By Joe Bageant
Despite what Internet liberals may think, most real working class Americans, and I mean the people who tune up your Prius or press your dry cleaning, haven't given a flying fock about the Iraq war for the last couple of years now. Not until recently, when it became pretty clear we are losing it -- losing being the worst possible thing in a society force fed on sports and the winner-loser mentality which created the uniquely American contemptuous epithet, "a loser." But now as my friend Buddy, who at middle age has been reduced to bagging groceries and "shagging carts" in the parking lot at one of the local Food Lion supermarkets says, "If we ain't losing, we seem to been over there entirely too long to be winnin'. That's for shore."
Buddy the bagboy hasn't the slightest notion of how national politics in any way affects his life. And so when the "Unfair Practices in Credit Cards Act" passes the Senate he will not know that the raising of his minimum payment had nothing to do with some well meaning but totally out of touch Democrats, who've never lived on $8.50 an hour. The paternalistic attempt of the bill's sponsors surely would protect future credit card racket victims. But Buddy and millions like him will be screwed the day it goes into effect by the new higher minimum payments, and he starts getting calls from people with an Indian accent regarding all three of his plastic cards. Sometimes Democrats can be as thankful as any Republican that most working folks don't examine politics too closely.
Meanwhile the Republicans, like the Biblical King Balthazar and his court magicians, are watching in terror the writing on the wall by the mystic hand: "You're finished guys. Too many Halliburton and Diebold concubines hath drank from the golden cup." Thus the Democratic Party leadership headquartered at the Westchester Country Club will claim credit for many victories in the next elections, most of which will be handed them by the blowback of the worst presidency in American history.
But that still leaves a lot of pissed off ordinary and uninformed Americans to placate on the wreckage of our domestic front. So the party of Roosevelt begins to dimly understand that now is the opportunity to re-associate itself with populism. The problem is that Democratic Party "leadership" has no notion of what populism means. First they ignored real working class people, then they forgot they existed.
But being Democrats, they do understand poverty. And so they offer us the poorest of the real White House contenders, the second generation Harvard law graduate Barack Obama, who is struggling along on a meager $950,000.00 in reported income last year. Or John Edwards, who charges $55,000 to give a speech on poverty. Not that either of them couldn't do a better job than President Sparky by simply sitting on their asses a couple of terms and not making matters any worse.
Buddy voted twice for the president that has perhaps crippled America permanently. Yet it is not a case of working folks like Buddy crippling America, but the American system crippling working people through neglect. The working class of so-called Heartland America -- which is all that stuff between the big cities -- gets a very poor education. They operate with a sixth grade grasp of history and politics and zero understanding of the economy. They have been told all their lives that America is absolutely the only free and prosperous place to live and that it is the product of divine providence. This is not the exclusive view of rural and small-town America. Much of the new suburban America also believes the same.
Like it or not, the Democratic Party needs Buddy. Standing together, with a percentage point or two from guys like him, we cannot be beaten at all, assuming an honest election. But first we must to learn to care about the guy with the plumber's butt rotating our tires and the single mom driving the forklift on the night shift at the big box store warehouse. Once we do that, we will come to understand that most red state voters are not our unchangeable adversaries, but merely among the millions of Americans coarsened over the last couple of generations by toil, ignorance and debt and misled by the worst elements in American politics.
The time is waaaaay overdue to create a force of "trench liberals," or in the case of my own people, "leftnecks" -- gun owning progressives who change their own motor oil -- persuasive populist grassroots organizers. It'll be hard and they won't be pretty people. Real trench liberals and leftnecks must come from the working neighborhoods and be folks who already know the people they attempt to persuade -- they are the most apt to be populists. Such people do exist; I've got hundreds of their emails to prove it. Meanwhile for liberalism, political ignorance, like virgin soil, may be the best ground to till. I made a special trip to the Food Lion today to get a few more opinions from Buddy to close this story (good old elliptical story shape, right?) Sure enough, there he was shagging carts. After a couple of minutes of small talk, I edged over to the topic of where to start fixing America's broken political system.
"Well," Buddy answers, "First we've got to do something about that Rosie O'Donnell."
Sigh ... It's gonna be a long haul.