Friday, March 11, 2005
Is this the most tone-deaf piece of Leftist navel-gazing I have read in a good while? "Why Don't They Listen to Us? Speaking to the Working Class" by Lillian B. Rubin — the title says it all, doen't it?

As racial and identity politics became increasingly strident, we were right on economic issues but tone deaf to the cultural and emotional sources of white working-class fear and anger. They objected to what they saw as minority privilege, and we called them racist, which was probably true but did nothing to facilitate an alliance with them. I'm not saying that we should have backed away from our support of affirmative action, minority scholarships, and other attempts to level the playing field. And perhaps their rage and fear were so great that no bridge was possible. We'll never know because we couldn't hear their cri de coeur. Instead, we spoke from our own privileged position and tried to silence their resentment by reminding them that they were the beneficiaries of a long history of white privilege.

There's much to do in the coming years to build a set of institutions that can begin to compete with the highly organized, enormously well-funded network of newspapers, periodicals, think tanks, publishing houses, and television and radio stations the right already has in place. But no institutions will save us until we find the way to reframe the debate so that it's on our terms, not theirs. That means opening up discussion among ourselves to debate and develop positions and strategies that, while honoring our own beliefs and values, enable us to build bridges across which we can speak to those who now see us as an alien other.

It's not enough to speak in another voice, however. We must learn to listen as well, to develop a third ear so that we can hear beneath their rage to the anguish it's covering up. Only then will we find our way into the hearts and minds of those Americans who have been seduced and exploited by the radical right into "strangling their own life chances." Only then will we be able to stop asking, "Why don't they listen to us?"

Only a Leftist who has been living in a snug cocoon of self-satisfied self-absorption for the last 40 years could come up with the notion somehow Affirmative Action, Political correctness, Abortion, and Gay Marriage are what did the Left in with the white working class. There is nothing paradoxical about the white working class voting against their own economic interests — can anyone point out exactly what, if anything, the Left had done to improve the economic well-being of the working class since the 1960's? Blacks have been faithfully voting Democratic for decades, and what have the Left done for their economic well-being? Black urban slums in the North from 40 years ago are still largely slums now, rural Black poor in the South then are still dirt poor now — those anyway, not yet forced off the farm. The Left talked about improving economic well-being of the working class, black and white, for decades with nothing to show for it — it's pretty understandable people are getting fed up with it. The Republicans know better than to promise all that pie-in-the-sky business; what they do offer — a sense of collective grievance and also moral superiority, a sense of being in control of something — the afterlife, say — they deliver with abundance. Cheap enough, as it were.