There are the regular Lynndie England types here, plus lots of mullet males, some about to join the army to get away from a dead end job and town. One look around Burt’s makes it obvious why the hard working life in America does not create liberals. Most people here are not sure of the difference between the House and the Senate, which does not bother them at all, because as they understand democracy, everyone’s opinion is of equal weight, informed or not. They have never been exposed to a union, never taken a college class, and do not expect too much out of life. Liberals, on the other hand, expect far too damned much, in their opinion. Life is tough. Suck it in. Don’t take chances. Be conservative and stick with what you know. Like most working people, they were born working class, never had college aspirations, and accept their lives. Such people do not have “careers.” They have jobs to pay the bills.

Meanwhile, the world outside Burt’s or Winchester, Virginia doesn’t exist. Not really. If you spend your days at a soul-numbing repetitious job with a brain simmering in anti-depressants, a belly stuffed with high fat, supercarb comfort food, and evenings half drunk or recovering on the couch from work  . . .  well  . . . when the heck are you supposed to find time or mind to grasp the implications of global warming even as you contemplate being one payday ahead of homelessness? A while back I watched this bar full of people stare at a game of Afghani dead goat polo in silent, rapt attention. If that isn’t brain dead I don’t know what is. The relentless autocratic, blue collar American workplace has ground my people down, smashed ’em right into the couch. There they are force-fed the huckster’s hologram of “personal freedom” in advertisements for off road vehicles. Getting a lousy public education, then being played against your fellow workers in Darwinian fashion by the free market economy does not make for optimism or open mindedness. It makes for a kind of bleak meanness nobody is openly talking about in the American political dialogue today.

I seem to remember a time when we weren’t so mean, back when most people in Burt’s believed in the American dream. A few still do, or at least pay lip service to it, though now they have been reduced to being grateful for having a job, any job. When you’re easily replaced and are devalued you no longer pretend to have a choice. To feed your family you work harder and for less and without benefits. You eat shit and you ask for seconds. Eating shit eventually makes you bitter and resentful of anyone who does not appear to be eating their share of shit. So you feel that anyone else who gets a break, especially a government-assisted leg up is cheating you. From resentment it is only a short skip to hatred and the illogical behavior that comes with hatred. Like voting Republican against your own best interests.

American liberals have been wailing and moaning like a bunch of dying cats in a hailstorm. HOW COULD THEY BE THAT STUPID? Well dammit, we’ve always been that stupid. So get over it. But from time to time at least we were lucky enough to have real leadership, people like Franklin Roosevelt who understood that politics is and always will be about class struggle. Rich as he was, he had enough character to stand up for social and economic justice. Hell, even Nixon wanted universal health care. It took a truly godless pack of jackals from Texas to finally bring down and savage the Roosevelt legacy.

The problem with the postmodern middle class and left is that they’ve forgotten about the class issue. Especially now that they are educated middle class citizens, urban dwellers, Jews and Germans and Italians and Irishmen, Asians and Poles, all far better off than their ancestors. They’ve come far from their Ellis Island roots and are now what is known as the “two shithouse Irish,” in redneck parlance.

Besides that, it’s not easy for educated people with orderly lives to be on the side of overweight, undereducated, deeply indebted, and bitterly frustrated and prejudiced people, folks who have finally given up after being kicked in the ass one too many times. The system is so rigged against them that even those who strive seldom get out, which is in itself a lesson to others. These people, the people of debt counselors, joint custody, repoed vehicles and mobile homes, have been lied to, cheated, and robbed, mocked on television, and now once again spat upon by their supposed betters, this time the angry liberals. Show me the party that represents them. Who could they have voted for that would have improved their situations? Let’s face it, under the Democrats they would be getting screwed somewhat less (maybe), but they would not be getting ahead. In real wages they have lost ground under Dems as well as the GOP since 1973.

The neoconservatives have been much aided by middle class liberals who find it easier to confront racism and homophobia than to face down their own latent class prejudices. Liberal issue and identity politics are the best things that ever happened to the Republican Party. It is often much easier for liberals to empathize with poor blacks with whose experience they share relatively little than the poor working class whites, who are just a little too close to home. Then too, once a family makes it into the true middle class and is sending all of its kids to university, etc., it is easy to become convinced that class struggle is a thing of the past. Hell, I even managed to convince myself of that for a few years before they kicked me out of the middle class. Again. Of course the same pack of capitalist hyenas that have always waited in the bushes by civilization’s roadside never went away. Now they are slinking out to pick off the weakest among us. The sick, the uneducated, people of color. So far though, most middle class liberals seem contented to blink and stand back to watch the hyenas feast upon the workingman. No way they are gonna get into the thick of it, no way are they going to drink Budweiser.

  1. If you could have seen the look on my face when I saw that book cover.
    Very cool.

  2. I kinda figured you’d seen the book before, so I hope it was a pleasant surprise. I haven’t been able to lay hands on a copy, yet, but I’m trying. All the best.

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About the Author

Joe Bageant, author of Deer Hunting With Jesus and the master of, is one of America's most piercing social critics. He has been kind enough to allow La Cuadra to republish several of his essays and is threatening to come down and visit us at some point in the coming months. We plan to slay the fatted keg upon his arrival. We'll keep you posted.