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by Wayne Lusvardi | Pasadena Recently, New York Times columnist and pop sociologist David Brooks has called Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin a “cancer to the Republican Party” for her alleged “anti-intellectualism.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/08/david-brooks-sarah-palin_n_133001.html Brooks may have a point (up to a point) but opens up a line of argument that can be turned on its head. To wit, the “professional” class no longer fights our wars, rescue people trapped in burning high rise buildings, build our infrastructure, aspire to be a middle manager at Wal-Mart, risk failure as business entrepreneurs, or start new voluntary associations such as churches. And they bear, rear, adopt or foster children much less than the working class, having given up or delayed parenthood for a professional career. In the main they are not doers. They are whiners, talkers, techies, coddlers, evaluators, lobbyists, and media spinners who largely depend on government regulations, licenses, or monopolies for their livelihoods. They hold many prestigious public or private offices like the character the Grand Pooh-Bah in Gilbert and Sullivan's opera The Mikado who bears the title “Lord-High-Of-Everything-Else.” They are the Pooh-Bah class not the doing class. A prosecutor-attorney friend of mine has perhaps come up with an apt tag game analogy for Sarah Palin’s appeal to the business and working middle class – her directness and keen perception of the mostly un-verbalized resentment of the working class to the intrusions of the professional class acting in tandem with big government. In the children’s game of tag, a person is selected as “it.” The other players stand in a circle a short distance away. The tagger yells “go” and the players try to avoid being tagged “it.” Even young children quickly learn strategies to dodge, hide behind others, run on angles, feign moves and re-direct the focus of the tagger on others to avoid from being “it.” But when a new kid shows up who doesn’t fall for all the fakes and feigns he or she can often walk right up to someone and surprisingly tag them “it.” Sarah Palin is like that new kid in school in a child’s game of tag. She’s the outsider whose working class directness and common sense is a signal to the working class that she “gets it” (i.e., understands their situation). And obviously the “it” that Palin “gets” isn’t the same “it” of the dodging President Bill Clinton – (“it depends on what the meaning of ‘it’ is”). This is apparently a threat to professional journalists such as David Brooks. Is Palin’s so-called “anti-intellectualism” a Republican problem which alienates the professional classes as Brooks contends? Maybe it is. But given that the professional class is so dependent on the government regulatory system is it any wonder that Republicans may consider them a lost constituency, investment bankers included. To the contrary, isn’t the real problem the resentment of the “doing class” to the attack on them by the professions and government? All the current political campaign rhetoric about the “racism without racists” and the “Bradley effect”on Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama and the “class warfare card” of Sarah Palin only confuses and twists the issue of the attack on the working class with the false issues of racism, discrimination and mob populism. The public issues of immediate concern to the “doing class” currently being re-framed as hidden racism, discrimination and intellectual regression are: sub-prime mortgages to lower income minorities and immigrants which now threaten retirement investments, the vote on same-sex marriage laws in California which threaten working class family values, and the qualifications of a Black presidential candidate who is perceived to have a track record of doing little to nothing but has been advanced to where he is largely due to affirmative action, transgressing the old work ethic of the working class. To mischaracterize these issues in terms of race as another New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, does; or as anti-intellectualism as David Brooks does, is to misunderstand what is going on. To use an intellectual’s term it is “false consciousness.” Underlying all of the above issues is the premise that parents are entitled to hand on to their children the benefits of their class position and social mobility, including their property wealth, investments, and religious values. It is a concern about achieved social status versus ascribed social status by “accident of birth.” Modern American society has traditionally been modeled around achievement and merit; individualism over collectivism. But counter-modernizing social and legal movements have created a “soft” society of automatic promoting schools, union jobs and affirmative action as quasi property rights, and affordable housing via sub-prime loans to combat the “hardness” of competitive capitalism. The state, not the market, is the redemptive dispenser of this “American dream” of feeling “at home” in all areas of social involvement (“it takes a village”). Conversely, President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act” is an attempt to inject competition back into public schools where the professional culture is antagonistic to its harshness. Obviously, a pre-emptive war of choice does not fit in to this utopian welfare vision of the American Dream; thus, the “unpopulism” of the Iraq War. This shift from achievement to ascription and social privilege challenges the social class opportunity system that has made the U.S. unique and enviable to all, despite its flaws. The reforms of the New Deal, however imperfect, were never intended to undermine the class system but to provide a “floor” to it. The put down of Sarah Palin as a racist or anti-intellectual signals the call for a minimizing, if not ending, the “open society” of prosperity and entrepreneurial opportunity that have been a part of the class system of American society. Under the newer welfare system based on ascribed rather than achieved status the life chances of the individual are tied to whatever collectivity to which they are defined as primarily belonging. Under such a system it will matter less what individuals do than what they are; or what somebody officially attributes them to be (e.g., underprivileged, gay, homeless, union member, victim, etc). This begs the question: who will do the allocating of such status? It will be professionals together with government. It is thus little wonder then that professionals, such as David Brooks and Nicholas Kristof, see Sarah Palin as a backward threat to the reforms of racial equality brought about by the Progressive intellectual establishment and liberal religion. It is also why Indian-British novelist and intellectual Salman Rushdie has called the pick of Sarah Palin for Vice-President “a joke.” Such utterances are a reflection of class contempt and solidarity at the doing class. What is at stake with the upcoming election is not that Sarah Palin is racist or anti-intellectual but whether we want to end or marginalize our highly successful, albeit imperfect, open social class system. To do this would ultimately entail total control over each person’s life chances (e.g., their place of living, housing affordability, their investments, their value system, their health habits, etc.). The prospect of benign totalitarianism that such a shift would entail is not very appealing, especially to the doing class. That is why class warfare rhetoric has found fertile ground in the current national Presidential race; not because of racism, backward thinking, or mob populism. And that is why Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin has tagged David Brooks “it” without him even realizing it. CRO See Peter L. Berger and Brigitte Berger, The Assault on Class, Worldview (July, 1972). copyright 2008 Wayne Lusvardi Wayne Lusvardi worked for 20 years for the Metro Water District of So. Cal. and lives in Pasadena. The views expressed are his own. . Wayne receives e-mail at waynelbox-blogger@yahoo.com

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