Thursday, September 6, 2012
Larry Bartels and the Multicultural Elite Class Must Be Smiling at Bill Clinton's DNC Speech
Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama delivered a devastating set of punches to Mitt Romney at the Democratic National Convention. Both were masterful examples of rhetorical violence. Beautiful. Both made more so by their contrast with the Republicans' failure to tell a compelling story in Tampa--and compounded by Ann and Mitt Romney's epic inability to convince the public that they are "regular folks."
Yes, it is hard to have hundreds of millions of dollars and relate to the little guy and little gal in the time of the Great Recession. Nevertheless, it is not his wealth that is the problem--there have been many old money types in American politics--rather, Romney's failure to sell himself is a function of his naturally cold and sociopathic demeanor. Romney, quite literally, cannot relate to someone not born into his social class.
Two quick thoughts on Bill Clinton's speech.
I always smile when I see empirically grounded, compelling, and rigorous work in political science used to tell a compelling story about real people's lives. Clinton's claims about how Democratic administrations have created more economic growth is straight out of Larry Bartels' book Unequal Democracy. Everyone should read that great text. Bill Clinton certainly did.
Second, racism is a human productivity problem. If you want to understand why American political elites stood up against Jim and Jane Crow during the Cold War, listen to Clinton's speech at the 6 minute or so mark. Historically, the Racial State subsidized white mediocrity by making sure that white men (and women to a lesser degree) had access to jobs that would provide a living wage. This arrangement involved excluding people of color from the same positions as the federal government worked feverishly to create the white middle class.
During the Cold War, American political elites also realized that formal white supremacy was an international embarrassment that gave ammunition, both metaphorical and real, to the Soviets. Jim and Jane Crow had to be jettisoned because it was a dead weight on America's international prestige and influence.
In the present, this dynamic has been somewhat undone and made obsolete by globalization. Old school and aversive racism have also been unsettled by how the elite class came to realize that racial and gender diversity (even if marginal, symbolic, and mostly self-serving) could allow them to leverage more human talent. In essence, reaching across the color line made them more money because they were no longer limited to dredging the bottom ranks of an increasingly shallow bench of white male talent.
The angst of the white "working class" voter is a response to this reality. They are no longer the de facto only choice for all jobs, every opportunity, and guaranteed to win the race by simply showing up. If you have been competing with a ten lap head start, it is quite upsetting to realize that you are not as talented and/or gifted as you were led to believe. For a certain class of obsolete, white semi-skilled labor, their rage at Obama is a direct function of this insecurity.
Clinton's few-second allusion to how the multicultural elite class thinks about human productivity is the equivalent of many volumes of reading and hours of study. It was a wink to those of us in the know. Bill Clinton gave Obama, what in professional wrestling terms, is called "the hot tag." Now, the President has to get the win. Obama could not be in a better position.