October 24, 2003


Let Them Eat War: Why do the very Americans who have been hurt the most by George W. Bush's policies still support his presidency? (Arlie Hochschild, October 8, 2003, Mother Jones)

One possibility is that the Nascar Dad is not well informed; that indeed, like the rest of us, he's been duped. For example, he may have fallen for the Karl Rove-inspired bandwagon effect. "Bush is unbeatable," he hears, or "Bush has a $200,000,000 re-election fund. Get with the winner." It makes you a winner too, he feels. This might account for some blue-collar Bush support, but it doesn't explain why the Nascar Dad would be more likely to be taken in by the bandwagon effect than the professional or managerial dad. Anyway, most blue-collar men would seem to be no less likely than anyone else to vote their conscience, regardless of whom they think will win, and that's not even counting those who root for the underdog as a matter of principle.

But another kind of manipulation could be going on. A certain amount of crucial information has gone missing in the Bush years. As has recently become clear, information that would be of great interest to the Nascar Dad has been withheld. With jobs disappearing at a staggering rate, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ended its Mass Layoff Tracking Study on Christmas Eve of 2002, thanks to this administration. And although Congressional Democrats managed to get funding for the study restored in February of 2003, the loss of 614,167 jobs in those two months was unannounced.

Conveying the truth in a misleading manner is, of course, another way of manipulating people. As the linguist George Lakoff astutely observes, the term "tax relief" slyly invites us to imagine taxes as an affliction and those who propose them as villains. If we add in such distortions to the suppression of vital information, the Nascar Dad who listens to Rush Limbaugh on the commute home, turns on Fox News at dinner, and is too tired after working overtime to catch more than the headlines is perhaps a man being exposed to only one side of the political story.

But then Nascar Dad could always turn the radio dial. He could do a Google search on job loss on his kid's computer. He could talk to his union buddies -- if he's one of the 12% who are still unionized -- or to his slightly more liberal wife. It could be he knows perfectly well that he's being lied to, but believes people are usually being lied to, and that Bush is, in this respect, still the better of two evils. But how could that be?

Maybe it's because Bush fits an underlying recipe for the kind of confident, authoritative father figure such dads believe should run the ship of state as they believe a man should run a family. Republican rhetoric may appeal to the blue-collar man, Lakoff suggests, because we tend to match our view of good politics with our image of a good family. The appeal of any political leader, he believes, lies in the way he matches our images of the father in the ideal family. There are two main pictures of such an ideal American family, Lakoff argues. According to a "strict father family" model, dad should provide for the family, control mom, and use discipline to teach his children how to survive in a competitive and hostile world. Those who advocate the strict father model, Lakoff reasons, favor a "strict father" kind of government. If an administration fits this model, it supports the family (by maximizing overall wealth). It protects the family from harm (by building up the military). It raises the children to be self-reliant and obedient (by fostering citizens who ask for little and speak when spoken to). The match-up here is, of course, to Bush Republicans.

Then there is the "nurturing parent family" model in which parents don't simply control their children but encourage their development. The government equivalent would be offering services to the citizenry, funding education, health, and welfare, and emphasizing diplomacy on a global stage.) The core values here are empathy and responsibility, not control and discipline and the match up is to the pro-public sector Dean/Kucinich Democrats. Studies have shown that blue-collar ideals are closer to the strict father than to the nurturing parent model. But that's been true for a very long time, while the blue-collar vote sometimes goes left as in the 1930s, and sometimes goes right as it's doing now. So we can't simply pin the pro-Bush Nascar Dad vote on a sudden change in blue-collar family ideals.

Maybe, however, something deeper is going on, which has so far permitted Bush's flag-waving and cowboy-boot-strutting to trump issues of job security, wages, safety, and health -- and even, in the case of Bush's threats of further war -- life itself. In an essay, "The White Man Unburdened," in a recent New York Review of Books, Norman Mailer recently argued that the war in Iraq returned to white males a lost sense of mastery, offering them a feeling of revenge for imagined wrongs, and a sense of psychic rejuvenation." In the last thirty years, white men have taken a drubbing, he notes, especially the three quarters of them who lack college degrees. Between 1979 and 1999, for example, real wages for male high-school graduates dropped 24%. In addition, Mailer notes, white working class men have lost white champs in football, basketball and boxing. (A lot of white men cheer black athletes, of course, whomever they vote for.) But the war in Iraq, Mailer notes, gave white men white heroes. By climbing into his jumpsuit, stepping out of an S-3B Viking jet onto the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, Bush posed as -- one could say impersonated -- such a hero.

There's nothing on Earth more painful than the Left trying to figure out how men think. At least medieval cartographers, when they reached the limits of the world they knew, usually had the sense to put something like "Here Be Dragons", an admission they knew not what lurked beyond. The only thing the Democrats share with NASCAR is, as Senator Zell Miller says, they're always turning left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 24, 2003 6:33 PM

Mr. Judd;

Isn't it kind of funny that the Left, who decry the "profit obsession" of the right, believe that the only reasonable motivation for blue collar workers is how much cash they can extract from the government? Who's really the money obsessed here? (Mickey Kaus wrote a good book on this subject, The End of Equality which is all about how liberals view equality purely in monetary terms).

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at October 24, 2003 7:00 PM

Well, my first thought was "because they are proud Americans", but then I don't get out much.

Posted by: Peter B at October 24, 2003 7:17 PM

That it takes a Berkeley Ivory Tower guy like Lakoff to explain to this writer what the "NASCAR Dad" is thinking speaks volumes. Again, the left is in denial about its own elitism.

Posted by: AC at October 24, 2003 7:30 PM

That it takes a Berkeley Ivory Tower guy like Lakoff to explain to this writer what the "NASCAR Dad" is thinking speaks volumes. Again, the left is in denial about its own elitism.

Posted by: AC at October 24, 2003 7:31 PM

This is by far the stupidest stretch of words I have read this year.

Why, oh why, did you feel compelled to quote it at such agonizing length?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 24, 2003 8:11 PM

Mr. Guinn:

Probably because it was funnier than anything thats been on Comedy Central lately.

Posted by: Buttercup at October 24, 2003 9:14 PM

Lenin meets Freud, in a Mel Brooks parody of same. The astonishing thing is that this point-of-view has leaked into the Democratic primary.

Fred Jacobsen
San Francisco

Posted by: F.A. Jacobsen at October 25, 2003 12:48 AM

Going to Norman Mailer to figure out NASCAR dads? Norm's been humpin' the "White guys are envious of blacks" theory for a mere 46 years now, since he published "The White Negro" back in 1957. While his theory at that time may have had some pertinance in the wake of the Little Rock desegragation showdown and the congressional battle over the civil rights bill (though I think it's mostly just Mailer revealing his own mindset), reworking out that old warhorse tome to explain American voters in the post-9/11 world is merely Mailer (and Hoshchild's) way of saying the political success of GWB is based on a racist mindset among dumb redneck white males that hasn't changed since Eisenhower was president.

Not a real good way to win over converts to your viewpoint, I would think. But since this essay comes from Mother Jones, Hoshchild is mostly preaching to the non-sectarian chior.

Posted by: John at October 25, 2003 1:32 AM

This has got to be one of the most Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass articles I have ever read. AND ignorant, as they say here in Nascar country.

The disconnect between theory and reality is seriously scary.

Posted by: Baillie at October 25, 2003 1:43 AM

If you think that this is stupid, tune in Sunday and watch the magnificent nine leap out of that little bitty car and start performing after Terry blows his whistle.

It seems that the "death with dignity" option is going to be completely rejected by the Democrat party. I think that Mencken's dictum that "nobodys ever gone broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people" is about to be disproven.

Posted by: RDB at October 25, 2003 2:06 AM

Norman Mailer's theory applied even more strongly in '92, since we weren't losing 5 GI's a week, yet we still threw out the Great White Father.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 25, 2003 4:18 AM

To elect the silly drunken white uncle?

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 25, 2003 9:38 AM

Of course those stupid NASCAR guys are not informed, they aren't reading Mother Jones magazine.

This article may as well be about a rare species of field mice in Boliva that poop in the shape of a triangle. Leave it to that pulse of America, Mother Jones.

Posted by: pchuck at October 25, 2003 9:55 AM


You managed to slam both the article and Comedy Central at the same time--brilliant.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 25, 2003 9:58 PM


I meant that literally, not in the least ironically.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 25, 2003 9:59 PM

The left missed the boat by assuming that
at least 50% of "NASCAR DAD's" aren't self-employed tradesman who definitely benefit from
the gutting of the regulatory welfare state.

What's bad for Unions, bad for enviro-nuts and
bad for welfare recipients is probably QUITE
GOOD for "NASCAR DAD's" (on the whole).

The industrial age is dead and along with the
left's beloved proletariat. The new man has
arrived and he votes Republican.

Posted by: J.H. at October 27, 2003 9:29 AM

ignorant white trash = nascar dad
well dang, i ain't done been to no university, so dem left wing librals ain't done screwed up my thinkin with theer distorting views. i'll be voting myself into poverty cuz dem heathen iraqis woulda dropped fifty tons a napalm all over savannah. i know with dubya in office he ain't goona let that happen. plus, i don't need no collective bargnin rights. i don't need no minimum wage. and when i get cancer from workin in the garage for fifty years and smoking a carton of winstons a week, i know george dubya cares about men like me much more than them massachussettes librals.

Posted by: dan at April 25, 2004 10:28 PM