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Saturday, September 25, 2004

From the "Jon Swift votes for truth" department...

I know I have spoken in the past about how much of a willful ignoramus I think that George W. Bush is. Note I did not say stupid, or chimp-like, or anything like that. I believe that W. is not stupid. I believe his lineage is 100% H. sapiens sapiens. I think W's problem is that he has made a choice to sound stupid when he speaks. I think he has also made choices to be willfully ignorant on a large swath of issues that would require real research and soul searching to reach an informed opinion on.

It is disturbing, also, how this "playing dumb" appeals to a certain portion of the electorate. Despite public information about just how wealthy the Bush family is, and how far away they really are from the interests of middle and working-class Americans, somehow or another people have the weird funhouse mirror image of the Bush family as "just plain folks," and contrast the faux-folksy image with that of people they believe to be "elitists" like Al Gore, and now John Kerry. The fact of the matter is that the Bush family are indeed fabulously wealthy, and George W. Bush himself has admitted that he does not understand the needs of the poor. Yet George W. Bush and the rest of his fortunate family seem to be seen by a large swath of America as being in touch with the common folk. Let me quote you something from the article which inspired me to write this post you are currently reading:

Kerry doesn't know what the working-class people do; he hasn't done any physical labor all his life....Bush's values are middle-class family values....

These are the words of Sharon Alfman, a 51-year-old cook in New Lexington, Ohio, as quoted by a New York Times reporter. Well, I have something to ask you, Ms. Alfman: do you think that George W. Bush has done any physical labor in his privileged, pampered life? I don't mean clearing brush on his private ranch. I mean, do you really believe that George W. Bush has ever had to take a job digging ditches or tarring roofs or jackhammering out damaged concrete to make ends meet? Not bloody likely. Certainly John Kerry hasn't had to either, especially after marrying into the fabulously wealthy Heinz family. But let's get real, folks: no construction worker, McDonalds fry cook or Wal*Mart greeter has the wherewithal to run for the highest office in the land. It's a rich person's game, it's still by-and-large a rich White man's game, and no amount of putting your hands over your ears and screaming "La La La I can't hear you...La La La America is Classless...La La La middle-class family values..." will change that.

Class is indeed the Elephant in the Living Room of America. While our society still has some semblance of upward mobility, and we do not have the same sort of ossified social stratifications that still plagues the UK, we definitely have classes in America, there are definitely haves and have-nots in America, and poverty is a fact of life for a disturbingly large portion of our society. In fact, downward mobility is a real part of our existence now, and has been since at least the Reagan era.

Political cartoonist and writer Ted Rall has suggested, in his column, that perhaps people who don't know about the issues should not be allowed to vote. I am hoping that he doesn't mean this in anything other than an absurdist, Swiftian sense. I've been known for indulging in that kind of political humor myself in these, I really don't think that we should nuke the entire Middle East, nor do I believe that George W. Bush is the Antichrist.

If he was being serious, however, I cannot support this, no matter how tempting the idea of a political literacy test being used to winnow out those unworthy of the Franchise. America was not originally a place where everyone could vote, and my grandmothers were alive during a time when women were denied the vote. I'm sure everyone remembers that, in the beginning of this country, only White property-holders could vote. (at least I hope so.) In the early 1800s, "manhood suffrage" gave the non-propertied White male the right to vote. Black men have been able to vote, in theory, since the end of the Civil War, but in practicality they were barred from the polls, particularly in the South, for a long time after the US Constitution gave them the right to vote. Just as I don't support a Constitutional amendment denying gays the right to marry, and just as I believe that the Constitutional Amendment that instituted Prohibition was a bad idea and it was right to repeal it, I think that any real action to deny people the vote on grounds of political illiteracy would be repugnant and downright evil.

However, I don't think Rall is being serious here. I think he's simply pointing out a fact of life about America...there's a disturbing rise in anti-Intellectualism afoot. Arguably, it's never gone away. Yes, America was founded by a cadre of guys I take pride in describing as "political geeks." But some of the first European settlers in The New World were strongly quote one of the Puritan Fathers, John Cotton: "The more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee." It is theorized by British educators that one of the reasons why boys in school in Britain are having problems with language arts is what is characterized over there as "laddism." Laddism is the view among boys that being successful in school is somehow less than manly. Anyone who has lived in this culture knows that America is like that too, and American children are socialized to not be "eggheads." We pay lipservice to honoring academic achievement, but achievement is sports is often more lionized.

In a civilization where intellectuals are scorned, the rise of George W. Bush to the role of 43rd President of the United States is predictable and oh so sad. The stultocracy reigns, and we only have ourselves to blame.