The FT tells us that America America, Ethan Canin's new novel, "pierces" the "great American fiction" that the country doesn't have a class structure. The novel, apparently, is "obsessed with by the fetish objects of the American elite":
"We are told, in particular detail, of the buttery dark brown loafers, the scuffed duffel bag and the proper chinos, all worn by our hero Corey Sifter as he goes off the right prep school."
To these loafers, duffel bag and the chinos, we might list another fetish object of the American elite: the white American working class. This is a fetish which unites elites on both the political left and right in America. Indeed, it is the ideological obsession that unites the entire American intellectual elite.
On the right, Kevin Philips' Reaganite Emerging Republican Majority got this fetish started. And now two members of this elite, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, have just published Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save The American Dream. Douthat and Salam argue that for the Republicans to survive as a viable political party, they need win back the affection of the white American white working class, what they call "Sam's Club" America.
That Freudian, cigar chewing, Berkeley political theorist, the late great Michael Rogin, would have fun with this ideological obsession. What, I wonder, would Rogin have made of a fetish which is supposed to "save the dream". After all, didn't Freud tell us that we dream about fetishes? We weren't supposed to have fetishes about dreams -- especially about saving them (leave that for the priests, Rogin might have quipped).
This white working class is also, of course, the fetish of the American left. Today the FT ran an essay by Edward Luce, their Washington bureau chief, of new books about America entitled "The Exhausted Dream." (another Freudian metaphor that Rogin would have enjoyed batting about: how, exactly, he would have asked, do dreams get exhausted). Two of these books are classic examples of left liberal fetishism: Barbara Enhrenreich's Going to Extremes and Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting With Jesus, both darkly pessimistic views -- a la Thomas Frank (yawn) -- of the deathly struggle of their fetish. Ehrenreich is such a fetisher of the American working class that, in her obsession, she even reinvented herself as a member of Sam's Club in that classic weepy Nickel and Dimed. While Bageant really is a former member of this class and, in Deer Hunting with Jesus, he returns from California to his small-town working class Virginia roots to closely observe his former self.
It's not just left and right who are obsessed with Sam's Club America. Even the social scientific members of these American political elite, those number-crunching pollsters, are now obsessed with white working class Americans. Thus, today's Washington Wire at the WSJ reports that the Governor of Tennessee is urging Obama to focus on "Wal-Mart women". While today's FT reports that Democratic advisors to Obama are worried that he is weak in blue-collar swing states like Colorado and Joe Bageant's Virginia. Apparently, they are worried that Obama's current eight point lead speaks of his inability to reach the white working class. As one Democratic operative told the FT:
"What we need now is campaign events in hospital emergency rooms and in unemployment offices and small town diners. These people have a vote."
My own view of the white American working class is a five letter word which is unprintable on the stringently edited blogosphere (clue: starting with g and ending with m....). Luckily, however, I'm not running for office, so, unlike McCain or Obama, I don't have to kiss up to their fat, pale bottoms. Good luck to both those two members of the American elites, though, with chasing their fetish. I just wish Michael Rogin was still around to pierce all this great fiction about the American white working class.