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Web Letter

I was watching Meet The Press and one of the pundits from either the Washington Post or the New York Times wondered why Obama didn't seem to relate to ordinary people, since he was of "humble origins." Well, he might have started out "humble," but graduating from Harvard Law might make you feel like you are a member of the elite. Indeed, you might get some feedback from other members of the elite confirming your opinion of yourself.

While it would be tempting to blame everything on Harvard, one has to admit they do turn out some good people who actually listen to people and know how to think. FDR comes to mind, and Ralph Nader survived both Princeton and Harvard Law.

Elitists lecture people from on high, but successful politicians listen to and talk to people about how to solve their problems. If you cannot relate to people and their problems, you have no business being in politics.

Pervis J. Casey

Riverside, CA

Apr 20 2008 - 4:36pm

Web Letter

The progressive movement has always included both secondary and primary beneficiaries, that is, people who stand to benefit comparatively more from general progress and people who stand to benefit comparatively less. I belong to the latter group, and so does Gary Younge (by his own admission), which puts both of us in the same awkward position as a great many other progressives.

The spectacularly successful strategy of modern conservative rhetoric has been to divide the primary beneficiaries of progress from the secondary ones, insinuating that the former--once commonly called the working class--have no pride if they associate with the latter; whereas the latter--now commonly reviled as "elitists"--have nothing to contribute to progress, since their criticism of the status quo consists of only their smug sense of superiority and their hatred of the rest of America.

Truly, a large segment of the working class is more sensitive to perceived insults from "elitists" like Barack Obama than to the real, physical injuries that the plutocratic establishment inflicts upon them daily. The rhetoric of modern conservatism has succeeded so far that even a few black intellectuals--Clarence Thomas and Ward Connerly come to mind--now lend their support to attacks against affirmative action--because to them, the perceived insult of this admittedly imperfect remedy now feels so much greater than the actual injury of real existing racism.

I therefore cannot agree with Gary Younge when he says: "To suggest that poor white people who vote Republican in this country are the victims of a collective electoral false consciousness is as convenient as it is deluded." Younge has it exactly backwards. Most Republican voters--indeed, all of them except for the extremely rich--are most certainly deluded, though I say this to place blame upon the media, not upon them. False consciousness is a real and present danger in these United States, but to say so is to express a truth as inconvenient and as politically costly as any that Al Gore tried to tell.

Where I can agree with Younge is where he calls for more "effort to understand why they [working-class Republicans] do what they do" and "how we might persuade them to do otherwise." But when we do this, we must be aware that we are in fact investigating a social illness--even if we must keep this awareness to ourselves. We are trying to move beyond diagnosis and into therapy to save a self-destructive electorate.

Can we perform effective therapy upon deluded voters while keeping our diagnosis to ourselves? I don't know. Consider affirmative action once again. For years, the advocates of affirmative action have lightly stepped around the fact that its purpose is to counteract white racism--because the white majority doesn't want to hear this. Instead, they have trumpeted the benefits of "diversity," a word carefully chosen to appeal to everyone (above all to whites) and to offend no one (least of all whites). As a result, the opponents of affirmative action now seem to occupy the moral high ground, because in a world in which racism is seldom mentioned even by the defenders of affirmative action, the only serious racial injustice that seems to exist at all (unless you are black and know better) is that a few whites in an otherwise racism-free world are victimized by "reverse discrimination."

I believe an unavoidable part of the remedy for false consciousness is to tell the truth, regardless of risk. If we are to wean white Middle America from xenophobia, then somebody (maybe not a presidential candidate, but somebody) must say that it is the decline of labor unions, caused by the failure of government to protect the right to organize (among other things), that has brought our working class into such economic trouble, not competition from brown-skinned immigrants. Somebody must say that gays are not in fact a threat to the American family. Somebody must say that handguns alone will not protect us against an overreaching imperial government that is armed with tanks, bombs, and a secret budget. Somebody must say these things, even though I'm sure there's a wide segment of Middle America, especially white Middle America, that doesn't want to hear them. They must be said anyway.

Eric Paul Jacobsen

Saint Paul, MN

Apr 19 2008 - 6:20pm

Web Letter

I read Younge's article "Bitter Fruit" (and even paid a subscription to read the entire essay) in hopes of gaining some insight about the flap over Obama's use of the term "bitter" to describe some white voters in Pennsylvania. Granted, characterizing the motives of strangers is risky as well as pointless. (Obama should have told the truth: he doesn't really know all of the reasons why a certain demographic might not vote for him. One problem with presidential candidates is the fear that you will be discredited if you admit that you don't have an answer for every inane question asked by a media person.) However, after calling Obama "stupid" for his gaffe, and criticizing him for doing pop-psychoanalysis, Younge goes on to explain to us that the same group of white non-Obama voters vote the way that they do because they see G.W. Bush, the son of an extremely wealthy former President, Yale grad etc., as a man of the people because they're taken in by his folksy performance--because they see him as somebody they would like to have a beer with, even though he just picked their pockets and the pockets of their grandchildren too. Would Obama have been any better off in the crosshairs of the media if he suggested that the people were idiots rather than embittered? I doubt it. The truth is, a lot of Americans are bitter, not just in Pennsylvania, and truth-telling has a price. Before you tell it, just prepare yourself to take your licks.

Opal Moore

Atlanta, GA

Apr 19 2008 - 3:57pm

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