Manipulating the working man

The state of mind of the blue-collar worker is a large base of American politics, best observed around election time but seldom discussed at any other time.

Arlie Hochschild is a sociologist at the University of California in Berkeley. She has written extensively on politics and other aspects of our society.

Hochschild spells out this odd twist in this fashion: “Ironically, the sector of American society now poised to keep George Bush in the White House is the one which stands to lose the most from virtually all of his policies—blue-collar men.

“A full 49 percent of them and 38 percent of blue-collar women told a January 2003 Roper poll they would vote for Bush in 2004.”

She calls these men “NASCAR Dads.”

Hochschild said Bush’s strategy in this area has been carefully crafted by his adviser, Karl Rove. As she put it: “He has been, in effect, strip-mining the emotional responses of blue-collar men to the problems his own administration is so intent on causing.”

She observes that, in general, blue-collar workers are more in favor of Bush than white-collar workers and professionals. The blue-collar guy is more likely to support all these wars the administration is waging or wants to wage. Curious, since their kids are mainly the ones who will be sent to fight and die.

Hochschild concludes that blue-collar support for Bush is not based on facts, though many of them know the facts, but on emotional responses.

Bush, she says, appears to be offering them restoration of what they see as their role in the center of the patriarchal world.

Blue-collar workers, since the ’70s, have been seeing a huge economic slide downward. The paycheck isn’t as good, the job is less secure or gone altogether, his benefits have been cut. His wife has had to go to work. Here we are 30 years later, and the combined income of the two of them equals what he used to make alone.

‘ Hochschild says the blue-collar worker has taken a lot of hard hits, including cultural ones. She thinks he believes—whether true or not—that a large number of people have come up behind him. Women have moved up; minorities, he believes, have passed him; so have immigrants.

Even the spotted owl is winning out. Many of these workers believe animal rights are supplanting human rights.

As the industrial worker looks at all of this, in many cases, he feels frustration, fear and anger. But he is not taking a hard look at Bush, who is rigging the entire economic scene and doing nothing to help him. Bush is more devoted to pushing the blame away from the White House.

That’s why the psychological state of the blue-collar worker becomes so important in this campaign. Rove is exploiting those feelings of loss of position, income and status.

This state of mind, she says, is being manipulated and aggravated by the likes of Rush Limbaugh who is, in her view, simply a cheerleader for the administration. Any member of the administration can do no wrong.

Hochschild relates how Limbaugh ignores the unethical gouging by Dick Cheney’s former firm, Halliburton, and its no-bid, multi-billion dollar contracts to rebuild Iraq. No anger over that but, holy guacamole, Hillary has a new book out, and it is just terrible, Rush says. He can’t even stand to go near Wellesley College, where Hillary was educated.

That’s part of the emotional climate that stirs up the blue-collar segment, she says. Also, we are all aware of the economic hemorrhage that has cost millions of them their jobs.

Hochschild comments: “We really need a Marshall Plan response to it. The blue-collar guy’s upset; he has a right to be upset. We are with him on that. I’m upset, too. The blue-collar guy feels privately bad. And the worst side of his bad feelings is being appealed to by Bush.”

It’s not the first time the working man has eagerly supported a politician who all the while worked against his best interests. This is just the most flagrant example of it yet.

Hochschild concludes: “This is the ultimate thing—not to be afraid to say there’s another America that doesn’t leave us hanging, each on our own, and then feeling bad about feeling bad; and that says we can structurally wire it, so there aren’t failures here. That’s the problem we’ve got to fix—by providing a vision of an alternative.”

She is talking about the Democrats, of course, but the reality is that we all—Republicans, Democrats, Independents and uncommitted—have to get on the racetrack with the NASCAR Dads.

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