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What are the Democrats Thinking? All Politics is Resentment

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All Politics is Resentment

by Christopher Chantrill
October 09, 2011 at 3:59 pm

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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 sniggerabout his race war campaign: how he drops his “g”s 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 routines 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 “Two 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 your 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 grass-roots 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: they never had jobs to start with. The recession victims are not the liberals: they 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 blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures


German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Knowledge

Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Action

The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital


presented by Christopher Chantrill

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