It’s not that I buy wholesale the concept the Democrats are trying to sell – that the Dems are for the good guys, the regular working stiff type guys and gals, and the GOP is for ‘Dose’: the rich, the super-rich and the ‘don’t ask how much, you can’t count that high’ sort. Not entirely I don’t. But ever since I heard the clip of W at a squillion-dollar-a-plate fundraiser telling his rich and rapt audience “Some people call you the elite – I call you my base” I’ve had a sinking suspicion that the rhetoric isn’t just spot on, but that I truly can’t count that high.
It’s simply an economic fact: for those of us who think of money because we have to, listening to and obeying our economic superiors, who truly never have to listen back, is the way of the world. You’re silenced before you even attempt to speak, because as like attracts like, power only really ever listens to power – and bigger power at that. And way down south where the cotton blooms and blows, the Republicans have made a religion out of the notion – and they’ve pulled off the biggest coup of all: they’ve managed to attract middle class and even poor voters who presumably buy into their vision - of trickle down economics, and fighting for oil disguised as 'fighting for freedom'.
There have always been folks who believe that the rigidly observed class system that has existed in Britain– and in many ways still does – works because the lower classes themselves want it. The ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ viewpoint if you will – Hudson and Rose and Mr. and Mrs. Bellamy all maintaining a status quo that suited them for its predictability, its streamlining of life and habit; knowing your place – not as a put down, but as a comfort.
In the United States there’s a class system too, but marching in tandem with to-the-manor-born Vanderbilts and Astors is the highest class of all: the rich and powerful. The difference is that in Britain the upper classes may have looked down upon their working poor, but respected their place in the chain; in North America the attitude of the rich and powerful feels more like contempt – the middle and lower classes useful as dependable taxpayers and not incidentally, as useful cannon fodder.
So in the modern Americanized version, ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ becomes ‘The Outsiders’. John Kerry is Darryl, John Edwards is Ponyboy; just a couple of millionaire greasers, fighting the billionaire Soc incumbents, and playing out the time-honoured class-based scenario that could still go either way.
But I have hope – apparently, it’s on the way. Or at least it is according to the Democrat VP in waiting, the glowing, scintillating, coruscating John Edwards who spoke so eloquently last night.
(Pity really how those primaries work out isn’t it? In a nation that puts charisma above accomplishment, and rhetoric above reality, the fact that John Kerry won the nomination is still a bit of a mystery; character judgment and ability aside, he may not have the spark needed to fire up this crucial campaign at this dangerous time. My dream ticket: Joe Biden for Prez, John Edwards for VP.)
And Edwards did scintillate and coruscate last night, pulling out all the stops, then laying down the law in the ‘2 Americas’ speech that raised the roof at the Fleet Centre. Maybe it’s enough.
He began with: “It doesn’t have to be that way”, then finished off the night with “Hope is on the way!” I’m a little sensitive myself to hyperbole and obvious sound-bitery, the ‘born in a hole in the middle of a highway', po' folksing that is all but ubiquitous in the modern American campaign, but in an election it’s all about the obvious, and the devil with the subtle, the complex and compromise.
But now I find (to my everlasting dismay) that as I get older I’m both more frightened and more sentimental, so when John Edwards praised his mill worker dad and hard working mom – and bless them, they looked like they’d put in those years - and evoked the image of a modern working class mother, sitting at her kitchen table (I see it as one of those retro style chrome and plastic numbers, with a sticky bottle of ketchup – Heinz natch – and a diner-inspired napkin dispenser) going over the bills she can’t afford to pay, and thinking of her husband on a second tour of duty in Iraq, a tear came to my eye. It did. Really.
And when he outlined a bunch of other similar scenarios – abandoned veterans, seniors unable to afford health care, the working poor – reeling them off in 4/4 time, with a cadence that spoke of long experience in church basements and town hall covered-dish get togethers, I was practically snapping my fingers in time to the rhythm.
What if, I thought, he and Kerry really could roll back tax breaks for the rich and tax cuts to companies profiting through outsourcing? Properly take care of veterans because “they’ve taken care of us”? Reward work, not wealth… help people not just get by, but “get ahead”?
What if eh?
All right – so I bought it. The swamp, the farm and the kitchen sink. But I want to believe – I want to feel safe again, and I want to see the back of the Bushes, as they load up their platinum sided, diamond studded U-Haul with all their contempt and all their entitlement, and haul it out of the White House.
I believe in fairies, I believe in magic – and I believe in hope. I really do believe in John Edwards.
I just hope he’s enough.