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.
- A New Target for Old Spies: Congress
- Antigua and Barbuda Asks Harvard University for Slavery Reparations
- Historian: Nixon DID contest the 1960 election
- Killer took selfie after stabbing historian over rare ‘Wind in the Willows’ book
- VW fires corporate historian who drew attention to wartime ties to Nazis
- British historian Sheila Lecoeur is on trial for defamation
- Jim Downs laments that Americans still aren’t being taught LGBT history
- Historian Jeremy Kuzmarov calls on Obama to pardon Ethel Rosenberg
- Garry Wills says there’s one human test we can use to decide who’s the better candidate: Trump or Clinton
- Get to Know the Semifinalists for the National Book Award