Welcome, "Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged." This was the title of a hysterical column, vibrant with class hatred, by Frank Rich in the February 28 New York Times. Rich shrieked that "the acrid stench of 1995 is back in the air." The militias are on the rampage. The sky is dark with the threat of Piper Cherokees being flown by populists into government buildings. To match the virulence of Rich’s language you’d have to go back to the tirades flung at David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, some eighty of whom were burned alive outside Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993, on orders from Attorney General Janet Reno. It was this crime that Timothy McVeigh said he was avenging when he blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City exactly two years later.
As one might expect, Rich had a handy citation to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which plumps up its $170 million-plus asset portfolio with regular alarums about the rise of "hate groups," defined as those "with beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people," which pretty much covers the whole ballpark. That’s the same SPLC whose Mark Potok sensitively said after the incineration of the Branch Davidians and children, "The antigovernment movement, the militia, hate groups are absolutely going to get a boost out of this, and I think it’s really a tragedy for that reason."
This brings us to the American class system, which Russell Baker once beautifully defined in terms of access to lawyers. Having a lawyer on permanent retainer "is the very essence of richness." That’s the upper class. Those in the upper middle class hire a lawyer when they feel they need one to handle wills, contracts and so forth. Middle-class people know they ought to employ lawyers but can’t quite afford them. Members of the lower middle class believe they can defend themselves better than any lawyer, and can’t afford one anyway. To lower-class folk, public defender and prosecutor look identical.
The lower middle class is what we’re focusing on here, the people who own auto repair shops, bakeries, bicycle shops, plant stores, dry cleaners, fish stores and all the other small businesses across America–in sum, the "petite bourgeoisie," stomped by regulators and bureaucrats while the big fry get zoning variances and special clause exemptions. The left always hated the petite bourgeoisie because it wasn’t the urban proletariat and thus the designated agent of revolutionary change. Today’s left no longer believes in revolutionary change but despises the petite bourgeoisie out of inherited political disposition and class outlook. Ninety-five percent of all the firms in America hire fewer than ten people. There’s your petite bourgeoisie for you: not frightening, not terrifying and in fact quite indispensable.
And the petit bourgeois are legitimately pissed off. Whatever backwash they got from the stimulus often wasn’t readily apparent. They can’t afford health plans for themselves or their employees. They’re three or four payrolls away from the edge of the cliff, and when they read about trillions in handouts for bankers, trillions in impending deficits, blueprints for green energy regs that will put them out of business, what they hear is the ocean surge pounding away at the bottom of that same cliff.