06/20/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Class Insults Unite: "Wearing A Flag Pin And Showing His Crack"

Come, come, now, fellow Democrats -- don't write off someone who is trying to help Obama win the presidency as (of all things) -- a Republican. Some of the comments on my last post eloquently demonstrate the kind of insults that so deeply offend working class voters:

"If I were Obama I'd spend the first debate chowing down on iceberg lettuce with 1000 island dressing. He'll pick up at least a million votes on that one."

"...and wearing a flag pin and wearing some pants that show his crack! "

"Showing his crack! Is this to get the unionized plumbers demographic! LOL!!!"

This kind of talk loses elections. Doesn't it strike you as disrespectful? Class migrants -- people born working class, who enter professional jobs -- often note with surprise that class insults seem to be acceptable in polite company. Some quotes:

"It is striking to me and many other working class academics that faculty who would never utter a racial slur will casually refer to 'trailer trash' or 'white trash.'"

"When I began to teach in the Northeast, I discovered to my surprise that many people -- even some enlightened academics who would staunchly fight the stereotyping of other minorities or 'fringe' cultures in American society -- pretty much accepted the stereotype of the southern redneck as racist, sexist, alcoholic, ignorant, and lazy ... redneck jokes may be the last acceptable ethnic slurs on "polite" society."

"[W]here I live and work, white Southern working-class culture is known only as a caricature."

"[M]any of the professors resented having to teach us [working class college kids]. One of them once described in class the mission of the school as 'teaching the first generation of immigrant children how to eat with a knife and fork.' We knew we were being insulted, but in order to get as far as college we had learned that school was the one place in our experience where we couldn't get in somebody's face, specifically the teacher's. So we took it. A lot of my friends who did not make it to college were those who would not stand for that kind of treatment; they insulted back ..."

All this is crucial context for understanding why the New Deal Coalition died. It's no mystery who left: the white working class. The percentage of white working class voters who identify as Democrats fell from 60% in the mid-1970s to 40% before leveling off in the early 1990s, so that now working class whites are as likely to vote Republican as Democrat. Painters, furniture movers, servers, and sewer repairmen were more likely than managers and professionals to report that they were going to vote for George W. Bush. Bush won among white working class men by landslides: he got roughly two-thirds of their votes in 2000 and again in 2004.

We can deride these voters as uneducated rednecks who like 1000 island dressing, (was this person linking class status with food, or am I missing something?) or we can ask a few questions about how the socially conscious elite is seen by working class voters. Another blog comment:

"There IS a class divide when it comes to food, and some of it is habit and some of it is economic....And class has as much to do with education and propensities as it does with net worth. (Hence, Obama's upbringing was decidedly upper middle class.) I think it is a grave mistake for the democratic party to lose the working class over a latte, but I haven't seen the democratic party being a "real" friend to struggling Americans in my voting lifetime. I don't think the working class has abandoned the Democratic party because they haven't been sufficiently pandered to; I think they've abandoned it because their real economic issues haven't been addressed: opportunity, fairness, and JOBS, JOBS, JOBS. So they vote Republican because the Republicans at least speak to their social values which tend toward the conservative. (Guns, Gays, God.)"

Obama's doing a great job keeping the focus on the economy. Let's not blow it on the cultural front. No more cracks about "plumber's" butt, okay? It's time to recognize this as a class insult, and retire it along with the N word. Both are unworthy of people committed to social justice. Or of people who want to win this election.

(References: Zweig, 2004, p. 166); Tokarczyk & Fay, 1993, p. 293; Tokarczyk & Fay, 1993, p. 3; Dews & Law, 1995, p. 85; Kenworthy et al, 2007; Teixeira & Rogers, 2000, pp. 32-33, 85; Hochschild, 2004; Teixeira & Rogers, 2000, p. 117; Teixeira Blog)