Monday, February 21, 2005

What Liberals Need to Know About the Working Class

JOE BAGEANT, DISSIDENT VOICE - The working class people in my town [of Winchester, VA] are angry, but not especially angry at Queer Eye For the Straight Guy, or unseen fetuses. I think working class anger is at a more fundamental level and that it is about this: rank and status as citizens in our society. I think it is about the daily insult working class people suffer from employers, government (national, state and local), and from their more educated fellow Americans, the doctors, lawyers, journalists, academicians, and others who quietly disdain working people and their uncultured ways. And I think working class anger is about some other things too:

It is about the indignities suffered at the hands of managers and bosses -- being degraded to a working, faceless production unit in our glorious new global economy.

It is about being ignored by the educated classes and the other similar professional, political and business elites that America does not acknowledge as elites.

It is about one's priorities being closer to home and more ordinary than those of the powerful people who determine our lives.

It is about suffering the everyday lack of human respect from the government, and every other institutional body except the church.

It is about working at Wal-Mart or Home Depot or Arby's wearing a nametag on which you do not even rate a last name. You are just Melanie or Bobby, there to kiss the manager's ass or find another gig.

It is about trying to live your life the only way you know how because you were raised that way. But somehow the rules changed under you.

It is about trying to maintain some semblance of outward dignity to your neighbors, when both you and the neighbors are living payday to payday, though no one admits it.

It is about media fabled things you've never seen in your own family: college funds set aside for the kids, stock portfolios, vacation homes...

It is about the unacknowledged stress of both spouses working longer, producing more for a paycheck that has been dwindling in purchasing power since 1973.

Yes, it is about values. It is about the values we have forsaken as a people -- such as dignity, education and opportunity for everyone. And it is about the misdirected anger of the working classes toward those they least understand. You. And me.

By the way, the working people I am talking about are not entirely unhappy with life, just angry to a certain degree at this point (and bound to be angrier when the Bush regime finally runs the nation's economy off the cliff). They simply resist change because for decades change has always spelled something bad -- 9/11, terrorism, job outsourcing -- always something bad headed toward worse...

God, gays and guns alone do not explain the conservative populism of the 2004 elections. College educated liberals and blue-collar working people need to start separating substantive policy issues from the symbolic ones. Fight on the substance, the real ground zero stuff that ordinary working people can feel and see -- make real pledges about real things. Like absolutely guaranteed health care and a decent living wage. And mean it and deliver it.

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