Perceived Authenticity: Persuading the poor to vote against their own interest

Thomas Frank writes in the New York Review of Books about the failure of liberals to counter the class war being waged by Republicans, who portray liberals to the lower class as elitist, while pursuing policies that further enrich the already rich at the expense of the poor. Frank makes a number of good points, for conservatives use evidence that is largely made up; appealing to faith, empirical validation becomes irrelevant. Progressive views have, of course, been silenced in the mainstream media for a while, and Frank seeks to call Democrats to task. The urgency of the problem rests in one bit of evidence he cites is from the presidential campaign last year:

Calling themselves the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group of Kerry’s former comrades-in-arms stepped forward to declare that the candidate was a liar who did not deserve the medals he had won in combat and that his later activities as an antiwar leader amounted to a betrayal of the men he served with in Southeast Asia. It didn’t matter that the accusations angrily advanced by the “Swifties” (as they are fondly known on the right) crumbled under the slightest scrutiny, just as it didn’t matter that the principal members of the Bush administration had actively avoided service in Vietnam while Kerry had volunteered for it, and just as it didn’t matter that the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had botched the nation’s current military effort and even sent insufficiently armored soldiers into action. The backlash narrative is more powerful than mere facts, and according to this central mythology conservatives are always hardworking patriots who love their country and are persecuted for it, while liberals, who are either high-born weaklings or eggheads hypnotized by some fancy idea, are always ready to sell their nation out at a moment’s notice.

LIberals, in general, have failed to address this. They have talked about it, and sought to refute the allegations. Yet they’ve been drowned out.

Frank also describes how war plays to the conservative hand:

What makes national security such a winner for Republicans is that is dramatizes the same negative qualities of liberalism that we see in the so-called “values” issues, only much more forcefully. War casts in sharp relief the inauthenticity of the liberals, the insincerity of their patriotism, and their intellectual distance (always trying to “understand” the terrorists’ motives) from the raw emotions felt by ordinary Americans—each quality an expression of the deracinated upper-classness that is thought to be the defining characteristic of liberalism.

Appealing to reason, liberals don’t appeal to the guy on the sofa with a can of beer and a football game on television. It was easier instead and certainly more spectacular, for the mass media to play an endless loop of jets ploughing into the World Trade Center, and then for a bunch of people to drive around, flying US flags from their pickup truck beds. And of course, the right has succeeded in painting Liberals as waging a war on faith:

Residents of West Virginia and Arkansas received mailings from the Republican National Committee warning that liberals would ban the Bible if they got the chance. In numerous other states, voters were energized by ballot initiatives proposing constitutional amendments reacting to the illusory threat of gay marriage, an institution that was already illegal almost everywhere, but that conservative activists nonetheless decried as a mortal, immediate menace to civilization itself.

This, of course, ignores that liberals are trying to get gay marriage legalized, for, as an increasing number of court rulings declare, there is no way to ban it consistently with constitutional guarantees of equal protection. To the claim that gay marriage is an attack on faith, I would argue instead that marriage itself is an establishment of religion and therefore that the government should get out of the marriage business altogether, thus effectively allowing anyone who so desires to marry anyone they choose, according to their own moral dictates.

But Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get it and “founder of the Sojourners Community and editor of Sojourners Magazine” argued on Democracy Now! that fundamentalists and evangelists on the right had hijacked religion, claiming that any on the left are godless:

One guy from Kentucky said, he said, I have been an evangelical Christian my whole life. Imagine my surprise when I woke up and found the newspaper saying I’m not a person of faith. Imagine my surprise.

Wallis argued for reclaiming religion, saying, “The answer to bad religion, I think, is not secularism but better religion. So, how do we talk about a prophetic faith? In my Christian tradition, I want to talk about Jesus. How did Jesus become pro-rich, pro-war and only pro-American? It doesn’t make sense. And yet, that’s what we’re faced with. So, really, a rescue operation is what I think is required now, to take back our faith from those who have made it into a kind of a political weapon and a wedge.”

The focus on gay marriage, some would say, is a red herring. As Al Sharpton told the Democratic National Convention, “The promise of America says we will guarantee quality education for all children and not spend more money on metal detectors than computers in our schools. The promise of America guarantees health care for all of its citizens and doesn’t force seniors to go to Canada to buy prescription drugs they can’t afford here at home. The promise of America provides that those who work in our health care system can afford to be hospitalized in the very beds they clean up every day. The promise of America is that government does not seek to regulate your behavior in the bedroom, but to guarantee your right to provide food in the kitchen. The promise of America that we stand for human rights, whether it’s fighting against slavery in the Sudan; AIDS in Lesotho; or police misconduct in this country. The promise of America is one immigration policy for all who seek to enter our shores.”

It’s all a problem for me, for all sides in this dispute would silence me. As a Taoist, I have little at stake in Christian doctrine, except that it is so often the sole basis for constraints upon my freedom. And my arguments, no matter how clever, carry little weight, particularly with the religious right. I can only point to the right’s portrayal of itself as victim, by pointing to President Bush’s hiring practices, and to my own faith, and asserting, contrary to their own notion of the United States as a “Christian nation,” that I too have full constitutional protection for my beliefs. I cannot, with authority, speak to what Christ really preached, or argue for “a better (Christian) religion,” or address the conviction of those who think secularism would turn America away from its heritage. As a non-Christian, I am to be silenced.

Taoism, at least as I practice it has no god, thus I am evidence of liberal ungodliness; I am to be silenced.

I am struggling financially (though not academically) to make it through school and into a graduate program. I got laid off from my last decent job in the dot-com crash of 2001, and haven’t been able to find gainful employment since. But I am portrayed as a member of the liberal elite, and as such, I cannot speak to the interests of the poor. For I am not “authentic.” I am to be silenced.

Frank points out that the Democrats have abandoned their traditional base:

For the 2004 campaign, Kerry moved to the center, following the well-worn path of the corporate Democrats before him, downplaying any “liberal” economic positions that might cost him among the funders and affirming his support for the Iraq invasion even after the official justifications for that exercise had been utterly discredited. Kerry’s pallid strategy offered little to motivate the party’s traditional liberal and working-class base, but revulsion against Bush was assumed to be reason enough to get out and vote.

So I have no major political party that represents me (thus I am now registered with Peace and Freedom), and I am silenced.

For though I speak, I am drowned out by all those conservative voices that love to protest media bias, and I might as well be silent.

Author: benfell

David Benfell holds a Ph.D. in Human Science from Saybrook University. He earned a M.A. in Speech Communication from CSU East Bay in 2009 and has studied at California Institute of Integral Studies. He is an anarchist, a vegetarian ecofeminist, a naturist, and a Taoist.

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