While visiting central Florida last month, an acquaintance told me that all of her Gainesville co-workers are fans of Rush Limbaugh's radio punditry. On the highways around the small city, I saw countless pro-life billboards and a good number of "NObama" bumper stickers on passing pickup trucks. Although the city's populace supported Obama in the 2008 presidential election (as did the state), it was very clear that the city represents a blue dot in a red region.
Contemplating this red state mentality, I recalled Thomas Frank's "Lie Down for America," an excellent, if depressing article published in the April 2004 issue of Harper's Magazine. Frank dissected, in his words, "how the Republican Party sows ruin on the Great Plains."
"Whereas earlier forms of conservatism emphasized fiscal sobriety, the backlash mobilizes voters with explosive social issues - summoning public outrage over everything from busing to un-Christian art - which it then marries to pro-business economic policies. Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends.The same Wall Street-Main Street dichotomy was trotted out by campaigning Republicans four years later, in 2008, to cast the GOP as the party of the people. But did the tactic really work? After all, Obama won the 2008 election. Aren't rural and Middle America coming around, realizing that the Republican party doesn't have their best interests in mind, even in those cases where the social issues of the Right more closely align with their values?
[...] 'Rural America is pissed,' a small-town Pennsylvania man told a reporter from Newsweek. Explaining why he and his neighbors voted for George Bush, he said: 'These people are tired of moral decay. They're tired of everything being wonderful on Wall Street and terrible on Main Street.'"
I hope so, but I wouldn't bet on it. Middle America will jab an angry finger at someone, and faithful Rush can't be the enemy. Our country is already waging a war against Islam, so we know that the Muslims are "against us," but they're not pulling America's economic strings. And, as a general rule, black folks don't have too much power, Obama not withstanding. But, wait a second...aren't there a lot of socialist Jews whispering in Obama's ear? Hell, isn't he related to a rabbi!?
The July 2009 issue of Harper's includes two disturbing poll results.
Chance that an American thinks 'the Jews' were moderately or very much to blame for the financial crisis: 1 in 4This is a shocking statistic! I wonder what percentage of Americans believe that "the Jews" are no more culpable than any other ethnic or religious group?
Chance he or she thinks they were 'a little' to blame: 1 in 7
Oh, but that's a silly question! After all, "the Jews" are the denizens of Wall Street, and Main Street folk like Dubya and Rush don't like that sinful, unAmerican place. It should be clear to me that the current recession - when should we start calling it a depression? - is not the result of the unsustainable, myopic economic policies of the last sixty years (amped up by Ronald Reagan, but embraced by both Democrat and Republican administrations). It's instead the vast Zionist conspiracy! The socialist Jews have teamed up with the capitalist Jews to forge an unholy alliance, and they're running the global economy into the ground!
Would that I could laugh off such frightening ignorance. Unfortunately, the bigotry is not evidenced only on the Right. In fact, the same study cited in Harper's showed that the registered Democrat respondents were 12% more likely than responding Republicans to blame "the Jews" at moderate or higher levels. There is a time-tested, inverse relationship between economic performance and anti-Semitism, and this correlation isn't affected, evidently, by political affiliation.
The New York Times reports today that "U.S. Job Losses Rise and Unemployment Reaches 9.5%."
"The American economy lost 467,000 jobs in June  and the unemployment rate edged up to 9.5 percent in a sobering indication that the most painful downturn since the Great Depression has yet to release its hold."Things are going to get a lot worse for Middle America. Finger pointing does none of us any good (and certainly not the tiny Jewish minority in the United States).
Still, I remain optimistic. As I wrote in January,
"Call it Obamatism, call it naive idealism, call it what you will...but it's time to participate, to put aside our generation's infantilism and get to Aristotle's happy work. [...] We will pass through our challenging stage of human social development but, fraught as it is, the need for an active and immediate commitment to bettering our world's future is great."Jews call that tikkun olam, repairing the world. Get to it, people!
Photo credit: Hungry Hyaena, 2009