When I was a little boy growing up in a poor family WAY back in the early 1960, I was really into learning things. My stern mom always gave me a smile when she signed my report card.
Later I became a teenager and began to wonder just why we were so poor and others in town so clearly weren’t. What did they know or have that we didn’t, that condemned us to be perpetually one mortgage payment away from the streets? I became then and remain to this day furious at that disparity, well expressed for me in 1966 by the Doors in these two lines:
Some are born to sweet delight,
And some are born to the endless night.
Still later I went to college and some of this mystery was dispelled…but that’s not what this post is about.
No, this post is about how I’ve always been able to see over the past two decades why Rush Limbaugh et al. appeal so strongly to poor people — poor white people in the South particularly –, even though the fundamental program of the Right has always tended to work to the advantage of the rich, not the poor.
This lady (commenting on an article in the New York Times that I’ll cite later) expresses my understanding of this strangely self-contradictory phenomenon perfectly:
“I don’t know whether to call it nostalgia or anachronism, but this idea that there is some “working class” or “blue collar class” in this country does not fit the times. Outside of the wealthy we have a remnant of what used to be the true middle class. At this point, these are mostly sales people who can manage $100k plus along with a few remaining professionals, technical workers and some managers. If you don’t fall into one of those two categories, you’re just poor.
The poor are the people with the $10 hour jobs, if they have jobs. No benefits — no paid vacation, no paid days off, no paid sick time, no health insurance. If you show up and work, you get paid. If you don’t show up, you hope you don’t lose the job. If you’re part of a family and live in a home together, probably most people living in the house have one or more such jobs. You’re never sure you can get enough money to pay the rent, electric, gas, water, sewer, garbage collection, medical bills, credit cards, etc., etc. You feel under siege most days.
The poor generally do not have the thinking ability afforded by a good education. In a country with a failed basic education system, they may be high school graduates, but they cannot read well enough to clearly understand meanings in things like newspapers and magazines. They are large consumers of “free” media — broadcast television and radio. Without critical thinking ability they are the rabble being roused by hucksters with nothing but their own self interest at heart. Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly, and Rupert Murdoch care only about possessing power and the money that comes with it.
Consuming that media, the poor are angry because they see themselves as being left out. Every show, fictional or otherwise shows people they believe are like them as being far better off than they are. The TV characters have better cars, nice houses, and they have no real worries outside of the scripted drama that is resolved so easily in the denouement. In the morning, the poor have to get up early, hope their 12-year-old car will start and make it to work if they can afford to put gas in it. This is a harsh and bitter reality that is almost a cognitive dissonance in contrast to the way they believe life is for most other people.
When they drive too fast on the way to work, police give them a ticket for speeding and the fine amount rivals their weekly take-home pay. Meanwhile they see politicians accused of crimes, and years later nothing has been done about it. They see police officers shoot apparently innocent people, and they get away with it. They hear about corporate executives being released from their responsibilities (fired) and given $25 million to take home with them. And when the poor don’t have the money to pay their speeding ticket a warrant is issued for their arrest. That leads to the loss of the car and the job and perhaps everything else they thought they had worked for.
These poor people are angry. They have a right to be angry. They were told in school they were being prepared for the “American dream.” Life was going to be the pursuit of more happiness today than yesterday. But they didn’t understand that their education was woefully inadequate to comprehend the current world. They weren’t told that corporations care about profit and nothing else, least of all them and their lives. They can’t accept that what they see and hear in the media they consume is a fantasy meant to take advantage of them in a hundred different ways. I could compare them to lost children wandering aimlessly around huge shopping malls angrily screaming at people in the food court who somehow have enough to eat.
We adults who have figured out how to get some food are at a loss to understand these people at their rallies saying the president is a monster. And calling them the working class or blue collar makes no more sense than labeling them “conservatives” or “patriots” or loose cannon for that matter.
They are simply poor. They are without hope. And they cannot understand what’s going on when they look at the Mercedes next to them at the stoplight and a black woman is in the driver seat. So they turn up the radio and Glenn Beck tells them Obama is causing it all. It has nothing to do with either work or class.”
If I had stayed in East Texas and stayed uneducated, and there had been a Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck on the radio then, I would have believed everything he said!
The comment quoted above was to this article: