Leon Fink: Obama and the unmaking of America's working classRoundup: Historians' Take
When Al Gore unveiled a modest appeal to "working families" at the 2000 Democratic National Convention, he drew a sharp response. His Republican opponent, George W. Bush, immediately counterattacked, accusing Gore of unleashing "class war" on the country.
The preferred term of address had long been "middle class"; even the AFL-CIO avoided the shoals of class rhetoric to try to co-opt the conservative family-values agenda.
Yet, today, virtually every commentator, from William Kristol to Paul Krugman, unblinkingly invokes the once-dreaded terminology in suggesting that Sen. Barack Obama cannot, as the director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute put it, "penetrate working-class voters."
What gives? Has Marxist class analysis seeped in and insidiously converted our political culture away from its attachment to individualist opportunity-seekers to a society divided by rigid social-economic boundaries?
The answer is, not quite. Today, "working class" has been effectively defanged of any radical, let alone subversive, intent. In fact, today's working class looks less the modernist, rationalizing force that Marx projected than a bastion of tradition—that unmoving "sack of potatoes" he identified with the peasantry.
Whether explicit or not, today's invocation of the working class is proceeded by the word "white." And the resulting construct—white men and women who have not gone to college—are regularly presented as a mostly conservative political bloc. Defensive and narrowly materialistic in their politics, religious and intensely nationalistic in their identities, suspicious and perhaps racist in their instinctive response to an African-American candidate, the working class that Obama can't reach looks to be populated by Archie Bunker and his like-minded descendants.
Yet, surely, the working class is at least as crude as Obama's "bitter workers" caricature of small-town voters. Both generalizations fasten a condescending explanation upon a group economically under pressure but united by no single institution or interest....
comments powered by Disqus
William Mandel - 5/15/2008
In the Marxist view, the working class is impelled toward unity by its status as opposed to the capitalist class by which it is exploited. This may be seen in the difference in working class "class consciousness" from country to country. It is lowest in the United States, where its goal is escape from that class either by education or the education of one's children. In European countries, the notion that one is of and one's children will also be of the working class is very much higher. This is reflected in the existence of Labor or Social-Democratic or Communist parties in Europe and their absence or insignificance in the U.S.
- Rubio Surges Into Second In New Hampshire
- Branstad Says Cruz Ran ‘Unethical’ Campaign
- Christie Highlights Santorum’s Endorsement of Rubio
- Portman Comes Out Against Trade Deal
- Megyn Kelly Gets a Book Deal
- A Big List of the Bad Things Clinton Has Done
- An Unambiguous Sign Sanders Won Last Night’s Debate
- Still Friends at the End
- Quote of the Day
- Trump Still Leads as Clinton Slips
- Clinton Can’t Shake Image as Wall Street’s Friend
- Maddow Doesn’t See Sanders Winning
- Why Does the Media Still Shield Chelsea Clinton?
- Bush Jokes His Mother May Have Abused Him
- Rubio Closes the Gap in New Hampshire
- Humans Hard-Wired to Teach, Anthropologist Says
- Parents outraged after students shown ‘white guilt’ cartoon for Black History Month
- Maryland is once again considering retiring its state song
- One of the last remaining Nazis goes on trial in Germany
- Inside story finally told of the young US diplomat who cracked the case of the murder of 4 nuns in El Salvador in 1980
- Historian at the center of Sanders-Clinton debate
- James Loewen Says Additional Baltimore Confederate Statues Should be Removed
- NYT History Book Reviews: Who Got Noticed this Week?
- A historian’s advice to students thinking of getting a PhD in a tough economic climate
- German historian Heinz Richter cleared of charges