration of blue collar work mean that when these men and women try to find someone who will tell them that there lives have meaning, they are unable to expect the reward of the "American Dream" in this life. They must wait for the life to come for their reward.
The reason that blue collar workers embrace cultural conservatism is not because they are failures (this is the way that the white collar working class has tried to put it), but instead because they have been failed by a system that sees no possibility for a dignified existence for a man who works with his hands.
What's this all have to do with the current Presidential election?
There is one group of idiots who take the cake this election cycle, and that's these "strategists" who play into the Republican's hands by insulting the life experiences of the millions of blue collar workers who have neither had nor aspired to a white collar life that includes a 6 figure salary at a major corporation, a house in the suburbs, and the rest.
They think that their lives have meaning and worth (because they do), yet the Democrats as the party of the Left have shown a remarkable capacity to push these voters into the Republicans by treating their lives as of no value.
Obama's now-famous celebration of arugula prices and lamentation about "bitter" Americans played right into the GOP's hands, as did his party's initial reaction to Republican vice-presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Instead of highlighting Palin's connection to fringe political causes, leading Democratic spokespeople focused on her inexperience by lambasting her service as a small-town mayor. James Carville, the supposedly brilliant "strategist," actually flashed a photo of the Wasilla, Alaska, City Hall. Evidently, the alleged "party of the little guy" was unaware that such an over-the-top reaction might suggest to millions of small-town voters that Democrats think they and their life experiences are a joke.
Same thing on the economy. Obama has eschewed the argot of blue-collar class struggle in favor of a vague and professorial consensus-ism and he has cautiously avoided populist language on issues like NAFTA that have become symbols of government disregard for non-professionals.
Worse, when Obama's spokespeople discuss trade, they preface any vaguely populist declaration with reassurances that Obama isn't a "protectionist" -- the implication being that Democrats believe blue-collar jobs are undesirable and thus not really worth protecting.
And for you all you Europeans reading this, this fun is coming to a town near you soon. The root cause of this denigration is blue collar work is neo-liberal hegemony. The myth that its a lack of education that is eroding the economic position blue collar workers is essential to keeping the white collar working class from realizing they are subject to the root problem here: the commodification of labor, as well.
If blue and white collar working class unite against the capitalist class, then the neoliberal project is over, and the market is placed back in its cage before it can totally destroy the societies it works upon.