It always amuses me when upper-class people with power and privilege start screeching about “elitism.” Today all manner of political, media and blogging elites — people with advanced degrees who’ve never been to a tractor pull in their lives — are snorting about elitism because Barack Obama said something that anyone with a real redneck background knows to be true — working-class, small-town whites feel left behind, bitter and frustrated.
Ezra Klein and Marc Ambinder provide good commentary on what Barack Obama said. My remarks today are aimed at the critics who are rushing forward to defend the tender sensibilities of small-town, working class whites that Obama allegedly offended. I say that most of those expressing outrage and defending the "values" of small-town Americans are the real elitists.
Granted, my background is southern Missouri small-town working-class white, rather than Pennsylvania small-town working-class white, and there are subtle cultural distinctions between the two. While I may have kinfolk in half the trailer parks in the Ozarks, I admit that doesn’t qualify me to speak for Pennsylvanians. But over the past forty or so years small-town, working-class white America has been living through the shared experience of diminishing opportunity combined with increasing financial instability.
In community after community, the old factory or mining jobs that sustained the local economy are gone. Forty years ago, young folks left high school, signed on to jobs that paid Union-obtained wages and benefits, and looked forward to all the trappings of American middle-class affluence — homes, new cars, trips to Disney World. Now the bright young people move away to cities, and those who remain in the small towns sustain themselves — barely — by flipping hamburgers or cashiering at Wal-Mart.
The only ones who aren’t bitter and frustrated are those too young or too dim to realize life was much better a couple of generations ago.