Sunday, February 10, 2002

I've long argued that the four-tier structure that dominated American politics from the late sixties through the early nineties (the wealthy/blue-collar "conservative" alliance vs. the poor/white-collar "liberal" alliance) has since given way to the better-known, simplified two-level "blue-red" polarization. (During the recent economic boom, the interests of the investment-heavy white-collar middle class merged with those of the weathy to form the ruling "blues", and the now-employed poor merged with the struggling blue-collar middle class to form the subordinate "reds".) But the old alignment still resonates powerfully for those whose political beliefs were formed under its influence. A conspicuous example is the bizarre conflation of upper-crust elite disdain for ordinary people with lower-class ignorance of middlebrow culture that seems to grip liberal critics whenever George W. Bush comes up in conversation.

The confusion may have originated with George Bush Sr., who tried (unsuccessfully) to accommodate both prongs of the old conservative alliance by alternating between his Yale-educated statesman's mantle and a pork rind-eating Texan persona. But the younger George's image suffers from no such ambiguity; he embraces his red(neck)-state populism wholeheartedly, without a trace of Yalie snobbery. Thus the double-barrelled ("upper-class/lower-class") assault aimed implicitly at the father (you can hear Bill Maher repeating it just about any night on "Politically Incorrect") is even more jarring when directed at the son.

A perfect example is this article in the New York Daily News about an upcoming Frank Bruni biography of the president. Bruni apparently characterizes Bush as "a stranger to America outside his own upper-class WASP background". What evidence does he unearth to illustrate this aristocratic detachment from the common people? Well, "Bush viewed the musical 'Cats' as modern theater at its finest", and "openly admitted that martial artist Chuck Norris was his favorite film actor". He knew nothing about HBO's "Sex and the City", and was unfamiliar with words like "vegan" and "yenta". He likes peanut butter sandwiches, Fritos and Cheez Doodles.

It's not surprising, of course, that snobbish New Yorkers would recoil in disgust at such plebeian tastes. What's absurd is the suggestion that there is even a trace of resentment of privilege mixed in with their arrogant disdain. If proof were still needed of America's completed transition from interlocking socioeconomic alliances to a straightforward two-class division--with the current president among, and representing, the lower class, regardless of his personal fortune--this article surely clinches the argument.

1 comment:

Bob Goodman said...

Thanks for pointing to this from Volokh on a subject that fascinates me, but now I need an explanation:

"A conspicuous example is the bizarre conflation of upper-crust elite disdain for ordinary people with lower-class ignorance of middlebrow culture that seems to grip liberal critics whenever George W. Bush comes up in conversation."

I wish I knew what you meant. Does it have something to do with the Fritos and Cheez Doodles?