11 February 2008

..and belated Sermon, w/commentary

Sam Smith, on Edwards and the Donkeys:

It didn't used to be like this. I have sometimes tried to explain to people, usually unsuccessfully, that we've always had born-again Christians; we just used to call them New Deal Democrats. And those construction workers, easy foil of the New Yorker cartoonists, were once part of a Democratic electorate before they were lured away by the likes of Ronald Reagan.

For many years, as the Democratic establishment has become wealthier, the traditional Democratic base has been steadily pushed away as too dumb, too prejudiced, or otherwise too unworthy of the party. It wasn't that abortion, gays and family values were intrinsically so important. But if your campaign contributors won't let you talk or do anything about pensions, healthcare, outsourcing or usurious interest rates, the door opened wide for the rightwing hypocrites.

Class has always been the forbidden fruit of American political debate. A civil rights activist, Julius Hobson, with whom I worked once put it this way:

"The struggle isn't whether you like a nigger or a nigger likes a cracker or whitey is a pig or any of that stuff. I've called people whitey and pig and the FBI never said a word. All I have to do is put on a dashiki, get a wig, go out there on Fourteenth Street, and yell, 'Whitey is a pig and I'm going to take care of him' -- the FBI will stand there and laugh at me. But the moment I start to discuss the way goods and services are distributed and I start talking about the nature of the political system and show that it's a corollary of the economic system, that's when the FBI comes in for harassment."

And the Washington DC of today proves Hobson's point: a black city run by black politicians that is one of the most class-divided places you'll find in America but about which hardly anyone ever talks.

So along comes a wealthy southern white male lawyer and tries to change things back to the way Democrats used to do it. And what happens? Yes, those with power move to keep him in the background. Yes, from the start the establishment media gave him as little coverage as possible.

But more significant was the reaction of average members of the liberal - really post-liberal - establishment. Ridicule and disgust combined with a stunning disinterest in Edwards' issues that told much about the Democratic Party today.

Not only was this elite bored with Edwards' program, it made clear that the candidate didn't look or talk right, was too wealthy to say such things, and, when you come right down to it, wasn't one of us.

And, oh yes, the most frequent comment of all: he once had a $400 haircut.

Nowhere was it mentioned that Hillary Clinton had had a $1200 makeover during her Senate campaign. But then she wasn't the issue. She belonged.
I cut a lot of the post, because it's an absolutely brilliant analysis, and I still left quite a bit there worth reading.

When Deer Hunting with Jesus was released, a lot of people instinctively compared it to What's the Matter with Kansas? because both dealt with the rightward drift of the rural white working class. But there's a crucial distinction. Frank's dilemma is why these voters supposedly vote against their economic issues in favor of their social values. Bageant's counterargument is to point out that this is a false choice; the Democrats don't in any meaningful way represent the economic interest of the white working class, so they go with the right-wing puppets of fundie religion instead, the only people who'll at least pretend to care. (Incidentally, Frank seems very aware of how the DLC sellout in the '90s brought about the current paradigm, but doesn't let it faze him too much, perhaps because liberals wouldn't want to read his books about the backwards proles.)

But to suggest the Democrats have become a narrowly-defined platform of feel-good social liberal causes is severe heresy, and causes certain liberal activists to blow their stack. You're selling their issues down the river to appease the white Christian male oppressors, just like the scheming Liberal Dude(TM) they always suspected you were. Pretty soon we'll have back-alley abortions with coathangers, government-sponsored re-education camps for gays, and all kinds of other unpleasantness.

And they aren't necessarily wrong, because this is how the Democratic establishment typically behaves when it needs to pull in some rural voters in flyover country. They certainly don't want to step afoul of all the Party's new friends who are giving them such a huge fundraising advantage this election cycle. Besides, they reassure the activists, everyone knows the rubes are utterly implacable on Jeebus and abortion anyway, and letting them in the party would erode all your work.

Is this true, or a convenient lie to keep the barbarians away from the gates? I won't fully sanction the hagiography of Edwards, but he was the candidate with the most aggressively populist message, and he was also a very popular choice among social liberal activists on the Internet. There doesn't need to be a conflict here; indeed, the only places where it exists are the heads of the donkey brass. Edwards ran very well in head-to-head polling against the GOP, but we'll never know if he could've built a much more radically inclusive update of the New Deal coalition than the celebrity version proffered by Hilbama and endorsed by the media and the Party.