I read To Kill a Mockingbird when it was first published back when I was in high school. While I still love the story of the kind and intelligent father and the precocious siblings, I have long rejected the mythology behind the main theme of the book.
You may remember: A noble lawyer defends a black man in the face of the fierce racial hatred from the uneducated masses. He receives some assistance from the town’s better citizens – the judge, the sheriff, some middle class neighbors. Nice story, but IMO not historically accurate.
In the South, as well as the rest of the country, racial hatred was used by the ruling elites to divide the working classes and keep them in their place. There were instances during Reconstruction, the populist movement, the sharecroppers union of the 30s, or as recently as Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign, when it appeared that groups of working class and poor people might unite across ethnic lines. Whenever that happened, those in power used race to divide and conquer, or they simply moved in to crush the movement.
Those powerful interests were very good at making it appear that racism was a lower class phenomenon. But whether it was the captains of industry using race to break strikes, or the politicians race-baiting to win votes, the reality is that that most of the ruling elites looked with disdain at all working and poor people, and so it is today.
There is a myth that the Republican base consists of Joe and Jane Sixpacks. The reality is the upper middle and upper classes form the base of McCain’s support. My son lives in Grand Rapids in conservative western Michigan. In the working class areas of the city, Obama signs dominate. Drive through upscale neighborhoods and there are more McCain signs. Coincidence? Joe Sixpack went for Kerry in 2004. His Yuppie neighbors voted for Bush.
There is this year a palpable fear of Obama by the well-to-do. It certainly isn’t because of his centrist policies. I have to believe it is a mixture of race and class. One can see it in the contempt shown to Obama by McCain. Both McCain and his wife were born into privilege. Obama had humble beginnings.
I have seen this fear and contempt myself. My wife and I were at a friend’s house (He is an Obama supporter, by the way) with a group of bicyclists. Many were quite wealthy with multiple homes. Emails were exchanged to facilitate information about future tours. A few days later we received an email that was sent to all in the group. It was a reprint of an article by a fascist apologist, Gerald Warner, excoriating Joe Biden and his pro-life stance. Feeling a need to reply, but not wanting to inflame the situation, I simply attached an ad I saw on DK comparing McCain’s assets to those of Obama. "Who is the elitist? We Report. You Decide." That’s all I wrote. It was lighthearted. Certainly not incendiary. I hit "Reply to all".
I received not one but three replies, filled with rage, accusing me of fomenting class hatred, lamenting the suffering they would have to bear as Obama raised their taxes, demanding that I remove them from my mailing list. Keep in mind I was simply responding to a message sent to me.
It was depth of the anger that surprised me; and their sense of entitlement. I saw it again displayed in the McCain rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Waukesha is not a poor town. Most of those folks in attendance were not from the working class. They were more affluent and it appeared that they could not believe that an uppity black man could actually become president.
I live in a poor rural town filled with what some on this sight condescendingly refer to as rednecks and trailer trash. Though it is a Republican area, there are few McCain signs. I have worn my Obama pin, displayed my Obama yard signs and car decals without any negative reaction. Certainly not the visceral hatred that I experienced from my friend’s affluent acquaintances, and certainly not like the hatred displayed in Waukesha.
Despite the fact that the working classes voted for Kerry, he lost because too many stayed home. IMO, Obama is feared because his campaign may actually inspire a large number of these folks to vote. He hasn’t yet created the cross-cultural class awareness of RFK’s campaign. If he manages to do so, then the plutocrats probably should be alarmed. Their plunder of this country, driven by unbridled greed and avarice, may be coming to an end.
Update: Thanks for all the comments. My poor keyboarding skills have limited my ability to reply to all, but I appreciate the feedback.
For what it's worth, here is a link to the 2004 election results with demographic breakdowns including income.