I passed the old clunker again.
The first time was the day before the election. The 80s-vintage Buick compact was more primer than paint. The driver’s duds looked bargain basement, not Brooks Brothers.
Yet a “McCain-Palin” sticker clung resolutely to the rust bucket’s rear bumper.
The sticker is still there. Buick Guy wasn’t exactly dressed to the nines when I saw him the second time.
Based on his wheels and his threads, Buick Guy is one of what the Good Book calls “the least among us.”
Yet he apparently voted for a millionaire who believes that rich people and big corporations ought to get more tax breaks than Buick Guys. John McCain also think bosses shouldn’t have to be bothered by unions and by government regulations that protect the safety and health of workers, including Buick Guys, on the job.
I’m a teacher. I vote for candidates who I think will do the most for my class, the working class. Obama got my vote last November.
Buick Guys are also working class. But they keep voting for politicians like McCain whose policies help make the rich richer and keep Buick Guys driving heaps.
Buick Guy is a white guy. President Barack Obama’s skin color evidently kept many working class white guys from voting for him.
Like Pap in Huckleberry Finn, a lot of white guys who are Buick Guys don’t get it. Poverty transcends race. “The issue is not black and white – it’s green,” said the Rev. W.G. Harvey, the first African American city commissioner in Paducah, Ky., where I teach history at the local community and technical college.
Wealthy Republicans like McCain call a Democrat like Obama a “liberal elitist” — when they’re not dissing him as a “socialist” (More on that in a minute).
But it’s the McCains who are the real elitists. So naturally they love it when they can scam working stiffs like Buick Guy into thinking Democrats like Obama are elitists.
Democrats like Obama favor strong unions, minimum wage laws and meaningful regulations that protect worker lives and limbs on the job. Conservative Republicans like McCain don’t.
The conservative elitists running the GOP wouldn’t admit it because it would blow their chances with Buick Guys. But they believe in what was called “Social Darwinism.” It’s an old philosophy loved by the rich and powerful that holds if you are a Buick Guy and not a millionaire it’s because of your own shortcomings. In other words, you have nobody to blame but yourself if you work at a low-wage, dead-end job and live a long way from Easy Street.
But here’s the weird part: Buick Guys often act like elitists themselves, says David Nickell, who teaches sociology at my community college.
“[Buick Guys]…are the least secure group in society,” Nickell explained. “They are right on the edge of the poverty line. They’re a paycheck away from losing everything.”
So Buick Guys feel a need to look down on people poorer than they are, Nickell said. “And they readily accept the ideology of the real elite.”
More than a few Buick Guys are as anti-union as their bosses, even though unions stick up for workers when they have trouble with their bosses. Unions also enable their members to enjoy considerably better wages and benefits than non-union workers.
Also, many Buick Guys say “amen” when rich people denounce welfare and other government programs to help people who need help, including Buick Guys.
“[Buick Guys]…see redistributing the wealth as taking from them and giving to those below them,” Nickell said. They don’t see it as taking from billionaires and helping them, too.”
Getting people like Buick Guy to vote their own interests is probably tougher in the United States than in any other industrial democracy. Never mind that among these countries, the gap between rich and poor is widest in the U.S., reports the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Forget that, according to the OECD, the gap rapidly grew during George W. Bush’s presidency. (My guess is Buick Guy voted for Bush, too.)
While income inequality is greatest in the United States, class consciousness is weakest. The U.S. is the only industrial democracy that doesn’t have a significant, working-class-based democratic socialist or social democratic party.
Right-wing Republicans and their allies in the press and the pulpit long ago convinced Americans that socialists are the same as communists. They’re not.
Neither Obama nor his Democratic Party are “socialist,” either. Ask Brian Moore. He was the Socialist Party USA candidate for president last year.
Listen to Mike McConnell, a conservative radio host in Cincinnati, interview Moore.
Moore told McConnell that Obama is a “corporatist” not a socialist. He added that the president is “a capitalist all the way, and he…supports the capitalist system.” Moore claimed Obama “is not advocating systematic changes at all.”
Anyway, well-heeled Republican conservatives like McCain want working people like Buick Guy to keep believing that because they happen to own a home, however humble, or a car, even a rattletrap, their interests are the same as millionaires with mansions and fleets of luxury cars and an executive jet or two.
Millionaires vote their class interests. They get behind candidates like McCain who will do their bidding.
Of course, McCain and his soul mates are scared stiff that working class people – who are a lot more numerous than rich people – will unite at the ballot box and vote their interests. So divide-and-conquer is a big part of the Republican right’s strategy. The GOP — especially in states like my native Kentucky — use wedge issues like guns, abortion and gay rights. They pander to white racial and ethnic prejudice, however subtly, to split the working class vote, too.
Republican rightists also accuse Democrats like Obama of waging “class warfare” when they say they things like spreading the national wealth is a good idea.
Nickell recalled hearing the first President Bush level the “class warfare” charge against Bill Clinton in 1992. “I saw it on TV,” he said. “Senior Bush was standing on the bow of his yacht at Kennebunkport.”
Nickell suggested that when Republicans cry “class warfare” they are worried that working class voters might not be falling for their old what’s-good-for-rich-people-is-good-for-you-too scam or for the GOP’s social issues and “white-folks-r-us” hustles.
If Obama’s poll numbers are right, he might be recreating the kind of working class solidarity that helped build Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition and keep it going for so long.
During the Great Depression, FDR and the New Dealers gave working folks employment when they needed it through the CCC, WPA and other public works programs. They also enacted legislation that guaranteed workers the right to organize unions and required employers to recognize unions.
Republican conservatives of the 1930s called Roosevelt and the New Deal Democrats “socialists,” though they weren’t socialists either. FDR replied to his critics – he called them “economic royalists” — by paraphrasing the words of another famous president: “The legitimate object of Government is to do for the people what needs to be done but which they cannot by individual effort do at all, or do so well, for themselves.”
The president FDR was talking about used the might of the federal government to save our republic when it was most in peril. “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital,” that president also declared. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
I suspect the McCain faithful – probably Buick Guy, too – would have slammed that president as a “socialist.” Not only was he not a socialist, he wasn’t even a Democrat.
He was Abraham Lincoln, the savior of the Union, the vanquisher of slavery, a champion of the working class and the first Republican president.