I want to know.
I hear that phrase bandied about by all and sundry and so much at the moment, but I’m damned if I can figure out who, exactly, “the American People” are. Depending on who uses the phrase and for what purpose, “the American People” seem to want and demand a lot of things, many of which are at cross purposes with each other.
For example, according to some, “the American People” want small government. They don’t want Washington looking over their shoulders and in their garbage cans. “The American People” are rugged individualists, who answer to no one but their wallet and their God, in that order. “The American People” are not socialists.
On the other hand, “the American People” want their Social Security payments made on time, and they want the assurance that Medicare will be part and parcel of their personal care package when the time arrives in their lives to take advantage of this program, to which they are entitled. And never mind that both those programs are based on a socialist premise, “the American People” don’t want government interfering with either one or both.
“The American people”, according to some, are ignorant. Worse than ignorant, they’re stupid. Those who hold this opinion usually are inclined to view those “rugged individualists” as rubes (if the individualist happens to hail from the Midwest) or inbred, unreconstructed Confederate shitkickers, if such an individualist happens to be from any point South of the Mason-Dixon Line. These “American People” always vote against their own interests – which means, they always vote Republican; and no matter how hard the “American People” who know better – usually those found on the West (or Left, as they prefer) Coast or in the cosmopolitan urban areas of the Northeast – send all these bright-eyed, idealistic, eager-beaver, young unpaid college volunteers to live amongst the hoi-polloi every four years, when the election of a Democratic President becomes imperative, these poor kids just can’t seem to dent the iron mask of stupidity worn by the local yokels.
Last November, I was told by victorious Republican candidates that “the American People” had spoken. That they had repudiated, even refudiated, the President’s political agenda by re-electing the selfsame bunch of corporate, Rightwing business lackies sporting Bibles in one hand and pitchforks in the other, who’d rammed the ship of state against the rocks two years previously.
How’s that for a dose of masochism?
Based on that result, it appears that “the American People” like knowing their place. They like the idea of being peones, peasants, working poor. Now, all of a sudden, some part of “the American People,” some Democrats awakening from a slumber that just might rival Rip Van Winkel’s, have realised that “the American People” aren’t all a Middle Class dream turned nightmare. Now, we’re hearing references to “the working class” again and even “the working poor.”
We heard the President reference “the working class” when he explained his reason for making a compromise with Republican Party leaders (or “caving” to them as some interpreters of information imparted to “the American People” have said) on extending the Bush Tax Cuts for the rich. We heard Kathleen Kennedy Townsend reference “the working poor” when speaking of a demographic to whom the Democrats need, desperately, to speak and to deliver a message.
The President gets it. So does Townsend, who would remember lessons learned from her father, Robert Kennedy, along these lines. Senator James Webb, of Virginia, gets it too. More Democrats need to heed this too.
A great deal of “the American People” can be found amongst the working class or the working poor. I don’t mean the recently down-sized and down-shifted professional Middle Class, I mean the people who were born working and who’ll work all their lives and be lucky they’ll have enough to cover funeral expenses when they die. I mean the ones who live in cheap modular homes or shanty rentals on the other side of whatever railroad track or gullet runs through the town where they live. The people who operate forklifts, dig ditches, work in fastfood restaurants and shop at WalMart.
Believe it or not, most of these people’s daddies and grandaddies were probably New Deal Democrats. Many of them probably voted for Kennedy. And somewhere during the past forty years, they found themselves abandoned by the Democratic Party which we know today, only to be discovered and nurtured like a hot house flower by the Republicans wanting to rule today.
They quoted Bible scripture to them, just so these poor folk would feel at home, and told them stories about how the Democrats wanted to kill unborn babies. They filled them with a perverted myth of American exceptionalism. They taught them that America was a Christian nation and that Americans, by virtue of that selfsame exceptionalism, were better than any breed of people in the world and, therefore, entitled to do as they damned well pleased.
They turned them into cannon fodder and Barbie dolls looking like Lynddie England.
And when the good folk of certain tranches of the Democratic Party speak of “the American People,” they don’t mean “the working poor”. Somewhere along the line, as well – probably during the Reagan regime – someone filled these poor folks’ pockets with plastic buying power and convinced them that they were “middle class.” The working class connotation only reinforced the caul of shame which had enveloped them since birth. And in return for that plastic prosperity, they gave the Republican party their vote.
No, indeed, some well-meaning Democrats, speaking collectively of the “middle class” don’t include the working poor who’ve spent the last 30 years believing themselves part of that dream. They talk about Ward and June Cleaver, with their social consciences and their lattes and Chablis, planning for the Ivy Leagued college funds of Wally and the Beaver.
To the well-meaning Democrats of the Left Coast persuasion, who call themselves populists, yet who travel in private Lear jets, the working poor have cooties. They watch Fox News and fry everything from meat to chocolate candy.they’re fat. They hunt animals and sometimes people. They run meth labs. They’re racist. Worse than racist, they like Sarah Palin.
In short, they’re not worth the dirt in which they wallow. Leave them to their religion and their rusticity. Leave them in the bowels of Beck.
Sitting where I’m sat across the wide expanse of the pond known as the Atlantic Ocean at the beginning of the year which marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of a family feud called the Civil War, I’m amazed at how “the American People” are being collectively screwed by those whom they’d probably deem their betters.
The Republicans have done a fine job (speaking sarcastically) in keeping them dumb and under their thumb. Take racism, for example. Racism, especially in the South, was a bad habit taught by trickledown. It behooves the Democrats of the Left Coast-cum-Progressive variety to believe that it’s the shitkicking rednecked poor whites (never one and the same, I can assure you) who populated the white-sheet-and-pillowcase-variety of the Ku Klux Klan. Not true.
The Klan, and its offshoot, Hayley Barbour’s Citizens’ Councils, were part and parcel of the upper echelon of Southern society. Poll taxes and literacy tests affected illiterate whites who didn’t own a pot to piss in justa as much as it did the black sharecropper. Their “betters” sought to keep both tranches as dirt cheap labour by pitting one against the other, in racial terms as well as working terms. On the rare occasion when both white and black have-nots realised they were being royally screwed by those who had the power, it was a revolutionary sight to behold.
But the Northern brethren were no better. The sharp-suited industrialists who populated FDR’s fabled cocktail parties of his last two administrations and their robber baron predecessors kept their labour costs at a minimum by pitting their lowly-paid immigrant Irish and Italian labour against the even cheaper influx of African Americans migrating Northwards. That goes a long way to explaining why Chris Matthews marvels that he forgets the President is black or that Bill Maher is amazed that Obama doesn’t act the way he thinks a black man should. That’s not Chris or Bill talking; those are the voices of their Irish immigrant great-grandaddies, and their unacknowledged racism is inherited and inherent.
North and South, the Republicans buy these peoples’ votes and the Democrats turn their refined noses away from them.
They’re nobody’s people, “the American people,” and worse, if they’re Southern, they’re descendents of traitors and traitors, themselves.
The latest Civil War anniversary seems to have brought to the fore a lot of simmering hatred still left over in this nation. Were I not living in the UK, that might surprise me; but since I live amongst people who have been inculcated with hatred of the French by successive generations starting with those who fought in the Hundred Years’ Wars in the Middle Ages and since I’ve watched professional soccer matches turn into bloodbaths as a carry-over of the religious wars of the Renaissance, the revival of North-South bickering doesn’t surprise me in the least.
What does surprise me is the invective and the vitriol coming from Northerners, who assume that everyone born and bred South of the Potomac is attending Secessionist balls and standing in line to join either the United Daughters of the Confederacy or the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
I can assure you, we’re not.
And even more pathetic than shocking are the calls from various Northern voices amongst the so-called liberal Democrats, for the South to secede. I’m wondering if some people in the Democratic party have a problem with the fact that three of the last four Democratic Presidents have been from the Deep South. I don’t seem to remember a George McGovern, a Walter Mondale or a Mike Dukakis getting anything but slaughtered at the pollls.
I guess, just like “the American people” spoke up to elect our first African American President, they also spoke up for the men from Texas, Georgia and Arkansas; and as a Virginian, I hope in 2016, “the American people” hand the Mother of Presidents her ninth favourite son – as long as that potential President’s surname be Webb, Kaine or Warner and not Cantor. (Forget McDonnell and Cuccinelli. They’re gifts from our friends in the North).