"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Middle Class And Why Liberals Hate Them

I had dinner last night in a local restaurant in the small Mississippi town where I have been living for the last few months.  An extended family of about ten walked in.  There were plenty of sleeveless army vests baring sweaty, muscled arms covered with shoulder-to-wrist full color tattoos; toothless women gumming their meat; bratty, snotty ankle-biters who threw their food, and loud, bubba, backwoods accents.  Just looking at them you could tell they were uneducated hillbilly crackers - gay-hating, gun-toting, Pentecostal rednecks who had just come out of their double-wides to stuff their faces.

They are also the Middle Class to whom Romney and Obama referred in the November campaign; but they were not the sanitized, cleaned up, idolized versions we heard about from the hustings where they were portrayed as enterprising, hardworking, family-oriented, God-fearing people – the salt of the earth, the very heart and soul of America.  Think GMC ads, Morning in America, cowboys and farmers, smiling grandmothers, waving fields of grain. This Middle Class had no racial hatred, class envy, or conspiracy theorists among them. Both liberals and conservatives could love this immaculate, inspiring image.

The reality, however, is far different than this rosy picture.  The Middle Class are often poor, narrow, insular, put-upon, resentful people caught between a regional, conservative hatred for ‘The Government’ and at the same time reliant on public subsidies, price supports, tax breaks, and direct investment.  They retain their racial hatred because they see the rise of blacks to power in municipal governments because of demographic shifts, their dependence on public welfare, and the same dysfunctional pathologies that they and their families have seen since Reconstruction.  They work two jobs to make ends meet.  They are  back porch hairdressers in the morning and waitresses in the afternoon.  Part-time Walmart warehouse loaders during the week, and piecework car repair on weekends.

They hold fiercely to their fundamentalist religious beliefs because religion is one of the most positive and promising appeals in their disadvantaged life and because it is seen as under attack from a secular, liberal establishment which disparages Biblical certainty and religious interpretation of life. They own and carry guns because they hunt deer, squirrels, rabbits, and anything else that can supplement the cheap cornmeal and fried chicken they eat as staples. They are anti-environmentalist because logging means jobs in a heavily-forested state and cheap energy means lower living costs.

They are fiercely independent and proud and refuse to take welfare or other public assistance.  They cheat on their taxes because even with two jobs, government cuts at federal, county, and municipal levels would leave them with nothing.  They have no health insurance because it would further reduce earned income.  They are ashamed to use Emergency Room medical care and know that they are shifting their costs onto others, but have no recourse.  Small entrepreneurs who do not qualify for a loan and have to build the business with their own labor and rely on family and friends for help, pay cash to their employees and discourage credit cards from their customers to reduce the paper trail.  They are one tornado, heart attack, or price rise away from ruin.

In states like Mississippi, the poorest in the nation, this Middle Class – or working poor as they should be called – have few options.  There are not burgeoning and accelerating areas of economic development in the state.  There is no Silicon Valley here; no gas or oil; no major industrial investment.  Nor are there many opportunities in the neighboring states of Alabama and Arkansas.

If these people vote Republican and rail against any tax increase, it is not because of an academic Tea Party theory about the small government; but because every dollar counts. If they vote against ‘progressive’ social programs it is because they work hard for their money, take little from the federal government, and resent people who game the system.

While there is no doubt that the wealthiest Americans resist tax increases as well, they can afford to pay a little more without worrying about dents in their income or feeling the personal insult of seeing hard-earned tax dollars go to inefficient, unproven, and wasteful programs.  The working poor cannot afford the luxury of such indifference.  For them ill-conceived and expensive social programs are very much personal matters.

It is hard for liberals to embrace the real Middle Class because of their rejection of ‘progressive’ views on social issues.  Northern liberals cannot stand, much less tolerate the likes of the redneck family who ate the steakhouse.  Tax breaks are not meant for them but for poor black folk who deserve them. This white working-class family; this right wing, government-hating, racist, Creationist bigoted cluster of inbred cousins is the problem, they say. America would be better off without them.

I get tired of redneck hatred, illogical rants, and bad manners; but these are my fellow Americans who espouse the American values of hard work, independence, and family.  It matters not a whit if they live in double-wides with car parts for lawn ornaments, smoke, eat squirrels, and piss on Tennessee Williams.  They work, won’t take a dime from the government, rely on faith as a source of sustenance and succor in tough times, and lament their wayward children.  They deserve our respect.

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