New York Times columnist David Brooks, in an opinion piece yesterday, correctly reported that “The Republican Party is the party of the white working class. This group — whites with high school degrees and maybe some college — is still the largest block in the electorate. They overwhelmingly favor Republicans.” Brooks further observed that white-working class “members generally share certain beliefs and experiences. The economy has been moving away from them. The ethnic makeup of the country is shifting away from them. They sense that the nation has gone astray: marriage is in crisis; the work ethic is eroding; living standards are in danger; the elites have failed; the news media sends out messages that make it harder to raise decent kids. They face greater challenges, and they’re on their own.”
Brooks’ solution to this disconnect between the GOP's base and its elite was to recommend the kind of politics espoused by Rick Santorum who, because of his alleged working class-background and strong family and communitarian values, Brooks claimed, would strike a resonant chord among members of this neglected but essential GOP constituency.
As a self-described "conservative," Brooks’ endorsement of Santorum’s working class values needs to be viewed within the broader context of GOP political rhetoric. While campaigning in Iowa, Newt Gingrich accused Mitt Romney of being a “Massachusetts moderate” while Romney himself depicted President Barack Obama as someone who wanted to destroy this country’s “free enterprise” system with its values of hard work and individual advancement and replace it with a “European entitlement system.” Simultaneously, Santorum , Bachmann, Perry and Paul all expressed concerns that the U.S. was in danger of metamorphosing into some kind of socialism state that, because of oppressive government regulation, was strangling economic productivity.
All of this rhetoric, of course, diverts attention from the real problems of this country: A dysfunctional political system dominated by a wealthy elite, their lobbyists and enablers; and an economy that, because of the out-sourcing of American jobs and manufacturing, restrictions on the ability of employees to unionize and bargain for higher wages, “free trade,” increasing automation, extraordinary economic inequality, and declining levels of education and literacy, among a multitude of other problems, have caused the incomes of most Americans to stagnate or decline since the 1970s.
As the magnitude of social, political and economic problems has increased over the past decades in the United States, the dysjunction between reality and political rhetoric has grown wider and the rhetoric more hysterical. Exit polls from the Iowa Republican caucus, for example, revealed that almost six of every ten voters considered themselves to be evangelicals or born-again Christians and were concerned about social values, while only three out of every ten voters thought that the economy was the most important issue bedeviling the country.
The preoccupation of GOP voters with social and moral values, as opposed to economic concerns, once again illustrates the phenomenon of “false consciousness” identified by Karl Marx and most recently chronicled by Historian Thomas Franks in his book, “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” The determination of predominantly working-class white males and their female counterparts to consistently support politicians and issues diametrically opposed to their own economic interests forecloses the possibility of any serious civic dialog. It also provides a sobering commentary that calls into question the ability of this country’s political system to address, in a meaningful way, any of our real problems.
If Mitt Romney can be viewed as a moderate and Barack Obama is a socialist, then the evangelicals may very well be right: The apocalypse is at hand. Rather than provide a spiritual transformation, however, it may instead signify, in the lyrics of P. F. Sloan, that we are “on the eve of destruction.”