Saturday, April 12, 2008

Obama gets "denounced" for telling the Truth

by Norman Markowitz

The press and assorted politicians are criticizing Senator Obama for having the courage to say what people throughout the world understand--that in the U.S. some working class people, faced with a deepening economic crisis in their own lives and distrusting media and politicians to change anything have focused on social issues, what Richard Nixon called "wedge issues" in the 1970s and what I call social resentment issues.

Republicans particularly and some Democrats have called him "arrogant and elitist," but they are the ones who are arrogant and they are the ones who support the rule of elites. These are the sort of people who winked at the Klu Klux Klan in the 1920s when it "crusaded against Catholics, Jews, Blacks of course, opponents of prohibition, and all foreigners in the name of "American values." These are the sort of people in the North who earlier denounced abolitionists as an "arrogant elite" seeking to free slaves who were better off than white workers in the North. These people are at one with the late Spiro T. Agnew, Nixon's corrupt reactionary Vice President, who denounced opponents of Nixon's policies as "impudent effect snobs" and limousine liberals."

Those poor whites, particularly in the South who fought for slavery and in the North who used racism as a security blanket to deny their own poverty were pawns and victims of reactionary forces. Abraham Lincoln said it best when he said that those who want to keep people in the gutter (like those who were encouraging working class whites to support slavery) could do it best by getting down in the gutter with them, i.e., slavery was pushing free whites into the gutter.

Franklin Roosevelt rejected 1920s social resentment politics by getting rid of prohibition as a way to fight the depression, supporting successfully a higher level of unity between Protestant and Catholic and Jewish Workers (and promoting people of Catholic and Jewish background to high positions in his government which de-emphasized the prejudice against them) and supporting a labor movement which began to include African-Americans.

Barack Obama has the capacity I think to become another Franklin Roosevelt and that terrifies not only reactionary Republicans but also significant parts of our power elite in the corporations and the media. In Pennsylvania he called working people working class as against "middle class," which politicians are supposed to do. He said they were angry at what is happening to them in the economy and of course they are.

I support strongly both gun control and animal rights and regard the first as a simple and necessary condition of modern society and the second a a humanizing moral and ethical issue. I know that there are large numbers of people who shoot and kill animals for sport, not for food or clothing. across all classes and I see this as negative and destructive, for them as human beings and for society. But I know it will take a great deal of education over a long period of time to end these practices, unlike the control of firearms, which has pretty much been established in all developed countries and many developing countries, and outside of the U.S. is generally supported by ruling class groups and conservatives as a way not only to reduce violence and crime but to keep weapons in the hands of the army and police.

I support Gay Rights and see same sex marriage (which by the way has from my observation been most actively supported by conservative elements among the gay community) as a useful way to expand the civil rights of gay people under law and also reduce homophobia. But I know that the "religious" right particularly continues to sell homophobia and, unlike racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, which is no longer considered "normal" in society(even though all continue to exist institutionally and in private ideologically) homophobia has yet to reach that point in that it homophobic statements are still very wide spread.

Besides those influenced by conservative religionists, many people across all social classes still see Gay men particularly, to use Spiro T. Agnew's words, as "effect snobs," with higher incomes than straight people because they don't have children to support, living a forbidden life of promiscuous sex and conspicuous consumption (which capitalist media both sells in commercials for heterosexuals and denounces hypocritically at the same time).

Instead of looking at gay people as they really are, a microcosm of the larger society, looking at the discrimination they face in all areas of life, such straight people are encouraged to see marriage as something for "them," the way in the past they were encouraged to see certain residential communities and before that religious practices as something for "them," not for stigmatized minorities.

Barack Obama has stated the obvious, that we must get beyond that if we are to free ourselves. Calling people working class is a good beginning. Saying that the "wedge issues" only divide and conquer the working class is a good beginning. It is neither arrogant nor elitist, although its critics in the contempt that they show for the working class by living off such appeals certainly are.


Peter Zerner said...

It really astounds me that the distaff side of a couple who has raked in $109 million since leaving the oval office is accusing Barack Obama of being an elitist. Consider where the charge is coming from - a centrist, free-trade Democrat whose hubby's policies went far to destroying the economies of small-town, now rust belt America. The Clinton administration also gutted the social welfare net for poor people. That played well when they did it, in a move I imagine to placate the right wing for proposing (if only momentarily) a national healthcare program.

Now that people are losing jobs and 10 percent of the population is collecting food stamps (no philately that!), I guess people are wondering whether all the welfare queens have died of starvation.

As one who grew up in a small mountain town in North Central Pennsylvania, I know that those who hunted would kill one deer a season so they could have some meat for the winter. This was God's country, but the highway department was about the biggest employer. There were were no high-powered AKA's back then either. Then the NRA came on the seen and whipped gun ownership into a big red herring. That was just about the time the right wing stole religion and the flag.

But think about it - killing animals for "sport" is very questionable. Why not try softball? And what Pat Robertson et al have done with religion and the Christian ethic is really a sin. Now it's kill for Christ and hate your neighbor. However, in the background there are still a lot of honest, hardworking, rural and small town Americans who know real elitism when they see it, love their country and their land, and know the virtues of peace. They won't be fooled by Hillary Clinton's and lobbyist-lover John McCain's charges of elitism Obama had it just about right. Now he needs to talk a bit more about the issues he raised, just as he did about race in his eloquent Philadelphia speech. It is also a shame that so-called Democrats are dragging out Spiro Agnew's "effete elitism" charge. Consider the Southside of Chicago where Barack worked as a community organizer and Michelle grow up in a working class family. Where's the elitism in that?

the Jaded Prole said...

Hillary Clinton is doing everything in her power to wound Obama so she can run against McCain next time around. Should she actually get the Democratic nomination it would be a grave mistake to support her as she is not much different than McCain and it would only foster illusions that would weaken any movement for change. In that scenario, it would be better to run a progressive alternative because there would really be nothing significant to lose.

Anonymous said...

Peter's comments are very sad and very true. While all progresive activists across the board and doing everything they can to defeat the Republicans, Clinton is doing everything she can to either get the nomination or sink Obama. She really is pursuing a policy of rule of ruin.
I agree that there are a great many honest working class people in small towns and rural areas who aren't taken in by the nonesense that is peddled to them by mass media. Whatever success Clinton makes in Pennsylvania will not the result of the anti-working class "silent majority" stereotypes of reactionaries, but of the fact that she has the endorsement of most of the Democratic party organization and the most influential sections of the organized labor movement in the state. Still, Obama should, unless there really is a new development, come out of these last primaries with a clear lead, a clear victory in terms of both party activitists and the largest cross-section of support, making it very difficult for the "superdelegates" who are still uncommitted or unchosen to form a bloc and give Clinton the nomination(which they could still do mathematically, but would really sink the party, as many of the party's leaders understand)
Norman Markowitz

Harold said...

Prole, I agree. A vote for Hillary is essentially a vote for the right.

What's sad about this whole scenario is that Hillary's words denouncing Obama will have the desired effect. She will win Pennsylvania because so many people are buying the crap she is selling. Which tells us as communists that we have much, much work to do to overcome the propaganda machine that essentially runs this country (into the ground, and not coincidentally, into the hands of the ruling class elitists).