Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Not "Bitter"? American Exceptionalism at Work

Remember when everyone jumped on Barack Obama for saying that blue-collar workers were "bitter"? Now here's one "bitter" unemployed man who's gone on a rampage in Tennessee that proves precisely Obama's point.

The Illinois senator and presumed Democratic presidential nominee said the following in April:
You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them.And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
Now there's Jim David Adkisson, 58, who shot eight people, killing two, in a Unitarian Universalist Church, stating as his reason his hatred of liberals and homosexuals. Except for the fact that he's in Tennessee, Adkisson could be the poster boy for Obama's statement: he is an unemployed, luckless, bitter man.

He is also the poster boy for American Exceptionalism, the notion that somehow the rules of life that apply everywhere else, don't apply to the United States. One version is a "my country right or wrong" kind of nationalism.

A more complex U.S. exception is the self-defeating, self-hating bitterness at economic injustices that -- inexplicably and illogically -- drives a certain kind of working class American to vote or and support, precisely the ethos and the leaders who would do him the most harm. The classics are blue-collar Republican voters who loved Reagan even though he gave them a 10% unemployment rate (1982) and a complete wipe out in a huge number of smokestack industries.

The exceptional American is the Southern white who hates unions -- hey, who wants to work for better pay and benefits, that's sissy stuff! -- and hates blacks and hates liberals -- hey, who wants social insurance, anyway? -- and loves the GOP.

The Republican has played with his religion by promising to abolish abortion but never once in 30 years really trying, got him riled up about gay marriage and 9/11, then picked his pocket clean and sent his kid to Iraq with inadequate armor and a ridiculous plan. Yet who does he hate? The liberals! The gays!

Can't say I understand this exceptional American guy. He's been suckered so many ways, so many times, by so many hate-radio talk-show hosts, televangelists and huckster politicians.

No wonder he's bitter.

1 comment:

Hendaque said...

Do we know what Adkisson's beliefs were about the war? If not, we must be careful about stereo-typing. However, the concept of American Exceptionalism is good to continue to hold in mind, however, while evaluating how we relate to other counries and cultures.