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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 8/18/10

Understanding America's Class System

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Meanwhile, elite Republicans still needed a beef with the new black guy on the block who had just kicked their ass and was still very popular at the time. The best they could come up with on the bailouts was that they had been allowed too little input. "Obama won't let us play with him. Bwaaaaaa!" A smokescreen of course, since he was doing exactly what they would have done, handing Republican bankers every bit of money the people had and a helluva lot they didn't have, but could make payments on for the next, oh, 100 years or until the final miserable, smoking collapse, whichever comes first.

In the end though, nobody in Washington disputed the ruling class's right to dictate policy. After all, the political class agreed with the ruling class's major premise: The public does not know sh*t, never has, never will. Also that it is best not to get the public too riled up, not because the public has any power (power is money in America and the elites have it all now), but because elected officials would have to answer brainless questions from people such as Tea Partiers. Or Ron Paul cultists. Gawd!

Howard, won't you please come home

America has always had a ruling class, and it has always bullshitted the world that it doesn't. But at least the ruling class of the past was interesting and varied, because diverse sorts of Americans were getting rich.

You had Texas wildcatters in the "oil bidness." You had Southern cotton and tobacco aristocrats guzzling bourbon, fondling their stock portfolios and their black maids. You had industrialists and California and Florida real estate hotwires, Boston Brahmins and New York financiers. There was the bootlegging inside stock trader Joseph P. Kennedy, not to mention Prescott Bush moving financial assets around for the Nazis during WW II. They were products of varied educations, or in some cases, no education. They came from many regions, back when America still had distinct cultural regions, before it was completely homogenized and stratified for maximum capitalist efficiency.

Whatever they may have been, they were seldom dull. I would love to have known Howard Hughes, a man who could direct a film, and build the largest aircraft ever built, the 200-ton, all-wood Spruce Goose, not to mention the busty Jane Russell's underwire bra. Stop and consider Bill Gates and the other colorless puds of today. Almost makes you miss the robber barons.

Think Tony Hayward gives a sh*t?

You hear it all the time these days: The top one percent of Americans own more wealth than the bottom 45% of the rest of Americans combined.

I have seldom met an American who thought this is a good thing, and seldom met one who understood how the ruling class got so rich. Simply put, it was through constant cultivation of bigger and more labyrinthine government, creating legal and technical complexities to sluice money nationally and globally in their direction, and to cover their asses in the process. The results are such things as 3,000 page health care bills (defining which corporate elites get which parts of the cake), or the 2,000-page NAFTA and its 9,000 tariff product codes.

Once the public was buried in such a maelstrom of legal paperwork, computer transactions, modeling, etc., it was easy to argue that the world had become so complex that the skills and brains to operate it were extremely rare and those who had them were f*cking geniuses. These are people who dwell in such airy realms that we should pay them vast amounts of money and never question their decisions. That's how we got such oblivious duds as Timothy Geithner (who never held a nongovernment related job in his life) running the Treasury, and tens of thousands of the Empire's pud whackers, ranging from petty legal commissars, on up to the Alan Greenspans of this world -- a bumbling arrogant old fart who never had a clue but understood the rules: Look enigmatic and blow whichever administration is in power.

In fact, capitalist natural selection for mediocrity is how British Petroleum got Tony Hayward, who was unfortunate enough to be tossed out of the boat onto the media beaches of public awareness in his briefs. If ever there was a specimen of the slimy corporate salamander, we saw it in sniveling nakedness right there. Reportedly, the salamander will receive $18 million, plus annual pension payments totaling $1 million per year, the possible forfeiture of which makes good news copy to cover BP's ongoing negligence, theft and intimidation. So the public howls and throws eggs at the straw man, who has been making $1.6 million a year and is now sitting on his yacht "trying to get his life back." Does anybody really believe Tony Hayward gives a sh*t? Oh, there may be some news of BP's demise, its "absorption" by another corporation or something similar to Enron, sold off piecemeal to other massive corporations at a bargain prices, while everyone was watching the saga of the mediocre white collar criminal, Ken Lay. You'd think we'd learn. Corporations do not go away; they just morph along, sucking up generation after generation's money.

The rabble at the gates

You never hear them say it, but neo-conservatives understand that they have a mean streak down inside. They also know if they want to share in the national plunder, they must win hearts and minds. They must look pious and sound right while lying through their teeth and picking our pockets. In other words, they have an astute grasp of American politics and business -- which are the same thing, of course.

Most educated American liberals, however, believe simply being progressive makes them, by default, the nation's saviors -- morally and intellectually right in all things. As proof, they read more and, allegedly, are more open minded than most conservatives, except when it comes to their daughter dating a redneck named Ernest who lives in a trailer court behind the strip mall. They are certainly among the educated class in a country known for its lousy schools and a dull, sated and unquestioning public. Education and access to education are now our fundamental class delineators. Higher education is now for the privileged. And that privilege, almost regardless of profession or career, is a future that depends on government. Liberal or conservative, it matters little. In fact, this privileged class votes Democratic more predictably than the working class, Hispanics or Blacks.

So when educated liberals look up from their copy of The Nation or the Jon Stewart show, they behold a chilling sight: Beefy mobs waving teabags and demanding tax cuts to help pay for new schools and bridges, Sarah Palin emerging from the ashes of the McCain campaign to become the high priestess of the uncurried tribes, with a Mormon named Glenn Beck exhorting millions of fundamentalists to seize the country. They feel that something has gone terribly wrong with America.

Immediately they conclude that it is the American people's fault through their backwardness, incomprehension and misdirected anger, and that maybe it serves them right for not rallying behind the flying progressive standard. (I've been plenty guilty of this myself over the years, and am now a recovering American liberal, well on my way not to conservatism, but toward a strumpetocracy, government by strumpets. It's a real word, Google it.) Not that the progressive flag was actually flying; American liberals threw down their standard 40 years ago in the rush for comfortable technical, teaching and administrative jobs in government, universities and non-profits. "Ah yes," they wailed, the people have let us down. They are absolutely disgusting!" liberals agreed. And they still agree. Read the comments on Huffington Post or Daily Kos.

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Joe Bageant is the author of a forthcoming book from Random House Crown about working class America, scheduled for Spring 2007 release. A complete archive of his online work, along with the thoughts of many working Americans on the subject of class (more...)
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