Depressing, accurate. Maybe we should just chuck the Democrats for a Green party.
George W. Bush was authentic; John Forbes Kerry, like all liberals, was an affected toff, a Boston Brahmin who knew nothing of the struggles of average folks. Again and again, in the course of the electoral battle, I heard striking tales of this tragically inverted form of class consciousness: of a cleaning lady who voted for Bush because she could never support a rich man for president. Of the numerous people who lost their cable TV because of nonpayment but who nevertheless sported Bush stickers on their cars.
The most poignant, though, was one I saw with my own eyes: the state of West Virginia, one of the poorest in the nation, in the process of transforming itself into a conservative redoubt. This is a place where the largest private-sector employer is Wal-Mart and where decades of bloody fights between workers and mine owners gave rise to a particularly stubborn form of class consciousness. It does not stand to gain much from Bush’s tax cuts and his crackdown on labor unions. But if class is a matter of cultural authenticity rather than material interests, John Kerry stood about as much of a chance there as the NRA’s poodle did of retrieving a downed duck. As I toured the state’s valleys and isolated mining towns, I spotted Bush posters adorning even the humblest of dwellings and mobile homes. Voters I spoke to told me they planned on voting Republican because of their beliefs regarding abortion or gun control.
Every hamlet seemed to have a son or daughter on duty in Iraq, and wartime loyalty to the commander in chief was in the air. Running through each of these issues was the sense that Bush was somehow more authentic than his challenger. In the city of Charleston, West Virginia, I was told by a conservative activist that
when you see those photos of [Bush] on his ranch down in Texas, with jeans and a cowboy hat, that's genuine. I was in Beckley when he was there a couple weeks ago, and that crowd, four thousand people, they loved the man. They loved the man. Personally... You can't manufacture that; you can't fake it. They love him. They connect with him, they think he understands them, and I think he does, too.
West Virginia had been carried by Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis, and almost every other Democratic candidate going back to Franklin Roosevelt, but this time it went Republican by a convincing thirteen percentage points.
The illusion that George W. Bush “understands” the struggles of working-class people was only made possible by the unintentional assistance of the Democratic campaign. Once again, the “party of the people” chose to sacrifice the liberal economic policies that used to connect them to such voters on the altar of centrism. Advised by a legion of tired consultants, many of whom work as corporate lobbyists in off years, Kerry chose not to make much noise about corruption on Wall Street, or to expose the business practices of Wal-Mart, or to spend a lot of time talking about raising the minimum wage.
In March the President and Republican congressional leaders chose to make much of the tragic Terri Schiavo affair, but the obvious futility of their legal demands and the patent self-interest of their godly grandstanding require little embellishment here. Let us simply note how perfectly this incident, when paired with simultaneous GOP legislative action on big-business items, illustrates the timeless principles of the backlash. For its corporate backers, the GOP delivers the goods; for its rank-and-file “values” voters it chooses a sturdy wall against which they are invited to bang their heads.