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October 19, 2008

It's the class, stupid

In the 1985 movie The Breakfast Club five stereotypical teens are forced to spend a Saturday together in detention. John Hughes' funny and touching film is a hopeful fantasy about people from different classes learning to understand each other, accepting each other and, maybe, when Monday rolls around they might stand up to their friends and still talk to one another.

I called this a fantasy, right?

Because, if you want to see class enforcement writ large in supposedly "classless" America, then this election is one for the books

Why is Bill Ayers a respectable member of the upper middle class and Sarah Palin contemptible?

Pour yourself a Johnnie Walker Black and remember. The presidential campaign was going to be about sex--the sex of the inevitable winning candidate. Then it was going to be about race. We dreamed we would atone for slavery and the Berlin Airlift, impress Europe and charm the Arab world. But the undecided voters who will determine the winner are no longer interested in race or sex. They are looking at social class. Which ticket best expresses the values and tastes of the upper-middle-class--and captivates the rest of us who follow the lead of the upper-middles?

The class argument is why the Bill Ayers strategy won't do. In the sex and race eras, it would have worked nicely. Obama's longtime working collaboration with the radical educational theorist and retired terrorist would dramatize his carefully but hastily discarded political radicalism. But no longer. The anti-Ayers publicists are quite right about Ayers's malignity and Obama's connivance. But when they try to explain what Ayers has done in the past and still wants to do--turn schools into nurseries of revolution, make leftist views a condition for becoming a teacher, promote dictatorship, and glorify violence--they injure not help their cause. Class will always trump politics. Being the first in one's family to adopt liberal political sentiments or move to New York City means a step into the middle class, for most Americans, and an increase in social status. More extreme political radicalism lifts one a step or two higher. [...]

On the other hand, what can McCain and Palin offer except their two personal histories of struggle? John McCain speaks about service and sacrifice, and how he wore our nation's uniform, as if we want to hear about such things. But in my demographic slice of country, we are a little conflicted about such things as struggle, service, uniforms, and sacrifice. America's "officer class" does not generally include career military officers. In his book Class, Paul Fussell hypothesized that upper-middle-class men prefer natural-shoulder jackets because men's shoulders are a secondary sexual characteristic. "Epaulets emphasize the shoulders. They are thus associated with the lower classes, whose shoulders are required for physical work. The military makes much of epaulets, betraying instantly its prole associations."

This helps explain the outraged reaction to Joe the Plumber. He didn't know his place when he dared question Obama and Barry's minions were more than happy to help demonstrate to Joe that there are lines that must never be crossed.
And what about Sarah Palin? Here, the upper-middle-class deficit gets worse. Throckmorton-Zakaria's husband, Fareed Zakaria, uses a rare one-word sentence to make his entire argument against her: "Palin Is Ready? Please." She notoriously strikes the wrong class note on a thousand media keyboards with what Andrew Sullivan calls gallantly "Sarah Palin's cocktail waitress act." But the problem is not that the governor can't conform to upper-middle-class norms. It's that she won't.

If only Palin were really as trashy as Sullivan thinks she is. Sadly she is quite the opposite--one of nature's noblewomen. She rose by refusing to accept the limitations of her proper station in life; she is despised for continuing to do so. If Palin wants to pal around with the Throck-morton-Zakarias, she is wasting her time memorizing classic 19th-century Supreme Court decisions (Katie Couric isn't going to give her a mulligan). Instead, she should learn from watching herself as she ought to be.

Gov. Palin's rallies draw tens of thousands of people. People who, if you actually talk to them, who are enthusiastic about Sarah because her voice is their voice and they have felt as invisible as a NYCity doorman, acknowledged at Christmas time, but considered mere necessary equipment the rest of the year.
Scheiber's attempt to understand Sarah Palin, detailed in the New Republic, took him all the way to Wasilla, as strange to him as Ethiopia to Evelyn Waugh. Scheiber spoke to various people from Palin's past, all of whom have two things in common: Every one of them is smarter than Palin and none of them has been heard of since their encounter with her. Scheiber's pet specimen among what he calls "the more urbane members of the community" is a Dartmouth graduate who reads Civil War histories, self-published a book, and not only does but "savors" the New York Times crossword puzzle. This sort of résumé wouldn't get your niece an unpaid internship on L Street--but for a Rhodes Scholar lost in Alaska, the Dartmouth degree, the Civil War buffery, the Times crossword puzzle all take on huge significance. Unable to comprehend how Palin could have outpaced the Wasilla gentry, poor Scheiber clings for dear life to these sad fragments of class dignity.

While Palin threatens class solidarity, Obama is emollient. The more urbane members of the Hyde Park community are cleverer than their Wasilla counterparts and believe that they have captured Obama for their class--just as Richard Stern persuades himself that the still-radical couple he dines with are merely Unitarians in a hurry. But the man who may be president is cleverer still.

Obama and his surprising choice for vice president have spent most of their career working on their own images, smoothing out the rough edges, trying out devices, rhetorical and cosmetic, to make the nicer sort of people feel comfortable with them. Obama wrote his own life, and then wrote it again; Biden practiced for years in front of a mirror to overcome his childhood stutter. Carefully composed, Obama holds the upper-middle class in his steady hands, and has no need of Stern's help to assure our anxious electorate that he will not shock their class sensibilities.

The Republicans, alas, are stuck with this election's true and unrepentant revolutionaries. McCain and Palin have each refused, by sheer cussedness, to fulfill the social expectations of others. This may make them poison to undecideds who suffer, more than most, from class anxiety. But do not despise the undecideds. Even conservatives can contract Scheiber Syndrome. Think of David Brooks, Christopher Buckley, David Frum, Peggy Noonan, and George Will. The symptoms? Curiously amplified, obsessively repeated, sometimes elaborately stage-whispered doubts about the Republican ticket.

There is no cure, but there is an etiology. All share a dreadful secret--their writing is driven by an anxiety to be tastemakers to the gentry, not merely thinkers and entertainers. There is nothing more anxious-making than striving to create taste for the classes, not masses, or even to keep up with it. (The struggle to do so is etched in the lines of Tina Brown's face.) But what the classes think is a matter to which the GOP standard-bearers are sadly but nobly indifferent.

Obama has been embraced by the upperclass, so eagerly as to include a whole chapter in an 8th grade textbook
"The choice of this selection was to provide a contemporary and multicultural figure to explore the unit on community,’’ the district said.

The word missing in that excuse was "acceptable". Obama's "multicultural" background is acceptable whereas the Palins' is not. Obama's family diversity is celebrated, but Palins' is ignored. Obama gets lauded for a taxpayer-supported Ivy League education, Palin pays her own way through college and is mocked. The reason? Class. The Palins don't know their place and aren't ashamed of their lives.

It's interesting to note that at the end of The Breakfast Club, Claire gives Allison a "make over" into something a bit more acceptable. The quirky Goth Girl who Andy already found intriguing will now be acceptable to his friends.

Peggy Noonan, et al, the wannabe "tastemakers" decry Sarah for refusing the "makeover."

November 4th is this nation's Monday morning. Will classism trump values?

(h/t Miss Attila)

Posted by Darleen at October 19, 2008 10:39 AM


NOW who's waging class warfare?
This is a bullshit editorial, and it ignores all the messy truths about the Right's deceptive war against the lower classes fir the past 40 years. Pick up a copy of "Nixonland" if you really want to challenge your own echo chamber.

Posted by: brad at October 19, 2008 06:53 PM

Bradley, why is it BS? Because you say so? ROTFLMAO!

Prove to us you've read anything out of your own "echo chamber", mouth, and maybe you can prove you're not just another DNC troll who's paid off in Thunderbird and Crystal Meth.

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