« Founding fathers | Main | On a more cheerful note »

The human comedy

By Michael J. Smith on Wednesday May 14, 2008 06:48 PM

Since the primary campaign is not really about anything but personalities, one might as well find a way to enjoy it.

My own solution to the brain-corroding tedium of the process is this: now that Hillary is starting to look like she's history, I'm liking her better. (Of course, I like history in general, which makes it easier.)

This is on a purely personal level, you understand. She's such a junkyard dog. The only face she has is her game face. And she'd keep that campaign smile on it if she were being hanged, drawn, and quartered, right through the sordid, bloody process, to the grisly, filthy end.

On a purely personal level, she has in abundance the virtue of fortitude. One has to admire virtue -- on a purely personal level -- wherever one finds it.

* * *

I watched her (rather lengthy) victory speech in West Virginia -- a state Barack Obama probably wrote off when he was about 12 years old.

Transcript here for those who'd rather read than listen.

An interesting performance. Not as interesting or unusual as Barack's original, remarkable "race" speech -- the one he made before he lost his nerve and decided he didn't really know Jeremiah Wright after all. But Hillary, after all, is a bit of an earnest plodder, and doesn't have the Pindaric athlete's ease and composure that the gods gave Barack. Considering how hard she has to work, she did pretty well.

On a purely personal level. Of course.

Hillary's handlers had carefully composed her human background, although the one moderately cute young gay guy, for some strange reason, kept waving a bowling pin around. This was a bit distracting. Where is the Secret Service when you need them? The one black guy looked a little bit like will.i.am, but maybe not quite enough.

Poor Hillary, though. In spite of her (incredibly game) game face and her sedulously competent delivery -- if she were a piano student, she would practice her scales for three or four hours a day, with a metronome -- her speech was awfully dull. Not only dull but surprisingly tone-deaf: she boasted about having extracted an absentee ballot from a dying woman, and a contribution from a child who had to sell his bike to raise the money. It sounded like Fagin's mother reading her resume.

One thing struck me with unusual force: her relentless references to the "middle class." Now West Virginia is not a very middle-class place by any reasonable statistician's standard. West Virginia is, in fact, as my Appalachian grandmother used to say, "as poor as Job's turkey."

So what, one wonders, does this "middle class" trope mean to people? Perhaps we need to have a focus group, and approach the matter by asking who's not in the middle class. My guess is that people would get around sooner or later to mentioning Bill Gates and other very, very wealthy folk; but that the first, most spontaneous exclusions would operate downward.

A structuralist, or a Ramist, would say that the primary distinction encoded in this "middle class" category is a distinction between those who have something -- however exiguous, and tenuous -- and those who have less. It implicitly associates, on the good side of this first-order fence, those who have, really, very little, with those who have -- really -- quite a lot.

Of course Hillary is not unique in her use of this kind of discourse. It is, in fact, universal in American politics. The American English phrase for "ordinary people" is "middle class" -- and so of course ordinary people always must and will and do have somebody, some logically entailed lower class, to look down on, with contempt and moral condemnation and fear.

Hillary's good fortune in West Virginia is that, unlike much of the South, there aren't many black people there. So in West Virginia, the imagined social subbasement evoked by your sense of being "middle class" -- even if you live in a trailer -- tends to be rather dark-skinned.

Of course, the social subbasement Obama's fans imagine is a bit different. It is, in fact, peopled by pudgy, dough-faced, provincial, fried-food white folks in places like... West Virginia.

One of the things I like about Hillary is that even though she herself is as much of a merit-class baby as Barack -- though not as gifted by Nature -- she's been forced by circumstances to go begging at all those trailer doors, to collect the dying old ladies' ballots and the poor kid's bicycle blood money, and by God she's done it. She has no shame. The trailer "middle class" have become her people -- and she loves them like T. Rex loves Stegosaurus.

Comments (9)

Nice post.

Middle classness is a weird beast indeed. Zizek refers to it as the "non class" the denier that class exists.

Middle classness tends to be defined as a quartile or more from the mean, economically speaking. But even millionaires and those making under $20,000 tend to consider themselves middle class.

I tend to see class in Marxists terms; you got this working class whose wealth comes from their labor, and this capitalist class whose wealth comes from interest. The middle class then is this hybrid class who identifies with both to a certain extent.

And yes, while not from the start, as of late, I have been more and more impressed by Hillary's testicular fortitude. I guess there is a part of me that believes her road trips into the coal mines would have a lasting affect.

There is a poll out that says 30% of Dems want her to run as an Independent. I think a spike right through the heart of the duopoly might be fun to watch.


"She has no shame"

i've come to like her too
like the second terminator oonce hurled
into the acid vat

roaring in a noble angry agony
while recaping her career
morphing as she roars into her various

she's a casualty of her bitter daddy's
dreams of building a personal revenge machine
and its purely malignant implant
his pissed on hell fire
begat her designing ambition

she's towers over
that bus station anti christ
her grasping clawing
frightful ambition yoked her to
and kept her yoked to for all these years

i'm might suggest
its her man bill
that is true -ly
he who heth not shame

she like dearest dick by a ferocious act
of will swallows shame whole
not like a crock
might swallow a porcupine
but full of ouching and gulps
and gasps hidden behind the smile door

and fortitude is exactly the word
for her battle against the big fear in her

out right failure

methodist hell

she asks for the votes
of just those folks
her dad and ma desperately
never wanted to be associated with

but in the end
with all her expedient virtues
st hill kills shame
as McBeth kills sleep
and in killing shame
kills her "ear " for decency
her true solidarity with plain white folks
even if not her human ness
her humanity


"lay on barrack.."
she cries
"i'm in this fighting
to the end "

no mad scenes
no crumbling in horror
no lady macbeth she


middle class dubb
is as father smiff sez
a 2 cut algorithm

it has no fixed absolute scale markings

its purely relative

u start from where you're at
and make a cut below u
if pressed u add a cut above u

its clearly as much
(in the end more )
about escaping the lower cut
as dreaming of one day making it
into the upper cut


the denial part
comes in
when some one feels
a cut out of them
being imposed by others
or by self admission

calling themselves
working class is verboten pride wise

calling themselves
hard working middle class plain folks
thats okay

but working class

that's too much like a social estate
like some condemnation
some hex
some calicification
into "stations "

the less the reality of upward mobility
the more the reality of downward mobility
the greater the frenzy
the broader the obfuscation must be

Nicholas Hart:

I would LOVE to see Hillary run as an independent. That might finally cause the "Democratic" party to implode.


a running mate
tug of war with
the air pirate

for the hand of
joe lieeeeeberman

middle class:
Cold War oxymoron
"managed care"
"Senator Clinton"

Post a comment

Note also that comments with three or more links may be held for "moderation" -- a strange term to apply to the ghost in this blog's machine. Seems to be a hard-coded limitation of the blog software, unfortunately.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on Wednesday May 14, 2008 06:48 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Founding fathers.

The next post in this blog is On a more cheerful note.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Creative Commons License

This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered by
Movable Type 3.31