Thursday, September 4, 2008

Class Warfare and Sarah Palin

Boy, howdy - it's Class Warfare season. It's not a "Red State/Blue State" thing, or a "Republican/Democrat thing, or a "More government programs/lower taxes" thing, or even a "Populist/Elite" thing - although that's getting closer. Both parties think that they're making a populist appeal. One is (this time around); the other isn't.

The Democratic party looks very different than it did in 1976, when I was a member of a County Committee for the party (yes, I was a party apparatchik). While that was the year that Carter was elected, there was still a viable Scoop Jackson wing of the party - socially liberal, strongly pro Union, and very anti-communist. No more: today's Democratic party is led by an Intellectual Class: academia, media, Hollywood. These folks all have a common identity:
  • Highly educated, especially from Ivy League schools. Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar, Barack Obama headed the Harvard Law Review.
  • Intelligent, in the "book learning" sense. While John Kerry was a terrible candidate and entirely tone deaf in much of what he said ("I voted for it before I voted against it"), he was a Skull-and-Bones man.
  • Well traveled, well versed in other cultures, particularly European ones. These folks know which obscure Burgundy wines to server with the roast.
The distinction does not fall along "issues" fault lines - feminism, race relations, economics. Rather, it is a shared view of how these issues are analyzed that is important. It's membership in a club, and more importantly, demonstrating that membership. George W. Bush can check off all three of the criteria, but he doesn't demonstrate (at all) that he's part of the Intellectual Class club - thus we see repeated displays of Bush Derangement Syndrome from members of that class.

There's also a strong hierarchy in the Intellectual Class: Ivy League schools have more clout than State U; the New York Times has more clout than the San Francisco Chronicle; the Brookings Institution has more clout than whichever other lefty think tanks are out there. These Elite institutions and people set the agenda, and all members are expected to support the hierarchy. The elites also arbitrate who rises and falls in status within the class (or who is expelled - see Leiberman, Joeseph). This makes the class self-perpetuating. Europe has a particularly advanced form of this, and is granted honorary membership in the American Intellectual Class.

What about the Scoop Jackson/Ronald Reagan Democrats? They also have a common identity:
  • Blue Collar, "working class". Policemen, firemen, military, construction, small business owners. These folks value the ability to work with their hands.
  • Intelligent, in a practical sense that lets them solve problems. Rather than a PhD Thesis, someone in this class might create a Business Plan, or create a strategy to win the war in Iraq.
  • Strongly pro-America. Unashamed to be patriotic, and to show it in public. This is not to excuse the country's failings, but rather a feeling that the glass is much more than half full.
Again, the distinction does not fall across issue lines. The common thread is that while they may be willing to listen to a Harvard MBA or the New York Times, they need to be convinced on the merit. There's much more of a sense of independence, less willingness to march in lockstep, although you see some signs of this.

During the Clinton years, the Democratic party got used to the Intellectual Class running the show. Clinton was such a good politician that he was able to mostly paper over the fracture between the Intellectual Class and the Scoop Jacksonites. However, the Intellectual Class called the shots. I say "mostly", because it wasn't enough to get Al Gore or John Kerry into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Democrats hope that Barack Obama has Bill Clinton's magic, and will be able to convince the Jacksonites to "return to the fold."

This is a long introduction that most people already know. The key is that these two classes do not like each other - there's no reason that a small business owner would naturally assume that a Harvard MBA is better suited to run his business, or to tell him what to do. The Harvard man (or woman) would naturally assume that he (or she) was suited to do precisely this. You need a politician with Bill Clinton's skills to talk the working class into being ruled by the Intellectual Class.

This isn't easy, if you're not Bill Clinton. When arguing with non-Class members, the Intellectual Class uses the arguments that it uses within the class (e.g. Post-modern deconstruction), but these typically don't work at all (sample response" "WTF is this nonsense?"). The Intellectuals fall back to the mechanisms they use to enforce the power structure within the class, either even more of the same argument (you didn't understand me so I'll say it again), or ostracism ("Reagan is an idiot, B-Movie actor"). Jacksonites see this as annoying (they understood the argument in the first place, they just didn't agree with it) or insulting ("Who you calling an idiot, idiot?").

Thus we come to Sarah Palin and why she is producing such as reaction from the Intellectual Class. As Tam said, "it's the hit dog that yelps." Palin doesn't threaten to steal Hillary/feminist votes; she threatens to steal the Reagan Democrats back. It's not a million PUMAs, it's 8 million rural, union voters from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and Missouri. And so the intellectual Class cranks up the hit machine. It doesn't look like it's working:
When Palin talks about her present life it sounds as authentic as Biden’s showy populism came off as false. Enraged feminists are apparently the gatekeepers for less well-educated American women, who are supposed to have 0-1.5 children not 5! Their husbands must be professors, lawyers, CEOs, editors—not snowmobile champions, union members, oil workers, and fishermen—or, worse, all in one! And unlike a Pelosi, Quinn, or Clinton, Palin, God forbid, did not rely on a powerful, wealthy husband or father to energize her career. Worse still, she took no women’s studies class, never attended the Ivy League, and shoots moose. The danger is not just that Sarah Palin could win McCain the election, but she could expose the entire flimsy structure of doctrinaire liberalism as the hypocrisy—and chauvinism—it has become.

I would like to thank the US media for doing such a grand job this last week of lowering expectations by portraying Governor Palin - whoops, I mean Hick-Burg Mayor Palin - as a hillbilly know-nothing permapregnant ditz, half of whose 27 kids are the spawn of a stump-toothed uncle who hasn't worked since he was an extra in Deliverance.

How's that narrative holding up, geniuses? Almost as good as your "devoted husband John Edwards" routine?

I heard basically the same thing last night from a friend who grew up in the small-town south. They're all libertarian. They're all male. They all liked her. She speaks to the sense of people who didn't go to Ivy League schools that Harvard grads think they're not quite bright, and definitely not competent to run their own lives without a Yale man supervising things. And they're entirely right that a lot of Ivy League grads do think this way, consciously or unconsciously.
Democrats better get to talking about policy and issues, areas where the Republicans are weak. They've got to let the experience thing go. They've got to talk about the policies and issues that would actually help the soccer mom - universal pre-K, health care, special education, daycare services, and so on. They've got to point out that this hockey mom never mentioned the word education in her speech. And they really shouldn't underestimate the secret sorority of PTA moms.
I think this last one is wrong, or at least partly wrong. The Democrats don't need to talk policies to Soccer Moms, they have to convince them that the Intellectual Class is fit to lead. Given the tribalism showing through - the sneers at Small Town America, the sneers about "experience", the media gang rape of Bristol Palin - no amount of "universal pre-K" will win. The Intellectual Class is exposing itself as so vicious and petty that trust will be a hard thing to establish with the desired voters.

The question is not "who promises more goodies", but rather "who do you trust". Sarah Palin established that connection. The Intellectual Class is trying to field dress her, but looks to be fixing to field dress itself instead.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A boomshakalaka and a slam dunk for you.