Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Nickle and dimed, and used politically

What's the matter with Kansas? Nothing, say conservative intellectuals of the David Brooks type, who benefit professionally from pulling the wool over the eyes of the kind of people they personally consider worthy only to trim their hedges. Kansans are the salt of the earth.

This pretended fusion of the values of people of privilege and power with Kansas populism is really a good trick, like a piece of stage magic, like finding a quarter in your nose or pulling a white rabbit with pink liberal ears from a black top hat labeled "elitism." Unlike instances of stage magic, though, the project depends on making the worse appear the better reason, although assuredly there'll be no hemlock for Mr. Brooks, though he would otherwise be flattered at the trope. We owe the conservative success at this unlikely project to the ideological jujitsu perfected by Karl Rove. Science? Knowledge. Trip them up with ignorance and passion. Plus a few strategic lies. But the chattering classes are essential to the success of the whole deal.

Though Brooks is the one who irritates me the most, the country seems to be effectively enveloped in a fog of myth created by a swarm of conservative upper-upper middle class word-people, editors, journalists, propagandists, speech writers, flacks, hacks, lawyers, lobbyists, bloggers, and of course, executives, all invigorated by the glow of post cold war triumphant capitalism , enjoying ever-greater riches, privilege, and self-congratulatory bonhomie WRT the ability of their cohort to live off the labors of the ever-more-numerous and increasingly manipulated people who actually have to work for a living; an ability which, in their belief system, they term simply "success," as if they have earned it the way bricklayers earn their pay.

And they are busy as beavers showing that this whole system, where they get the rewards and the people of Kansas get fast food and Intelligent Design, is the way things are supposed to be.

Their curious bond with the people of Kansas springs from recognition that without the discontent of the red-state yeomanry they, the David Brookses and Thomas Friedmans of the world, would not be secure in power and privilege--except they are circumspect enough not to call privilege by its right name, preferring to regard their station in life as the product of merit, a natural event like rain or excellent SAT scores after a good prep school and suitable coaching. Strangely, this same privilege, in the few cases it is enjoyed by high-achieving liberals, is called by its right name.

Privileged conservatives as a class no longer remember what it is like to toil, assuming they have ever had such an experience at all, which if they have had, will almost certainly have been via a summer job in a Wendys at a payscale that they can for the remainder of their lives use as didactic material for a set-speech on how one can rise in the world from the wages of Walmart to the rewards America confers on those who prove their worthiness.

And surely it was only by taking the good folks of Kansas seriously that Thomas Friedman has discovered that the world is flat.

Currently the only contact of the Brooks-Friedman axis with people who toil would be (and I am guessing here) when they evaluate the labors of their servants prior to paying them, except that of course it is unfashionable to call them servants; preferred terms would be housekeepers, nannies, or yardpersons, except that, since even those words now have the slight taint of not-playing-well-in-Kansas, let's say landscape-maintenance contractor instead of yardman, because for one thing it elevates the person who directs the activities of the undocumented workers doing the actual lawnmowing, to the status of a shirtsleeve brother-in-labor with the new Republican ruling class, at least for the moment, as they both engage in guy talk about the difficulty in getting hardworking employees as the contractor is paid off and the boys load up the tools.

So we have a class of conservative chatterati who are frivolous, self-important, and in some strange way self-deceptive or, as it might be more gently phrased, pragmatic. I doubt very much if there is a single pragmatist among the hundreds of thousands of such pragmatists inside the beltway and in editorial offices and think tanks in New York City, who actually themselves share the down-to-earth values of the good folks of Kansas.

The Rapture? Creationism? Closing the abortion clinics? I don't think so. But pretending to believe, or if not that, at least pretending to respect this stuff, as a means of keeping control of the Dobson crowd, is their thing.

I believe that's what ruling elites generally try to do. The problem with the operating principle of inflaming populist discontent and pretending to agree with it, is that populist leaders sometimes arise who decide to dispense with the services of the chattering elites.

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