Plain speech, true speech?

Linda Grant wrote this article in last Thursday’s Guardian, on why small-town Americans vote Republican, even those who are well-educated like one she spoke to. Those she actually knows perceives “whitebread Republicans” as “like children - someone has to tell them what to do and what to think, they’re incapable of independent ideas”:

I asked a sophisticated and well-travelled Republican why he voted the way he did. He described growing up “dirt poor” in a small town in Northern California where joining the military was your sole ticket out; where the people in his family who depended on welfare stayed where they were and the ones who worked their fingers to the bone managed to make a better life for themselves. For him, joining the army led directly to an education. In fact, it led all the way to Princeton. But how, I asked him, baffled, could someone as intelligent as he is believe that George W Bush was anything but a cretin?

Because, he explained, people in small towns don’t like or trust intellectuals, particularly ones who appear to be sneering at them for their supposed stupidity. They admire a plain-speaking man; it’s what they know and what they are used to.

They always assumed Bush was a regular guy who could keep his thoughts concise.

The problem is that many of these “plain speaking” Republican politicians are not those who have worked themselves rich or to a good education, but actually people born into rich families and educated at many of the same places which produce the “sneering” liberal intellectuals. Thomas Frank’s two most recent books, What’s the Matter with Kansas? and The Wrecking Crew, provide examples of the type, wealthy pro-corporate conservatives who rely on the working-class vote to push policies which benefit only themselves and their friends, and never the working classes whose votes they rely on (also see Joe Bageant in Tuesday’s edition).

Most of them did not have to “work their fingers to the bone” to get where they are, Bush himself being the classic example, and while some do and succeed, very many more do and stay poor. I wonder if Linda Grant bothered to put this point to him, since these politicians’ backgrounds are no secret. I can see the virtue of not wanting to remain dependent on the state, but successful people often forget that their success might be down to good luck as well as hard work (hence we sometimes find that they refuse to leave much or anything to their children, because they want them to work as hard as they had to).

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