One of things I never got around to blogging about after the 2008 election was how lower-income whites do vote Democratic, even in the South, despite misperceptions on both the left and right to the contrary. In that vein, Amanda, commenting on Alexandra Pelosi’s campaign documentary, clarifies a phenomenon that I couldn’t quite jibe with the polling data (and the long history of lower income whites voting for Democrats at higher rates than other white economic groups). What we’re witnessing is the transformation of a class-based term into a culture-based one:
But please look past the ignorant babbling, their kids who can’t spell “socialism”, that they call themselves “redneck”, and even the fact that they’re drinking Natural Light—many of these people, probably most, went to college, and their kids definitely did. They are not oil field workers or ranch hands, and only one of those men at the end correctly identified the origin of the word “redneck” as a classist term to describe the working class people who the people in the video are definitely not. “Redneck” has changed from a term denoting working class men who work outdoors, and now apparently describes professional class men who own Harley Davidsons, tool around in RVs, and go hunting—all hobbies that cost a lot more money than most of you can cough up. These men in this video are largely small business owners, professionals with office jobs, or, if they do work in agriculture or oil, they’re management and have soft hands. Believe me—if you live in one of the red states where these fuckers proliferate, you know who they are. They clutter up the suburbs of big cities where they work, and their kids fill up the fraternities and sororities of the big universities. They went to college, but they were B students with business degrees and didn’t pay much attention to anything that would smarten them up socially….
One of the most fascinating trends of the past few decades is how the middle to upper middle class of the South (and of the Midwest now) has started to front like they’re just a bunch of working class folks, and how the rest of the country seems to buy that hook, line, and sinker. Maybe it’s because the high status hobbies of these folks look different than the ones of the coastal urban high-status hobbies, and part of it is that it just takes less money to be upper middle class in the red states. (Back in some parts of West Texas, you could get a 3,000-4,000 sq. ft. house for under $300,000, for instance.) But do not be fooled. These aren’t squirrel-eating hillbillies, but they are quite likely to be their bosses.
Frank Rich notes that this faux populism comes naturally to Republicans:
What such G.O.P. “stars” as Sanford and Jindal have in common, besides their callous neo-Hoover ideology, are their phony efforts to portray themselves as populist heroes. Their role model is W., that brush-clearing “rancher” by way of Andover, Yale and Harvard. Listening to Jindal talk Tuesday night about his immigrant father’s inability to pay for an obstetrician, you’d never guess that at the time his father was an engineer and his mother an L.S.U. doctoral candidate in nuclear physics. Sanford’s first political ad in 2002 told of how growing up on his “family’s farm” taught him “about hard work and responsibility.” That “farm,” the Charlotte Observer reported, was a historic plantation appraised at $1.5 million in the early 1980s. From that hardscrabble background, he struggled on to an internship at Goldman Sachs.
I suppose when your economic policies are screwing over those who work for you, one way to rationalize away the cognitive dissonance is to convince yourself that you’re just like them (even though you’re not). Once you do that, whatever misfortune they experience is their fault, not yours (or sheer bad luck).