All Politics Is Resentment
We've all been having a grand old time in the last couple of weeks railing at President Obama and his new class warfare campaign. We happily drag out his post-partisan speeches from 2008 and 2004 and beat him upside the head with his old TelePrompter scripts.
When we get sick of that, we can snicker about his race war campaign: how he drops his gs when addressing his pals in the Congressional Black Caucus, and urges them to get their "marchin' shoes" on. It was odd that the president did not order his followers to put on their marching boots. Where I come from, soldiers wear boots, not shoes. Perhaps things are different in community-organizer-land.
There's a deadly serious aspect to all this. We conservatives make fun of class and race politics because we want to neutralize it.
But Howell Raines, former New York Times editor, is aghast. End class warfare? Not on his watch! President Obama should not listen to the "Republicans' pejorative definition of economic class warfare as an un-American evil."
In fact, nonviolent class struggle over income distribution has a long and beneficial history in this country and most other industrial democracies. Starting with the rise of the Populist Party in the late 19th century, continuing into the Progressive Era and the New Deal, grabbing for and getting a bigger slice of the economic pie for wage earners has been a major stabilizing force in American democracy.
Class warfare a "stabilizing force"? No kidding! I was almost ready to believe that divisive rhetoric was always a bad thing. Now Raines says I got it all wrong.
The truth is that if we bury class warfare and routine accusation of racism, then the politicians and their bribed apologists will come up with some other way to divide people. That's because all politics is resentment. The British Tory Benjamin Disraeli made that clear in his political novel Sybil. Queen Victoria ruled not over "the greatest nation that ever existed," but over "[t]wo nations, between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy ... The Rich and the Poor."
Just to make the point, Disraeli the Tory starts the novel in a ruined abbey, and goes on for pages about how the Evil Whigs had founded their fortunes 400 years before on the proceeds of the dissolution of the monasteries. Some memory! Some resentment.
If you are a sophisticated chap like liberal Howell Raines, you know that it demonstrates a higher tone to talk not of "resentment" but to use Nietzsche's and Kierkegaard's word: "ressentiment." Resentment, you see, merely refers to a feeling of frustration. Ressentiment is the idea of converting your frustration into a moral system.
The reason that Howell Raines' "nonviolent class struggle" politics had such a good run is that, for decades, the ordinary middle class in America didn't have much to be resentful about. Liberals like Raines could fulminate away about the underprivileged and the marginalized and put a guilt trip on ordinary middle-class Americans. So long as those middle-class Americans felt guilty, liberals could pick their pockets and fence the loot to their underprivileged and marginalized supporters.
But now, in the aftermath of the Crash of 2008, ordinary Americans are frightened, and they are rediscovering their resentment. They have founded a huge grassroots movement to express their frustration at government that doesn't care about people like them. They call it the Tea Party. This, of course, has completely confounded the sophisticated classes, folks like Howell Raines. They thought the crash would incubate a vast anti-capitalist movement, not an anti-government movement.
But think about it. The folks hurting from the Great Recession are not the underclass; the underclass never had jobs to start with. The recession victims are not the liberals: many already have bomb-proof sinecures in government and the academy. The folks hurting in the current recession are ordinary un-organized Americans who thought that they could prosper in America, the land of the free, without the special assistance of politicians and community organizers.
When President Obama tries to light the fires of class warfare, and Howell Raines eggs him on, there is a danger that the rules may have changed. Maybe the class warfare of 2012 is now the middle class against the rest: the crony capitalist, the privileged academician, the feather-bedded government employee, and the benefit freeloader.
One of Howell Raines' readers, maxdenn, says, "Obama can and should beat the socks off the Tea Party controlled Reublicans [sic] on the issue of class warefare [sic]. As far as America is concerned, it's not really class warfare, but class armageddon." Suppose, under the new correlation of forces, the Democrats end up on the short side of "class armageddon"?
I say: Bring it on. I say that our resentments beat your resentments, Mr. President and Mr. Raines, because ours are fresh and raw, and yours are old and tired.
Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us. At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism.