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Stuck In The Middle With You*

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We don’t like to discuss social class, period. Perhaps it’s a relic from our British independence. When Americans talk about class what we’re really talking about is money. We believe that if you have a place to live and that place is not a castle, you are middle-class. Everyone is middle-class; it’s like being above average. For some the designation is a badge of honor, for others it’s a disingenuous humility. Periodically an elected official or government agency will declare what the economic threshold is for middle-class. Sometimes they even include the ceiling on the perimeter. It really doesn’t matter as everyone wants to call themselves middle-class.

What we deign to call ourselves is hardly significant. Clearly it’s important to us, but doubtful that it’s important to anyone else. Introduce yourself at parties as a stay-at-home actress/scrapbooker/snackatarian and note how quickly the interviewer resumes talking about themselves. When classifications matter is when they’re used to make larger points or policy. By viewing economic class as an ideal rather than a reality we risk working against our own best interests. Recently we’ve begun to embrace discussing the economic upper-class; we now call them the 1%. But we still shy from identifying or discussing the working-class. During the most recent presidential election we used terms such as “working families” which is close, but mostly just conjures child labor. We also have started using the term “working-poor” which has more to do with a livable wage and full-time employment opportunities than an economic class. There are wage, tax, healthcare and many other public policies that potentially affect the working class more than any other group.

It’s not that surprising that we’ve evolved to this point. There was a time when we discussed class irrespective of income. People came from a working-class background, or they were middle or upper-class. However, we used the terms with hushed voices and a bit of self-consciousness. We are a culture obsessed with the outcomes of these delineations but hesitate to discuss the cause. We spend a great deal of time trying to make our country abide by social middle-class values but don’t label them as such. (Ironically the United Kingdom, the mother ship of the class system, views middle-class values as something to be avoided.) It’s interesting that in a society that enjoys talking about the melting pot, diversity and inclusion, we feel rather strongly that everyone should really embrace the same values. It’s why we all identify as middle-class. Americans are averse to the social class system (but we do obsess about the Royal family. It’s all so confusing this relationship we have with the homeland.) We see class not as static, as do our friends across the pond, but as something we transcend. We are a pull yourself up by the bootstrap kinda country. Where you’re born in not where you are to stay (unless it’s at the top.) Therefore when we talk about class we tinge it with aspiration. It’s like calling someone a “bride-to-be” or “rising senior.” It’s about where you’re going not where you are.

But what you call yourself and how you see yourself are two different things. How you identify, at a party or elsewhere, is immaterial, but it matters a great deal politically. Too many of us support candidates and parties who are most definitely working against our best interest because we want to identify with them. Some candidates intentionally make themselves very relatable to the working-class but are no friend to the policies that (disproportionally) affect the group. There is an old adage that you should dress for the job you want (not the one you have.) When it comes to voting; you should vote for where you are, not where you hope to be.

*Stealers Wheel (1972)

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Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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This Land Is Our Land

Even if you’ve been buried in sand (umbrella drink in hand) or up to your elbows in zucchini plants, you’ve probably heard certain rumblings of the past two weeks: Where are the statements from the president or presumptive nominee on gun control? Could there possibly be a better time or a more receptive nation to which to deliver a strong message? Are the “candidates'” faith in the electorate such that any poking of the NRA with a stick is simply not worth the risk? No doubt you have heard or made all of these arguments over dinner, at the farmer’s market or in the cabana. It is hard for us mere mortals, those of us not actively working on a presidential campaign, to wrap our minds around the silence. To most of us there is nothing politically incorrect about limiting access to semi-automatic weapons.

No doubt the “candidates” have their eyes on a much larger picture than you or I. But it’s hard to imagine what could be more significant or legacy building than diminishing carnage. It’s a given that both political parties have clever people working for them who perhaps specialize in artistic wordsmithing. A powerful, compassionate statement is easily within their reach. A statement, which in fact even the NRA would not take serious issue. A statement that addressed the human lives snuffed out every single day, while honoring the intent of the second amendment.

What is encouraging is that people, who are not running for the highest office in the land, are speaking out. Mayors, religious leaders and the police are talking publicly about mental health, limiting firearm purchases, creating safe havens, changing the culture, etc. While it doesn’t change our unease with the ear splitting silence at the top, it offers hope. The NRA’s power stems from being a well-organized group of like-minded individuals. Yes, their power probably cannot be overstated, and yes they have succeeded in being just as threatening as the products they defend. But that doesn’t mean they cannot be successfully challenged. Bullies in fact rarely back down because an authority figure orders them to do so. More often it is the bullied, often times collectively that gives the bully a mighty cease and desist ass kicking. The timing is right for all of us to get ticked off and lay our own claim to the constitution (and while we’re at it the flag.)

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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