More on Palin and Elite Status Anxiety

This is an addendum to Shannon’s post.

It occurs to me that the whole Obama phenomenon and the vitriolic attack on Gov. Palin are two sides of the same status anxiety.

Globalization, as it got started, hammered wages in the USA in manufacturing, by exposure to low wage competitors in China and in Mexico, as well as moving the Mexican workforce here. This made white collar workers relatively more wealthy, it gave them domestic servants, it held down inflation so their wages stayed steady while new and better products were coming online, and it did not initially subject them to competition, and they did not initially face job insecurity anything like what blue collar workers faced. As a result they were able to engage in all kinds of luxury purchasing and status posturing. Stylish domestic decor, a refined taste in imported wine, and other SWPL, for example, were noted and status ranking assigned with exquisite care. David Brooks is very good on this status signalling, in his book Bobos in Paradise. This was all flattering to white collar workers, many of whom had non-quantitative degrees, especially law degrees. They had money in their pockets and they had nice stuff in their homes, and foreign-born domestic help. Life looked pretty good. Looking down on the majority of their fellow citizens was a big part of their identity. But then, all of a sudden, they began to feel the winds of change blowing, too. Their jobs became insecure, or disappeared. They began to see that their university educations did not mean a one way ticket to affluence. This terrifying prospect has opened up and getting worse at the same time that blue collar America has had a chance to adjust, and may even be better positioned to handle the ongoing globalization, and other technological changes that are coming along at an accelerating rate.

Obama promised these very worried people a lifeboat of government protection for their government jobs or jobs that rely on government regulation and government support.

This process of ransacking the country to keep up this group’s income and self-image was clothed in a vague utopian golden cloud, which affirmed their self-image.

Mr. Obama confirms and flatters this large segment of America in its self-evaluation of its own worth and importance.

Greed is a powerful force, but pride is even stronger. Obama tapped into both.

Add this group, highly mobilized, to a much larger group who were sick of Mr. Bush and the Republicans and were willing to give the keys to the other side for a while, and you get the winning Obama coalition of 2008. This larger group was willing to shrug off the more silly aspects of Obama cult behavior, and listened to the centrist noises he occasionally made en route to the White House.

Gov. Palin is a living, breathing repudiation of everything Obama’s core supporters believes in and want the future to be. She is a vision of the future that is a nightmare for these people. If someone like her can rise to power and importance and influence, someone has absolutely none of the credentials they worship, none of the tastes they cultivate, none of the supposed sophistication and irony they prize, none of the political correctness they dare not transgress, no fear of social ostracism for not being what they are and aspire to be. If she is where the country is going, then everything they have spent their lives doing and built their lives around is shown up to be the bad, losing bet that it so obviously was.

A hurricane of hatred was the only possible response.

So far the hurricane has bashed away unremittingly, yet the horrible specter of Gov. Palin has only grown bigger and stronger and more influential.

9 thoughts on “More on Palin and Elite Status Anxiety”

  1. Tes, but
    BDS was certainly a transition. The left could describe him – sometimes at the same time – as an elitist whose family had bought him the presidency and as a hick cowboy.

    Of course it is pride and desire for power and lust for money, but basically, their guts tell them that the world isn’t as they have perceived it: not only aren’t they more moral than those racists who want to deny the poor health care, but their own perqs and choices are likely to undermine the health care of vast swaths of American society, for instance.

    These are people who think capitalism made men violent, who believe that all history is a vast conspiracy against women, that the discrimination created by Joseph McCarthy was one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century. And somewhere deep inside they know they are wrong – and so keep on shouting Bush=Hitler; Sarah Palin=Idiot to drown out any thought that might enter their minds that there is a lot of truth out there that they have been ignoring. But by ignoring it, they have contributed to more than one real tragedy – by politicizing Katrina, they halted government help; by making their assumptions about the nature of school and schooling they led to a system crumbling around them, etc. etc.

  2. The Left has long claimed that advertising could make people want things they didn’t need and vote for candidates that did not represent their true interests.

    Obama may have proved them right and serves as an eye-opener for many citizens. He also is an example of Lincoln’s adage – “you can fool all of the people some of the time…”

    Palin comes it and reminds people how to think clearly about what they want and need from government and culture.

    She busts the Left’s chicanery.

  3. She certainly has come along at a time when even Harvard seniors are worried about getting jobs; any jobs. She is many things to many people but she is also a walking talking example of the education bubble. Think of those young Obama voters with $250,000 in student loans. Then they see photos of her working on a fishing boat. And no student loans !

    This is a cultural shift that may reverberate for a decade. Codevilla got a lot of it. Then Karl Rove (who is still trashing O’Donnell in Deleware) was quoted that he wouldn’t want his 17 year old son working with his hands. I don’t trust that source and have seen the comment made more recently elsewhere.

    Both parties have lost touch with ordinary voters. I saw a quote today that everyone you meet at a party function is there looking for a favor. That is changing. The tea party is working to take over the GOP and, if they do, we will have a few marginal candidates at first but “plagiarism Joe Biden” is not one to complain.

    It’s an interesting time. I must confess that I’m glad I’m not starting out now because it could go either way.

  4. Sarah is Americanism from the roots up. By instinct, so to speak. Everything the intellectualist elites wish to have nothing to do with. The reasons for this are complex, but today they are augmented by the sense that it would make them more surely part of the target aimed at by the beastial enemy of our civilisation…

  5. i wouldn’t want my 17 year old son working with karl rove. he burnt a lot of bridges with his vile comments on o’donnell. let’s see how well he does going forward…

  6. Is a candidate who appeals to status anxiety using “the politics of fear”?

    The rhetoric usually says the other guy is trying to motivate by fear (of immigrants, terrorists, etc.). And the outward presentation that to be unafraid of those factions is another status signal.

    “I’m not afraid of terrorists” means “I am afraid of those who fear terrorists”?

  7. Foxmarks,

    Is a candidate who appeals to status anxiety using “the politics of fear”?

    All politicians engage in selling fear. The power of government is the power of violence. Laws are rules that determine who gets threatened, hurt or killed. The political process is the process of creating those rules.

    Fear drives violence so fear drives politics. Every politician presents list of people to fear and rationales for why it is okay to attack them with power of the state. Every election is a debate about who to attack.

    The major division today in America is between those who say we should restrict our attack to only those who violently attack us versus those who say we should attack our neighbors when the don’t make the correct economic decisions.

  8. Don’t Palin and many other conservatives also fan the flames of status anxiety? Americans of European extraction are (possibly) losing their long held position as the dominant group, and some of them are reacting with horror to the prospect of having to accommodate the needs and desires of people who do not look like them and maybe do not talk like them. Much of the conservative overreaction to Obama, immigrants, and mosque-building is a symptom of this status anxiety.

  9. For Stuhlmann:

    A long road: Europe’s Romanies have a mostly horrible time. But they are thriving in America

    “TOMMY’S International Sports Café, Inc, a makeshift social club on 657 East 189th Street in New York’s Bronx, would repay a visit from those Europeans who see their continent’s Romanies (also known as Gypsies, see article) only as a lawless and hopeless underclass, in which success means at most building a gaudy, windowless mansion (see picture).

    Only the Balkan dishes on the menu, and the hum of Romani spoken from the mainly male clientele as they play cards and pool, distinguish the café from anywhere else in the neighbourhood. Just like the Albanians, Italians and Hispanics who live nearby, its patrons are Americans. They take vacations, work hard as cops, teachers and in business, and send their children to college. Asked what he thinks of his neighbours, a man across the street scratches his head and asks “We have Gypsies here?””

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