Friday, July 10, 2009

Jan-trum Time!

The other night, in the grips of my old friend insomnia, I was scanning through television channels when I landed on a news show. The fellow being interviewed was talking about Sarah Palin’s working class act.

He said her strategy was in pitting the “working class” against the “elites”.

It occurred to me that I’d heard this argument before. But it wasn’t working class vs. elite. No, it was white vs. black.

See, I grew up in a white working class suburb just after the Civil Rights Act was being implemented. I heard a lot of “us” and “them” talk. It was what the Klan thrived on. Take a poor, poorly educated, unemployed fellow and tell him none of it is his fault. Tell him it’s not his fault he didn’t do well in school. Tell him it isn’t his fault he can’t hold a job because he has a drinking/drug problem. No, tell him it’s the blacks and Jews fault. Tell him if it weren’t for “them”, he’d be a prince without having to work for it.

Sarah Palin and her ilk have just refined it. It’s not your fault that you don’t have a better job. It’s not your fault you didn’t go to college. It’s not your fault you bought a house out of your pay grade, counting on overtime to get you by. No, it’s them gosh darn liberal elites’ fault. And they don’t even like you any way.

(Eighth grade anyone?) This is what they count on - the insecurity and class anxiety of Americans. The need to belong to a group - the need to belong to the "right" group. And the latest American emotional need - the need to feel like you are being persecuted. (They're going to take your Bibles away and outlaw being a Christian!)

No, it wasn't the big oil companies that sucked your wallets and the economy dry just because they could. No, not the fat cats on Wall Street whose main priority was maximizing profits for investors and workers be damned. No, not the CEO’s who began caring more about stock returns than their workers and moved every job they could overseas. None of them have a single thing to do with the economy and lack of jobs.

I have walked the long road out of working poverty to working class to having a pretty good hold on middle class. And I worked my ass off for it. Now that I’m here, no, I don’t work quite as hard as I did when I was working poverty wage. Yes, things are much easier.

But I had to sacrifice a lot. I had to take risks that scared the hell out of me. I had to rack up a debt that made me want to vomit every time I got that loan statement. I had to stop whining about how I didn't have any breaks or special hand outs and just go do what I had to do. And realize that most people had to do just that, very few people get anything handed to them. And I know I’m not that special. I’m not any smarter or talented than any other average Jo-ette out there.

But I remember the resentment. I remember the anger I felt towards those who were doing better than myself. They didn’t have “any” problems. They could do whatever they wanted to do. They had everything and begrudged me anything. They got handed everything. They didn’t have to struggle like I did.

Then I grew the fuck up.

It was just an excuse I'd been taught to use to make myself feel better about not doing what I was supposed to do. And that is what Palin and the anti-elitists are telling Americans it's okay to feel now. Just give up. Just be angry. Just be resentful. Whine about all "those people" who have it so easy. It's okay. It isn't your fault. Be a victim. Some people stay stuck in that mentality all their lives. Some people are ripe for an excuse to blame someone. Some people need a scapegoat.

And those darn liberal elitists make such good targets for that kind of insecurity.

I don’t consider myself elite at anything. But I’m secure enough in my own skin and skills and abilities that I don’t consider the “elite” something bad. I sort of want my leaders and statesmen and doctors and scientists to be “elite”. I want my armed forces to be “elite”.

We need each other. We need the brilliant minds to dream and think and imagine. We need the workers to bring those dreams into reality. We need the middle class workers to keep it all running smoothly. That's what built America up, everyone working together, everyone doing their little part. Not scapegoating and finger pointing and being resentful of the idea that someone was smarter or more successful. You want to be more successful? Do what you need to do. Don't complain that it's too hard. Don't blame other people for no reason.

If you want to be an artist and someone chops off your hands, perhaps they can be blamed. But don't blame some nameless, faceless "elitist" for you not getting a scholarship to art school.

We complain about our schools being “dummied down” and the harmful consequences of lowering educational standards.

Dummying down politics won’t help either. Gaining political power by playing to the worst of our human tendencies won’t help.

Obama won, in my opinion, mostly because he played to the best of our human tendencies.

Seems like Palin and her ilk believe that Americans like to hate and resent more than we like to hope and help.

Loki sez: I could have been a great cardboard box artist, but those elitists said that only humans could go to art school!


Pat said...

Fear is the most powerful emotion, supposedly. Sarah and "her ilk" play to it beautifully. It's hard to resist, especially for someone who's feeling that they've hit rock bottom.

Anonymous said...

You've said it beautifully!!!!!!


Pixel Peeper said...

Jan - this is one of the most eloquent articles I've read in a long, long time. You really have a skill for saying things as they are, and a knack for putting the right words to it.

I still believe you are my long-lost twin sister...sometimes the parallels in your life and mine are just startling!

Heather said...

Amen! I'm so sick to death of politicians telling us it's the other side's fault. America is overfull of victims and sorely lacking in "I'm responsible" people.

I agree with your closing, Obama's message of hope and change also contained a kernel of 'we can all be better if we work at it' and that's what people responded to.

JanetLee said...

Thanks everyone!

Anonymous said...

Good one! Makes an aunt proud!