Do the rednecks in middle America just need pandering to? That seems to be the cynical conclusion behind the much-touted "fighting Dems" strategy: put up men and women who served recently and play up the "strength" image. It seems to go with the DCCC strategy of pushing redneck candidates to pander to redneck values, as the Republicans have been doing so well.
But will that work? People smell bullshit, and bullshit coming from Washington, D.C. politics is coming to be expected by all but the most gullible and willfully naive. We're supposed to overlook what these people actually stand for, and just vote for them because they have a "(D)" next to their names.
Let me join the chorus: "Yeah, right!"
In a most extraordinary (and, fair warning, often very un-PC) essay, Revenge of the Mutt People, Joe Bageant points us to a different solution -- one that can only be called (gasp!) progressive.
First, he sets the stage:
Many years ago I worked at an industrial hog farm owned by the Coeur dâ€™Alene Indian tribe in northern Idaho. The place stank of the dead and rotting brood sows we chopped out of farrowing crates -- bred to death in the drive for pork production. And it stank of the massive ponds that held millions of gallons of hog feces and rotting baby pigs, and every square inch was poisoned by the pesticides used to kill insects that hogs attract and the antibiotics fed to hogs from hundred pound sacks. The Coeur dâ€™Alene Indians refused to suffer those kinds of conditions; they wouldnâ€™t even manage the place. They contracted it out. As my friend Walter Wildshoe said: â€œOnly a white man would work there.â€?
Joe100aThe hog farm, however, offered one company benefit. The white manager gave employees any young pigs that developed large tumors -- those with tumors smaller than golf calls went to market with the rest of the hogs -- or were born with deformities such as heads scrunched sideways with both eyes on the same side, or a leg that stuck out of the top of their body instead of the bottom. We employees would butcher and eat them. Among hog farm employees, all of whom were tough descendants of the Scots Irish mutt people, free pork of any kind was prized, deformed with tumors or otherwise. You never saw a Swede eat the stuff.
So I took these pigs home and, using a huge old butcherâ€™s knife, slashed their throats in the woods, right in front of my two kids -- ages two and four at the time -- without flinching even as the pigs screamed almost like humans and thrashed around, splashing thick dark glops of blood everywhere. It bothered me not one bit, just like it never bothered my daddy or granddaddy. Nor did it seem to bother my children as they watched, just like it didnâ€™t bother me as a child when my uncle handed me sacks of barn kittens to drown in the crick....
...My point here is that we rural and small town mutt people by an early age seem to have a special capacity for cruelty, compared say, to damned near every other imaginable group of Americans. For instance, as a child did you ever put a firecracker up a toadâ€™s ass and light it? George Bush and I have that in common.
About half of the Americans killed in Iraq come from communities like Winchester, Virginia or Romney, West Virginia or Fisher, Illinois or Kilgore, Texas or ... About forty-five percent of the American dead in Iraq come from communities of less than 40,000, even though these towns make up only twenty-five percent of our population. These so-called volunteers are part of this nation's de facto draft -- economic conscription -- the carrot being politically preferable to the whip. The carrot does not have to be very big out here where delivering frozen food wholesale to restaurants out of your own car entirely on commission is considered a good self-employment opportunity. Iâ€™m serious. One of my sons did it for a couple of months.
Once you grasp the implications of such an environment regarding the so-called American Dream, the U.S. Army at thirteen hundred bucks a month, a signing bonus and free room and board begin to look pretty good. Even a nice long ass kicking tour of the tropics killing brown guys becomes attractive. Especially compared to competing with other little brown guys at home, humping â€œbig-roll sodâ€? across ever-expanding MacMansionland. In the process, we mutt people learn worldly lessons that the post graduate set raving about the jobless economy cannot know. For instance we know firsthand that there is no way to beat little brown sod balling guys willing to sleep in their cars and live on canned beans and store brand soda. Better to go â€œvolunteerâ€? for the Army.
There's a lot more, so read the whole thing. I will cut to the chase:
Now that education has been reduced to just another industry, a series of stratified job training mills, ranging from the truck driving schools to the state universities, our nation is no longer capable of creating a truly educated citizenry. Education is not supposed to be an industry. Its proper use is not to serve industries, either by cranking out feckless little mid-management robots or through industry purchased research chasing after a better hard-on drug. Its proper use is to enable citizens to live responsible lives that create and enhance their democratic culture....
How in the hell did knowledge become so commoditized in America? Dumb question. After all, what do we expect from a nation of pickle vendors who will charge you for the air you breathe, and then make you beg for your change? At first blush, higher education and the working class Scots Irish mutt people seem to be oil and water. Maybe so. But the majority of them also have a snowballâ€™s chance in Florida of getting a higher education. Especially when it comes to the institutions of learning that constitute our elite springboard into careers in law and politics, business and science. The Yales and the Harvards and Princetons.
So we will either see that Americans, religious or not, get educated equally so they wonâ€™t be suckered by political and religious hucksters. If not, then we must accept that uneducated people interpret politics in an uninformed and emotional manner, and accept the consequences. America can no longer withstand the political naivetÃ© of this ignored white class. Middle class American liberals cannot have it both ways. It has come down to the simplest and most profound element of democracy: Fairness. Someday middle class American liberals will have to cop to fraternity and justice and the fact that we are our brotherâ€™s keeper, whether we like it or not. Theyâ€™re going to have to sit down and actually speak to these people they consider ugly, overweight, ill educated and in poor taste. At some point down the road all the Montessori schools and Ivy League degrees in the world are not going to save your children and grandchildren from what our intellectual peasantry, whether born of neglect or purposefully maintained, is capable of supporting politically. Weâ€™ve all seen the gritty black and white newsreels from the 1930s.
Sometimes I walk the street on which I grew up. And when I look around I see the same kinds of kids as ever. They are all fatter, but they are the same cigarette-smoking, know-nothing white punks that I was, the tough sons and daughters of the unwashed. In my old neighborhood where over one-quarter of adults do not have a high school diploma, there are lots of yellow ribbons in the windows, Marine Corps and Army parentâ€™s icons on the porches and scrubby lawns, evidence enough that you do not need an education to contribute something of value the far-flung perimeter of our expanding empire of blood and commerce. Pure meanness is highly valued in Caesarâ€™s legions. Lots of Americans don't seem to mind having a pack of young American pit bulls savage some flyblown desert nation, or running loose in the White House for that matter, as long as they are our pit bulls protecting Wall Street and the 401-Ks of the upper middle class.
The problem is this: pit bulls always escalate the fight and keep at it until the last dog is dead, leaving the gentler breeds to clean up the blood spilled. We mutt people, the pit bulls, have always been your own, whether you claim us or not. And until you accept that you are your brotherâ€™s keeper, and help deliver us from ignorance, you will continue to have on your hands some of every drop of blood spilled -- from the sands of Iraq to the streets of East L.A. All the socially responsible stock portfolios, little hybrid cars and post-modernist deconstruction in the world will not wash it off.
Education. A progressive value. The ticket to our future. And its absence, according to Joe, leads to the regressive, wingnutty attitudes in much of our country's population. Our country's people.
Can we afford to disbelieve it?
There's no doubt that our educational system is broken. While colleges get more and more expensive, they become more and more necessary, because they have become the only place to learn what people should have learned in grade school and secondary school -- how to read, how to write, how to do math, how to think.
The Republicans have no answer, except to privatize it all so that wealthy speculators can cash in on the education commodity. And the Democrats' refusal to acknowledge the deeply rooted flaws and failings in the existing public schools systems has left us with no alternative plans.
But I think the biggest failing is that the Democrats have stopped talking about education. Actually, they don't talk about much of anything, do they? To do so would require taking a position, and they are loath to do that -- though they do seem to be starting to find their spines now and then.
Would a Democratic Party of elected conservatives embrace progressive values and policies that can actually change and improve our educational system? It seems to me that elected officials worry about
- Getting re-elected, and
- Trying not to flake out on too many of their campaign promises.
Fixing the education system in America is a big job, and will take time. And no, it's not a ticket to victory in November.
But let's face it: It's the only way we're going to make things better. And that means we need progressive Democrats (and Republicans, if that were possible) to be elected into office to enact real reform and change in our schools. It can't be done by conservatives, because they don't believe in government. Reagan was itching to kill the whole Department of Education. Talk about throwing out the baby with the bathwater!
No, it will take progressives. Real progressives, not the poseur kind.
Since Howard Jarvis, we've had conservative-forged schools, and the declining education of American youth has been the result. Now the system is rigged to create more conservatives -- as Bageant says, fearful, angry, ignorant and more than willing to kick your ass. Until we change the system, we'll be fighting the same battles 20 years from now. And that's not progress.