So That Explains It

I always wondered why so many people voted for Bush when his policies are in direct opposition to their own interests. I remember this most vividly when a relative, who was pro-Bush and a big proponent of lower interest rates and taxes, realized in retirement that low interest rates meant that fixed-income returns were also low – that is, as the interest rates fell so did his income. You could hear the confusion in talking with him. Policies he’d advocated all his life suddenly worked against his own interests and lifestyle. If he got out of denial, it must have been some internal reckoning.
So this morning a summary & pointer to an essay by Jeffrey B. Perry crossed my screen which helps explain this phenomenon. It’s a memorial of historian Theodore W. Allen and his book The Invention of the White Race, Vol. 1 and 2.
Specifically, Allen introduced the idea of the buffer social control group:

In 1996, on radio station WBAI in New York, Allen discussed the subject of “American Exceptionalism” and the much-vaunted “immunity” of the United States to proletarian class-consciousness and its effects. His explanation for the relatively low level of class consciousness was that social control in the United States was guaranteed, not primarily by the class privileges of a petit bourgeoisie, but by the white-skin privileges of laboring class whites; that the ruling class co-opts European-American workers into the buffer social control system against the interests of the working class to which they belong; and that the “white race” by its all-class form, conceals the operation of the ruling class social control system by providing it with a majoritarian “democratic” facade.

America is at a tipping point, but it’s hard to see because in a culture it takes years to effect a change. It’s happened over the last six years – which parts of peace and prosperity during the earlier Clinton years do people dislike so much? – and it’s going to take a while to undo the deeper effects of the fundamentalist Bush policies. “Starving the government” through deep tax cuts and simultaneous warring is going to cut the middle class in two (this has already started) – further expanding the buffer social control group at the low-end of the elites (where my existence lies) and playing off the hopes and dreams of the top-end of the laborers (this would completely explain the email and comment spam phenomena, for instance). The increased anxiety of falling down to the lower tier, rather than simply carving out a comfortable middle-class existence, will help control people’s behavior. This is why Bush/Cheney/Rove use fear so well as a political tool, and why “creating jobs” and “low prices” drive so many of our collective decisions, from local zoning and community planning to were we live and what we consume.
Only a small number of people are able to take a systemic and long-term view of things, and therefore most behavior is short-term and self-interested. But like the relative mentioned above, when the long-term implications hit it has a big personal impact, and by then it’s too late to do anything about it. America as a county is going to find out what this looks like, but it will take a few more years and the people trying to fix the mess will likely have had nothing to do with creating it. If you want to take the really long view, then perhaps we should keep electing Fundamentalists for another decade or two so they’re holding the bag when the charade goes south. That would be the crushing blow to this round of delusional policies and politics, if we don’t become a nation of jingoistic Nazi-like nationalists along the way.