Barack Obama and the working class

Issue section: 
(331)

I always say that if Obama was delivered to the White House with Jesus Christ, a five-piece band and six gilded seraphims holding up his fucking balls he still won't be able to do anything because the country's broke and Congress is bought and sold.

We'll get things that don't cost money. We'll get our civil liberties back to some degree, habeas corpus will be restored. And god knows he's not trigger-happy, he won't be bombing Iran. Damn, I voted for him, I'm glad to see him there. A brilliant campaign went out and found everybody in every cubbyhole that would possibly vote for him and registered them like crazy. That was a massive accomplishment.

I'm always banging on urban liberals because they don't have a clue about life in the heartlands, but to their credit they put their money where their mouth is. They left their homes and jobs to work in states they've never been to before. That was absolutely beautiful. I've never seen a campaign mobilise so many people. We had 50 Obama offices in Virginia, a very red state. McCain had two.

In my town the Obama headquarters made it a practice to eat in every tough bar and grill in town. Local people did listen. Virginians are very polite, especially working class Virginians. The people who owned the little businesses that are all going broke, the beer joints and sandwich shops, appreciated the business, and by god they actually won those people.

"Change" is an amorphous word. But working class Americans don't have the language to describe the problem or the solution. Words are demonised here - welfare means a woman with a "crack baby", labour is a commie word, union is definitely a commie word, social entitlement, definitely commie, even liberal is not a good word. The language has been stripped from the working class's vocabulary.

We don't like the term "working class". Everybody is middle class. The connotation is that we're all equal, but all politics is about class, and class is about power. Race wasn't a deciding factor. We got plenty of racists here in Virginia. But the best-kept secret with rednecks is that we all have a couple of black nieces and nephews. Grandkids got spiky hair and piercings like everybody else. We've been working in the same plants for two generations. It's not 1965. Progress has been made, not enough, but it has been made.

The leadership we need is not melanin-based or gender-based. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama was going to talk about single payer healthcare, cutting the Pentagon back, getting rid of the Taft-Hartley Act, which prohibits unions in so many places. The transitional economic team are the same people who gave us the crisis and work on behalf of economic elites. It's a last ditch effort to prop up capitalism.

I saw a perceptible change after the bailout. It's not real to people whose lives are close to home. They've got a job, sports, the dog, friends and a church, that's what life is. The number didn't mean anything - after a trillion none of it is real. But their instincts told them "this is not good".

The common, simple, profound way they looked at it was, "Well, we've got plenty of people who need healthcare, who're losing their homes, there's no jobs..." And something in it just stank. It was so good to see - it was an awakening of political consciousness for people for whom politics is just a televised horse race.


Joe Bageant is author of Deerhunting with Jesus.