Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Pooty, How'd We Git So Dumb? 

Until last Sunday we'd never heard of this Joe Bageant cat, but here it is Wednesday and damn! -- we are just about ready to bestow a Zemblan knighthood on his eloquent ass. In this new essay for the Smirking Chimp, Bageant visits his hometown of Winchester, WV -- "one of those slowly rotting East Coast burgs that makes passers-through think to themselves: 'What the hell is this? Mayberry USA on crack?'" -- and snuffles out the nature of Geo. W. Bush's appeal to the flat-broke, information-challenged clientele of Burt's Westside Tavern. Think Thomas Frank, only with flava:
Every customer at Burt's loves George Bush. Worships George Bush. One reason is because George Bush doesn't give a shit. When his detractors point out the complete fraud of WMDs, he doesn't give a shit. When newspapers worldwide suggest Bush may be the biggest international threat today, Bush does not give a shit. This gives him street cred among these people who for better or worse, I must call my own. Why should they give a shit about international opinion? After all, as presented by the media, the world outside is altogether nasty terrain---a news hour nether region from whence child suicide bombers swarm toward us in a tide that will only be stopped by a good old goddam American pounding with the biggest ball busting bombs we can muster. So Bush "sounds right" when he says, "We will not cut and run." And when George Bush sneers "Bring'em on!" he sounds even more right. Sounding right is everything when you don't know shit from Shinola. Here is their political universe, which I'm sure you've heard before but it's always best to keep horsecrap in one pile: ---Muslims are out to kill us all. So we need to kill them all first. ---Democrats, a party of liberal queers supported by ghetto blacks, Commie college professors and Mafia-backed unions, let 9/11 happen. ---The world hates us because we are rich. ---The snail-eating, wine-besotted French are a bunch of spiteful pussies, ungrateful that we saved their asses in World War II . . . .

These are the skilled and semi-skilled workers, people without a college degree, (in this town, nearly two fifths of working adults without even a high school degree) some thoughtful and self-educating, others not. They represent 55% of all voters. Many are the inexplicable self-screwing working folks who voted neo-conservative Republican in 2000. Never mind that Bush economic policies are why so many of them are drinking short beers tonight, or that his tax plan made them poorer and the rich much richer. They approved of it simply because it was called a tax "cut," and because many of them needed their $200 rebate scrap of that federal hog to pay off last winter's heating bill. By any realistic assessment, nearly everyone in Burt's is working poor. They would never admit it. Nor do government guidelines acknowledge them as such. But so long as the current administration infers that people like them are heroes (they identify heavily with the firemen, policemen of 911 and the soldiers in Iraq) they don't need no steenking economic justice. According to a recent Roper poll, 49% of Americans in this economic class will vote for George Bush in '04. Here in Burt's it is probably 100%. Obviously, I am making no pretense at liberal humility or sensitivity. So if you are not willing to call dumb dumb when you see it, you might want to quit reading right about here . . . .

What these folks really need is for someone to say out loud: "Now lookee here dammit! You are dumber than a sack of hammers and should'a got an education so you would have half a notion of what's going on." Someone once told me that and, along with the advice never to mix Mad Dog 20-20 with whiskey, it is the best I ever received. But no one in America is about to say such a thing out loud because it sounds elitist. It sounds un-American and undemocratic. It also might get your nose broken in certain venues. In an ersatz democracy maintaining the popular national fiction that everyone is equal, it is impermissible to say that, although we may all have equal constitutional rights, we are not equal. It takes at least some effort toward self-improvement just to get to the starting line of socioeconomic equality, plus an ongoing effort at being informed, if you want to function in America nowadays . . . .

Some of us were born sons of a toiling god, with the full understanding that life was never meant to be easy. But at least we could always believe that our kids had a chance for a better life. These days, it's harder to believe that. Allow me this simple observation from my own life: I am quite certain that if I were trying to get into college today with the mediocre grades I made, and no family "college fund," or family home to second mortgage, I would not have made it as far as I have. There were college scholarships, loans, and programs out the yin yang, and a high school education more or less prepared one for college. That is not to say the class divide was not a steep and ugly ditch back then. It was. But it is an absolute canyon now and growing deeper. All one has to do is look around at the un-funded No Child Left Behind program or the scam of "teacher-based accountability." When it became obvious that Johnny is now so damned dumb he can't pour piss out of a boot with the instructions on the bottom---assuming he could even read the instructions---the current regime was quick to get up a posse to lynch the school marm, then resume the theft of education funds on behalf of the rich. Neo-conservative leaders understand quite well that education has a liberalizing effect on a society. Presently they are devising methods to smuggle resources to those American madrasses, the Christian fundamentalist schools, a sure way to make the masses even more stupid if ever there was one. Is it any wonder the Gallup Poll tells us that 48 percent of Americans believe that God spit on his beefy paws and made the universe in seven days? Only 28 percent of Americans believe in evolution. It is no accident that number corresponds roughly to the number with college degrees. So intelligent liberals are advised to save their depression and the good booze for later, when things get worse.
And we left out the funny parts. If you still haven't clicked on the link above that takes you to the complete article, here it is again.

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