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Works and Days

Reflections on the Revolution in America

March 16th, 2010 - 8:23 pm

America’s Extreme Make-over

These are exciting though scary revolutionary times, akin to the constant acrimony in the fourth-century BC polis, mid-nineteenth century revolutionary Europe, or — perhaps in a geriatric replay — the 1960s. This is an era when the fundamental assumptions of the individual and the state are now being redefined, albeit in a weird, high-tech, globalized landscape.

Radical But Well Off

A word of caution: we are not talking about hoi polloi versus hoi oligoi, or the commune on the barricades fighting the estate owners. No, not this time around.

Instead, the present attempt to remake America is the effort of the liberal well-to-do — highly educated at mostly private universities, nursed on three decades of postmodern education, either with inherited wealth or earning top salaries, lifestyles of privilege indistinguishable from those they decry as selfish, and immune from the dictates they impose on others.

Such are basically the profiles of the Obama cabinet and sub-cabinet, the pillars of liberalism in the Congress and state legislatures, the public intellectuals in the universities and foundations, the arts crowd, and the Hollywood elite. Let us be clear about that.

The Distant Poor

They are all battling on behalf of “them,” the poorer half of America, currently in need of some sort of housing, education, food, or legal subsidy, whom the above mentioned elite, in the way they live, send their children to school, socialize, and vacation so studiously avoid.  (The New York Times owners are likely to follow the cut-throat business practices of Wall Street, live in the most refined areas of New York, and assume privileges indistinguishable from other CEOs; the difference is that they so visibly care about those they never see or seek out).

Note well the term “poor.” These are not Dickensian or Joads poor, but largely Americans who by the standards of the 1940s would be considered lucky. Partly because of globalized Chinese consumer goods, and partly redistributive practices of a half-century, our current “underclass” has access to clothes, electronics, entertainment, apartments, cell phones, transportation, etc., undreamed of by the middle class of the recent past. I live in one of the poorest areas of one of the poorest counties in a bankrupt state; and those I see poor are not like those I saw 40 years ago in the same locale.

No, the revolution is not one of the abject poor and starving storming the Bastille, but of the angry and self-righteous well-off— angry as hell that the less well-off are living lives quite differently from the very well-off. (A trodden down poor person today flies standby from San Francisco to LAX; a very rich person gets into his $50 million Gulfstream — but note modernism’s paradox: the poor person’s United Airlines pilots are as good, he gets there as safely and in some comfort, and not much later as well.)

Funny Revolutionaries

Some of the revolutionaries are guided by genuine noblesse oblige. Others act out of guilt and can justify their own consumption if they “care” for a distant poorer other. Still more explain their own privilege through using government to redistribute income. A few are driven by genuine hatred — stemming from the fact that the highly educated academic or artist makes far less than the doctor, lawyer, CEO, or — heaven forbid — tire store owner, family orthodontist, or owner of a half dozen Little Caesar pizza franchises.

How can that be that the PhD who reads Old English, or the painter who emulates Pollock, or the writer who is the next Fitzgerald, or the AP teacher is given so much less by society than the crass, smug captain of industry, who reads less, has no real taste, and hardly understands his own existential dilemma? Should not salary and capital be predicated on good intentions, high education, rhetoric and argumentation, and a bit of necessary sarcasm?

Liberal Endangered Species

Over the last fifty years it was received wisdom that a liberal Democrat could not be entrusted to run the U.S. LBJ’s Great Society had largely failed. Its legacy were debts, high taxes, bloated bureaucracies, the destruction of the inner-city family, and welfare dependency.

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