April 18, 2008
Obama has taken a beating from gleeful conservatives over his comments about bitter working class Pennsylvanians clinging to God and guns. Today David Brooks says people resent the comments because it shows Obama does not share their values and life experiences. Rod Dreher notes that many working class whites who were leaning towards Obama may not be able to get over his comments as they demonstrate that Obama “looks down on them.” Peggy Noonan says that Obama was caught speaking the “secret language of America’s elite.”
Few are asking the pertinent question “Is Obama right?” Short answer: he is right that the lumpenleisure classes are bitter, resentful, and worthy of a fair measure of scorn. And by opening this subject to national debate, Obama has violated the most cherished PC codes of the conservative establishment, and is now paying the political price. But by violating these codes and raising the question of class resentment in America, Obama has not come any closer to understanding the source of these resentments than those who deny their existence in the first place. Obama and the rest of the liberal establishment do not look down on those of us in, for example, rural Kansas, so much as feel sorry for us”we lack the sophistication and worldliness that comes from sufficient material wealth”which is clearly (in Obama’s mind) the source of our bitterness (hence the Freudian compensation of God and guns) and resolved by bigger federal handouts.
The reality is far less material than this, and thus far more threatening to the ruling classes in both political parties. In fact, the spiritual core of the resentment and bitterness of the lumpenleisure classes is that deep down, we know we serve many masters”there are the tax masters, the monied masters, the loan officer and the payroll clerk; the town inspector, the county inspector, the state inspector, the code enforcer and the permit doler; there is the dogcatcher and the license examiner and even the busy-body do-gooder from the heart and lung association who prissily snubs out our cigarettes with one hand while paying her registered lobbyist with the other; there are the ad men and experts of all colors and stripes telling us what to buy, what to eat, what to read, and what to believe; there are the snooty professors and the imported school superintendents; the shipping barons, the oil barons, the corn barons, the food scientists, the Wal-Mart feeding trough, and the health care gods.
We are ruled by so many petty controllers because we have lost the spiritual, moral, economic, and communal will to rule and do for ourselves. In sum, we are not free. It is not a happy message for the dispossessed to hear, and it is easy to turn to those who will mock Obama for being out of touch and assure us that we remain the salt of the earth”just so long as we fall back in line and take up our spot on the great wheel and continue to “crouch down and lick the hands which feed us” (Samuel Adams). Contrary to the ignorant labeling of media-types, this in not populism but its opposite. The true populist spirit of the American freeman would cause him to refuse the servile life of lumpenleisure, defy his masters, and provide for himself, his kin, and his community. No one, not even Harvard educated lawyers-cum-presidential candidates, can take that away short of sending in the tanks. And this spirit still largely exists as a latent virtue in the lumpenleisure classes. However, it cannot live as an active principle until it dies as a comforting slogan to assuage the guilt and self-disappointment of mastered men.