I've spoken in earlier posts about the split between the Stevensonian and Truman contingents in the party, the class splits and the way in which the working class has been demonized as the source of the party's failures, as much philosophical as electoral. The difficulty Yankee liberals have with "The South" is part of the problem as well. I think that misogyny is the solvent that has allowed much of the elite resentment to come out in the open because it is a form of bigotry that is acceptable to voice directly.
What I'm seeing is an amplified, exaggerated perversion of the lessons, biases and attitudes I encountered in my very liberal college education, things that resonate with me in strange ways, playing on the way I learned to see the world as divided into evil whites, good whites and the oppressed Others we good whites had to free from the evil whites. And now, according to my class - and I don't know what other class I could possibly belong to, given my ethnic makeup, education, profession and acculturation - I am one of the evil whites in the world. The themes I have been writing about for years are coalescing into a weird reality.
This is philosophical revolution, one that is at its heart anti-democratic and anti-political. It is rising from a deep well of, for lack of a better term, Yankee Puritanism, something that has fueled great things and without which we would not have this country, democracy or even Democrats. I reach for religious language and examples to explain this, even as a large number of this contingent are functional atheists. At its root, we are looking at the separatism inherent in much Protestant political thought and causes. Instead of confronting difference and coming to an accord, the saints wish to banish the fallen from the world and thus make the world more perfect.
There is a religious element to the Obama campaign, and it takes the form of distinguishing oneself from the fallen political world. It is different than simply "running against Washington" which can be a very pragmatic kind of operation, but is openly hostile to the very purpose of politics, which is to compare, contest and compromise in order to balance interests and needs. From this campaign we have literally heard language of "coming to Obama" and of having faith in the One. There was never much attempt to persuade voters to support the candidate and less with each day that passes. We are exhorted to simply acknowledge truth and surrender to this leader. Step back from the campaign and the leitmotif becomes clear, revealing the fundamentally chiliastic nature of the claim. It is charisma in the oldest sense of following a leader because he has been anointed. This is not simply or merely cynical posturing. This campaign's followers really believe that there is nothing more needed than to be faithful to the messianic leader.
Hillary, in stark contrast, is ministerial in her approach. This is a job, it is the most demanding job in the world, and here are her credentials and body of work to demonstrate that she is the most competent and capable to fulfill the needs of the position. Minister in this sense would be both political and religious - someone who tends to the needs and concerns of the beloved community. It's hands on, sleeves rolled up, get dirty helping raise the barn or negotiate that treaty. Power is present and necessary, wielded for the sake of others, which requires her to explain in as much detail as you want to hear exactly how she will use the authority granted to her. It is straight up attention to material interests.
What I see rising from the other side is clearly of two kinds. Half of Obama's support is simply racial identity voting. The other half is from the faction of the party that is significantly insulated from the stark world of need and want. There is a love of the other-worldly where the beauty of the idea and the ideal matters more than the base. The political "base" is seen as base - low, uncouth, adulterated, impure, unworthy. They are not among the saved and the saints. I honestly cannot remember a previous time when so many people in the party were reviled for doing nothing except vote for a conventional candidate. These are not Naderites or Wallace supporters. They are middle-of-the-road solid Democrats who voted Kerry, Gore, Clinton, Clinton, Dukakis, Mondale, Carter, Carter, and so on down the line. The contempt of the saints for the fallen has always been there, but is emerging without a filter or much in the way of self-consciousness this time. The code we learned to speak in our liberal arts colleges falls to the wayside, and I read claims of being rid of the old evil "white working class" (What of us who are not that thing? What of those of us who are?) in a final conflict to end all conflicts and there will be a purified party to which will flock millions of new, young, untainted followers, ready to be led into the land of Goshen.
As Madison wrote in Federalist 10, the end of political contestation means the end of freedom.
The concrete has no place in Obama's campaign narrative. Speaking too much about material benefit pulls you down into the weeds and you are no longer shiny and new and unifying. You take on interests which incur expectations and interfere with the abstract pursuit of the ideal, a government cleansed of politics, run according to bipartisan, technocratic and efficient methods. Kind of like the 50s, but without all that civil rights and women's rights stuff.
In Obama's speeches and claims, there is the structure of the great humanistic appeals of the 50s and 60s, the form of rhetoric that elicits certain kinds of feelings, and the ideas that inspire people to rise above particularity. But what is missing are the foundations that would provide the justification and ground for what is otherwise an exercise in ego-gratification. Oh, look at me transported by the wonderful grandness of the yak-yak! The reason why the words of MLK and LBJ could move us not just to emotion but to action was because they were fully embedded in the grime of life, the tangible things that we don't notice until we are deprived of them - where can I sit when I am tired, where can I eat when I am hungry, may I slake my thirst at this fountain or use this restroom to relieve myself? Can I open a bank account in my own name? May I visit my partner in the hospital?
Instead of seeking to make ideals of unity and benefit for all concrete, contempt has been mobilized. Those who say "Show me what you've got," are reviled as racist, stupid, retrograde, besmirched and fallen. We don't need no stinkin' working class! We will get new and shiny young voters to replace you, untouched by your peculiar love of solid wages, health care and Hillary. Why would the Democrats want to cast off the heart and soul of the New Deal coalition? Where does the animus come from? These people are acting out a separatist fantasy and make up one half of Obama's support.
I speak of what I know very well. Cultural liberals really do tend to think that people who fit the profile of Clinton voters don't have deeply held principles and are not capable of forming complex opinions of the world, little more than dupes of puppet masters like Karl Rove. They act from false consciousness, not from the rich inner life that the properly educated and worldly claim as their own. The dedication and commitment of Clinton voters is denied because those hicks can't really believe anything, and thus the saints need not take into consideration the desires of the fallen as real, let alone legitimate.
As Chris Bowers put it:
Cultural Shift: Out with Bubbas, up with Creatives: There should be a major cultural shift in the party, where the southern Dems and Liebercrat elite will be largely replaced by rising creative class types. Obama has all the markers of a creative class background, from his community organizing, to his Unitarianism, to being an academic, to living in Hyde Park to shopping at Whole Foods and drinking PBR. These will be the type of people running the Democratic Party now, and it will be a big cultural shift from the white working class focus of earlier decades. Given the demographics of the blogosphere, in all likelihood, this is a socioeconomic and cultural demographic into which you fit. Culturally, the Democratic Party will feel pretty normal to netroots types. It will consistently send out cultural signals designed to appeal primarily to the creative class instead of rich donors and the white working class.We are watching nothing less than a revolution of the party saints against the tainted and fallen dregs who frighten them.