IP: Rednecks and “Welfare Queens”

I wanted to quickly discuss Alexandra Pelosi and her picking-on poor folks.

This first video is interviews of conservative folks in Mississippi. The caricatures range from a kid in a WalMart parking lot talking about how he doesn’t like Obama because he’s Muslim, to an old dude saying racist things about Obama to a toothless guy living in abject poverty yet still votes for Republicans. The implication is the same as Thomas Frank’s thesis. These folks aren’t voting for their wellbeing, they’re voting for their values and their racism – why would they do such a thing?

The video:

A comment that I posted on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog about this video:

This sneering at Mississippi is about the same as when liberals sneer at other mainly rural folks. It’s not just the South and Pelosi’s video is just a reiteration of the same old bullshit coming out of the liberal ivory tower.

As far as I can tell, liberalism has never been popular on the countryside and I’m not sure why it would be, either. Modern liberalism represents two of the things that threaten rural life: support for a predatory economic model and the perception of the erosion of family values.

The countryside has always been a battleground for hard-line leftists and conservatives. Lately, the conservatives have won out because there is no more massively organized hard-left organizations, and the ones that do exist apparently don’t know how to convey their message like their forebears in the Socialist and Farmer-Labor parties before them knew how to.

I agree, in a sense, with the criticism of the “voting against their interest” argument, but only because liberals do not understand that their programs do not benefit farmers and the rural poor, and that they do come off as paternalistic instead of empowering. It’s an important distinction, and one that I thought went over Thomas Frank’s head in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” He detailed the leftist and socialist history of Kansas and went onto ask why the liberals don’t get more of a vote share. It didn’t enter into his mind that socialism and populism =/= liberalism — at least, the modern form.

However, rural-conservative strongholds are voting against their economic interest, nonetheless, and for the culture war that the conservatives have waged. The toothless guy isn’t stupid. He made a good point. Republicans may have shat on them economically, but at least they offer some hope — they do that by pandering to their gut instincts and religious sensibilities. The liberals can’t offer either.

I’ll tell you what, though. If the socialist parties re-tooled their efforts and spent some more time in rural areas, it’d be difficult at first but they would probably find sympathetic ears for their message. Joe Bageant was pretty adept at pointing this out.

I’ll get more into the liberal vs. the left topic, as promised before, at a later week.

Following the uproar that ensued, Pelosi came up with an equally, if not more, offensive video of black folks who were receiving welfare (that she admits are stereotypes.) Video below:

I’m disgusted that Pelosi thinks it is okay to make caricatures of relatively powerless people and poke fun at them to satiate conservatives and liberals who feel “above” these people. She labors to make a larger point in her after-comment, but she misses the point and falls into the trap of liberal paternalism.

What makes it worse is that she feels she needs to make this “rebuttal,” poking fun at welfare recipients, rather than spending some time on discussing what is actually going on in Mississippi. Or, why didn’t she discuss that folks who have gone to jail do have it worse off in a bad economy, instead of painting the guy as lazy? She just says it’s because of the “entitlement culture” and that’s why the Democrats are losing. It’s not because Democratic policy harms working and poor people – it’s just that poor people feel “entitled.”

There are whole layers of problems with both videos that include copious amounts of racism and classism, done by a rich, politically connected and privileged filmmaker.

I’ll give Pelosi (and Maher) this, though: what she did with these documentaries is definitively show that moderates and liberals are just as prone as conservatives to creating strawfolks,  and only have a tangential understanding of what the problems are or any desire to find out what’s going on.

1 comment
  1. I’m still interested in a fuller treatment of the distinction between left and liberal, but what I see from this post is that part of the problem is a condescending and classist attitude/culture. I have to wonder whether this is so much a part of liberalism rather than urbanism. It seems like cities have often been snobs to the country. While I do very often see this kind of attitude towards people in rural areas from liberals, I’m not sure if this is some inherent ideological issue that distinguishes it from “the left” or just a culture clash, For example, the blogger you quoted said that liberalism is incompatible with the country because it promotes what is seen as an attack on traditional family values. But traditional family values are sexist and homophobic as hell, so how can there be room for that in a “sympathetic leftism”?

    Two other notes: first, the first video doesn’t seem to be loading. Second, an article in the NYT (http://nyti.ms/ydOSR0) about which liberals made a big deal actually did a lot to dispel those condescending attitudes about poor and rural folk voting “against their interests.” The picture it paints isn’t one of stupidity so much as a genuine ideological opposition: they are keenly aware of their dependency, and resent it. Additionally, they simply believe it is immoral for them to benefit from redistribution, and would rather suffer and hopefully make their own way. In the end, stupidity has nothing to do with it, it actually is a matter of values. Specifically, it seems like textbook “false consciousness.”

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