The local Wisconsin Public Radio station recently rebroadcast an interview with Chris Matthews. In it he sketched an interesting profile of a Limbaugh listener. What a DKos reader and contributor can do with that profile is the topic of this diary.
Matthews noted such listeners live and work under several types of real and perceived pressure. To name one, many react fearfully to the way immigration and creeping demographic norms are changing the culture they grew up in.
Paraphrasing, Matthews sketched the Limbaugh listener as a traveling salesman, engaged in difficult and demanding work, prodded and pressured to meet sales quotas, angry about the sales resistance and lack of respect he receives, doubly so in the current economic climate.
Limbaugh's air time coincides with on-the-road time for many such salesmen, who find the show a kind of support group.
Again, paraphrasing Matthews, Rush assures these traveling salesmen, “You're doing everything right. It's the femi-nazis, the affirmative action people, the minorities, who are all getting a free ride. You're carrying the load.”
Keep in mind that Matthews is sketching, not presenting a researched sociological profile. He suggests that Rush functions as a cheerleader for this group, and that they lean on him for support as they slog through their difficult daily grind. I'll add that these listeners may feel little sense of job security, and struggle to build retirement nest eggs. Did I mention the need to save for their children's college educations?
Until recently, I worked at a corporation where part of my job involved pulling customers' vehicles into service bays for maintenance. Quite a few cars were either fleet vehicles, sedans driven by salesmen working for large corporations, or were privately owned SUVs and sedans loaded with boxes of sales brochures. Matthews' sketch struck me as remarkably faithful. As I moved these vehicles into service bays, I was amazed to note how many radios were tuned to Limbaugh's program, or to local imitators.
Rush, it seems, is Willy Loman's therapist (or his cigar-chomping, pill-popping geisha).
These traveling salesmen are feeling trapped. Racing on an career gerbil-wheel bound for nowhere, having little to show for their effort, certainly not as far as wages and buying power are concerned, Rush offers an easy out, a vent for their anger and sense of isolation. Limbaugh's message is well-known: Someone else is to blame.
Rush offers up feminists, liberals and other left-tending people and groups as easy targets, but of course, these are the wrong ones. The plight of these traveling salesmen has much more to do with the political machinations of their own bosses. How do we make them see that their bosses are the real villains?
I meet these traveling salesmen at social gatherings. We connect by talking about sports, cars, raising children, travel, and vacationing in the northern half of the state. If politics is broached, our differences emerge. But this is not always a point at which the conversation stalls.
More than once I have met people who, after engaging me in conversation at successive social gatherings over the span of several months or years, are dumbfounded to learn that I am a Democrat. You might call me a stealth Democrat/Progressive. And I use that less-than-immediately-apparent identity to influence a specific group of political conservatives to broaden their perspective, to change their minds even, at times.
Since social gatherings can have the desirable benefit of building community and nurturing friendships, something I value, I tend to (and yes, there is an element of the calculated in this) exploit these gatherings to begin sharing my worldview. Given what I shared in the last paragraph though, I hardly come across as one of Limbaugh's reviled socialists, or as some pushy, in-your-face liberal.
Here, I suggest, is one method by which Democrats take back the House, retain the Senate and the White House, and begin restoring sanity, utility and balance to a government and an economy rigged to further enrich the already rich: Initiate and sustain dialog with middle class Republicans. They are your neighbors, the relatives of your friends, and you are bound to meet them at social gatherings.
Such gatherings of a social nature are, arguably, more effective venues for influence (as opposed to indoctrination) than gatherings of ALEC drones, or for that matter, gatherings of the Tides Foundation. (I find social gatherings much more interesting, too.) Unless you engage some individual who has no notion of a social contract, and even sociopaths wear a mask of civility when they believe it advantages them, you will find that your worldview, researched with solid data, can, in fact, influence listeners who have limited time to do their own research.
This is the stealth Democrat or Progressive in action. Smile, be witty and mild mannered, but arrive loaded for bear (or perhaps tea-stained elephant would be more apt). Your task is to gently point out the faulty reasoning in supply-side economics, the fact that the economic playing field is not level, the incomplete understanding conservatives have of the responsibilities of government, the myth of the poor freeloader and the welfare queen. Some of my Republican friends still cherish these shadows and endow them with mythic invincibility. But I can also say I am making progress in helping them to slay their imaginary demons and live as adults.
What is happening at these social gatherings? I am soft-selling to these traveling salesmen, selling informed, active, engaged, responsible citizenship, selling one nation, under God if it suits them, with liberty and justice for all, selling government of the people, by the people, for the people, selling unions, reminding them of all the workplace dignity and protections that unions have made commonplace. I'm quoting Madison, Teddy Roosevelt, Alexis de Toqueville, and yes, it does make for a party atmosphere unlike any they may have experienced before. The stakes are high. Our country has been hijacked, and I'm doing what I can to get it back. I treat every acquaintance who expresses a conservative opinion as a swing voter.
Part of the challenge is to take apart the caricatures Limbaugh draws of liberals, feminists and the like. Humanize them, give them a name, a face, tell a story of how they fought an injustice against long odds. When the traveling salesman sees that other hard-working Americans of modest means struggle to survive in this supply-side joke of an economy, struggle to prevail against wage theft, unbalanced taxation, marginalization, the time is then ripe to finger the real villains. And villains they are. Limbaugh never rails against the real perpetrators of this pathetic excuse for an economy. Time to name them and detail their infamous exploits. Call it a more expansive, enlightened and inclusive history lesson.
It can quietly dawn on the traveling salesman that he has more in common with you than with the Koch brothers, Ted Cruz, Jack Welch, Paul Ryan, Jamie Dimon, Limbaugh and a host of other damaged goods.
The counter to ALEC and other top-down, fringe-element policy pushers is, in part, a million small conversations at barbeques, at birthday parties, at book club meetings, yard sales, bake sales, at wedding receptions. These serve, first, as a place to enjoy the company of friends and family, to make new friends, and to learn just how deep and broad the human experience is. These too, are the salons of America, the marketplaces of ideas, an under-utilized resource for solutions to the mess Reagan's handlers and their progeny have made of this nation. Put another way, fight the massive misdirection and misinformation campaigns by resorting to asymmetrical warfare.
Perhaps the obvious needs to be repeated: Democrats and Progressives, our causes are just. They are long-term and sustainable, they are inclusive. That ignorant minority of one-percenters who would make this nation a feudal state can be overwhelmed by the mass of ordinary citizens. The hardened malevolence of the former may be manipulating your relatives, neighbors and friends, but it cannot be everywhere at all times. If the latter express an apathy borne of fear, a learned helplessness, share with them what you have learned about the earlier struggles this nation survived, help them end their shadow boxing and face the real demons. Share with them your quiet fierceness.