October 19, 2008

It's All About Class Now

Are we ready to elect a couple of guttersnipes to the White House? Has it really come to that? Sam Schulman of The Weekly Standard assures us that those dirty Republicans won't win—can't win. The social order will not be overcome by a couple of shabby nonconformists:

CLASS WILL TELL:
Why is Bill Ayers a respectable member
of the upper middle class,
and Sarah Palin contemptible?

Pour yourself a Johnnie Walker Black and remember. The presidential campaign was going to be about sex—the sex of the inevitable winning candidate. Then it was going to be about race. We dreamed we would atone for slavery and the Berlin Airlift, impress Europe and charm the Arab world. But the undecided voters who will determine the winner are no longer interested in race or sex. They are looking at social class. Which ticket best expresses the values and tastes of the upper-middle-class—and captivates the rest of us who follow the lead of the upper-middles?

It is, according to his theory, quite anxiety-making. We were already hamstrung by having a member of the military at the head of the ticket: and then we brought this stubborn trailer trash from the last frontier into the mix. I have started biting my fingernails.

Scheiber spoke to various people from Palin's past, all of whom have two things in common: Every one of them is smarter than Palin and none of them has been heard of since their encounter with her. Scheiber's pet specimen among what he calls "the more urbane members of the community" is a Dartmouth graduate who reads Civil War histories, self-published a book, and not only does but "savors" the New York Times crossword puzzle. This sort of résumé wouldn't get your niece an unpaid internship on L Street—but for a Rhodes Scholar lost in Alaska, the Dartmouth degree, the Civil War buffery, the Times crossword puzzle all take on huge significance. Unable to comprehend how Palin could have outpaced the Wasilla gentry, poor Scheiber clings for dear life to these sad fragments of class dignity.

While Palin threatens class solidarity, Obama is emollient. The more urbane members of the Hyde Park community are cleverer than their Wasilla counterparts and believe that they have captured Obama for their class--just as Richard Stern persuades himself that the still-radical couple he dines with are merely Unitarians in a hurry. But the man who may be president is cleverer still.

Obama and his surprising choice for vice president have spent most of their career working on their own images, smoothing out the rough edges, trying out devices, rhetorical and cosmetic, to make the nicer sort of people feel comfortable with them. Obama wrote his own life, and then wrote it again; Biden practiced for years in front of a mirror to overcome his childhood stutter. Carefully composed, Obama holds the upper-middle class in his steady hands, and has no need of Stern's help to assure our anxious electorate that he will not shock their class sensibilities.

The Republicans, alas, are stuck with this election's true and unrepentant revolutionaries. McCain and Palin have each refused, by sheer cussedness, to fulfill the social expectations of others. This may make them poison to undecideds who suffer, more than most, from class anxiety. But do not despise the undecideds. Even conservatives can contract Scheiber Syndrome. Think of David Brooks, Christopher Buckley, David Frum, Peggy Noonan, and George Will. The symptoms? Curiously amplified, obsessively repeated, sometimes elaborately stage-whispered doubts about the Republican ticket.

There is no cure, but there is an etiology. All share a dreadful secret—their writing is driven by an anxiety to be tastemakers to the gentry, not merely thinkers and entertainers. There is nothing more anxious-making than striving to create taste for the classes, not masses, or even to keep up with it. (The struggle to do so is etched in the lines of Tina Brown's face.)

But what the classes think is a matter to which the GOP standard-bearers are sadly but nobly indifferent.


Because, of course, McCain and Palin, according to Schulman, just do not know their place. My emphasis in the second quote.

This entire phenomenon will leave the upwardly mobile middle-class reaching for its valium (or its muffins) as the rest of this unfolds. Because it turns out there are a lot of working people out there, and all this time, they've been breeding. If McCain and Palin win, we don't just pass up our chance to atone for slavery: we do something far, far more serious.

We upset the cultural apple-cart. We take power away from the Costco shoppers and give it to the Wal-Mart customers.

This cannot stand. Read the whole wry essay: it's pure gold. At least, my father will get a bitter laugh out of it. Though he likes Sarah Palin's legs. If my stepmom isn't looking, gosh knows whom he'll vote for.

Had things gone the way Dick Morris thought they would: had this year brought us a Condi Rice/Hillary Clinton choice, my father's head might have exploded.


h/t: Memeorandum.


UPDATE: Darleen responds:

At her home blog, and

At the Protein Wisdom Pub

She's all like, "your trackbacks aren't working."
And I'm all, like, "I'm not sure they ever did."

I guess I should check with Pixy about that—at least when we update the site this fall.

Posted by Attila Girl at October 19, 2008 12:21 AM | TrackBack
Comments

Schulmen cites "Admiral Crichton" as an example of class striation. I think we could even look to "The Breakfast Club" ... the scene where Brian asks when Monday comes will they ever speak to each other and Claire says "no".

The sheer hatred of Palin and mocking of her as "dumb" IS class, not reality. Note that much of the "dumb" pushed against Bush is more related to him becoming Texan and having an accent than anything else. The man as an ivy league MBA but that is negated by his accent and being a "godbotherer".

Excellent post!

Posted by: Darleen at October 19, 2008 08:05 AM




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