Saturday, October 04, 2008

What Sarah Palin means

The liberal problem with somebody like Sarah Palin ultimately comes down to class. The Democratic Party is not a convincingly working class party. Moreover, they are so unconvincingly working class Republicans can literally pluck a woman with children from the seat of local government and invent a conservative national hero out of thin air. It is a testament to the political alienation felt by poor, white rural communities that by simply acknowledging them, no matter how cheaply, you gain their loyalty.

The Democratic Party solicits this important constituency through economic policy, but insofar as unionization has declined throughout the country, there is no effective mechanism for getting this message out: there is no space on CNN for in-depth reporting on the merits of progressive taxation, for example, like there was in the labor publications which existed 100 years ago. Simply put, the labor movement is the progressive working class, or least is the best hope for it; and losing independent labor unions has always precipitated losing the working class to the narrow appeals of racism, bigotry and jingoism that the owners of industry are always dangling before them, in standard divide-and-conquer fashion.

As labor union strength has declined, the Democratic Party has turned increasingly toward big business to make up the difference, with a corresponding shift in policy commitments. Democratic Party culture has merged more completely with corporate culture, with its premise of educated managerialism, wherein those with the most education and experience are conferred with executive authority over everybody else. In essence, it is the same idea that underpins many Americans' conception of the office of the Presidency, leading to the kinds of squabbles that existed between the Obama and Clinton camps; and having more recently erupted around the selection of Sarah Palin for Vice President, who is "merely" representative of much of rural America -- and thus inadequate in any significant leadership role -- as this philosophy of power would hold.

Meanwhile the Republican Party apparatus speaks to the white lower classes everyday, primarily through talk radio, and it makes guns and immigration and national defense and gay marriage and abortion and religion and every other position that induces apoplexy among American liberals the starting point of every conversation. In other words, it leads with their concerns and interests as they stand now, and in doing so acknowledges them, rather than writing them off as a lost cause, deserving of their lot because they have not taken the necessary steps to "improve themselves" with an education they likely can't afford, or otherwise must risk their lives in a combat zone to acquire, so that someday they might not be mere hillbillies with little to offer society -- and subsequently permitted to ascend to some enviable position of power over others.

Naturally, people from this group take a different view, believing they have positive attributes in spite of whatever might be beyond their immediate reach; and many of them see these positives in Sarah Palin. Their counterargument to educated managerialism is values-based leadership -- "values" being something a person can have regardless of whether they have a master's degree, and, from a religious perspective (namely, theirs), is probably more important anyway. The Republican Party has found common cause with this perspective insofar as it helps mask their economic agenda, which is explicitly geared toward redistributing wealth to top income-earners by fleecing everyone else. The Democratic Party, however, is still too mired in its own class affiliations to know how to approach the white, rural working class except, ironically, at the level of policy, which they have no way of explaining except through their union go-betweens, who may reside at the blue-collar level but not in sufficient numbers. The Democrats may want to manage "on behalf" of lower income people, but that is only a further example of their "elitism," as the Republican-sponsored narrative goes. Barring a complete economic catastrophe -- the likes of which Obama presently enjoys -- the Republicans are winning these arguments, and will continue to do so in the future, until either the labor movement is sufficiently revived or the Democratic Party culture otherwise shifts in such a way that is not so rigidly constrained by class prejudice.

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