November 13, 2004


What’s the matter with West Virginia? (Serge Halimi, Le Monde Diplomatique, October, 2004)

This Democratic stronghold - it has a Democratic governor, four out of its five members of Congress are Democrats, along with 70% of local representatives and two-thirds of the adult population who are registered to vote - nevertheless did the unthinkable at the last presidential election (2000) and came out in favour of George Bush (2). The history of the United States would have been very different if West Virginia had not broken with tradition last time.

"How could anyone who has ever worked for someone else vote Republican, vote against their own interests?" asks Thomas Frank, the author of an unexpected best-seller (3) that explains this derangement particularly well. Whether or not voters have gone crazy, the Republicans are now in control, thanks in part to support from the working-class vote, plus executive, legislative and judiciary power nationwide as well as most of the governorships. Before John Kerry starts taking advice from President Bill Clinton he should recall that it was Clinton’s mix of free market economics with pseudo-progressive social measures that made the Democrats into a minority party.[...]

Europeans, intellectuals and artists may argue all night about exaggerated threats, torture at Abu Ghraib prison and the looting of art treasures. But this carries no weight with conservative working- class people in the US. The Republicans are past-masters of presenting themselves as victims of the liberal elite, a horde of quibbling lawyers, haughty academics, depraved journalists and know-it-all actors. And at times they are quite right. There is no doubt that most intellectuals and "experts" are out of touch with ordinary life and are hopelessly self-centred. They laugh at popular tradition and all the hicks in remote places in the back country who still support Bush. But Fox News and the Republicans thrive on the bitterness their divisive attitude creates.

It is clear from what we saw in the Appalachians that the populism of the US right no longer feeds mainly on racism (West Virginia came out against slavery during the civil war) or on xenophobia. On the contrary it draws on resentment fuelled by the upper classes’ undisguised contempt for those not in the know. This particular kind of populism almost exclusively targets the cultural elite; it does not target business. This con trick is only possible because the smugness of those in the know is even more insufferable than the insolence of the rich.

Is this what Stalin was getting at when he paused his slaughters of the peasants in order to lop off some elitist heads for "cosmopolitanism"?

Posted by Peter Burnet at November 13, 2004 7:23 AM


Does a fish know that it swims in water?

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at November 13, 2004 8:24 AM

Actually, in this case it's more like guillotining the Paris Commune and local citizens at the same time, instead of after, Louie XVI and Marie Antoinette were sent to the chopping block. The author hates Bush and his allies because of what they've done to humiliate France, hates the people who voted to re-elect them and hates those who tried to defeat GWB, because they're miserable failures.

Posted by: John at November 13, 2004 8:57 AM

When someone writing for Le Monde Diplomatique complains about someone else's insufferable smugness and insolence, that's really something.

Posted by: Bart at November 13, 2004 11:19 AM

if Democratic economic policies worked, WV would be the richest state in the Union.

Posted by: cornetofhorse at November 14, 2004 4:42 PM

No nation or state/province is going to be fabulously wealthy if they depend on commodity mineral extraction or agriculture for their income.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at November 15, 2004 7:08 AM