Sunday, April 29, 2012

When the Pandering of the One Per Cent Is Insulting

Bill Maher had occasion to interview Charles Murray this week. Murray, as you know, is the Libertarian social commentator-author-cum-political pundit, whose works include Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980 (which argued, quite simply, that social welfare programs did more harm than good to the people they were intended to help, and, thus, created the notion of a permanently lazy underclass, dependent upon the government for survival); The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (which, controversially, argued that some races were more intelligent than others); and the latest Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010, which concentrates on the demographic of the white working class.

In the book, Murray divides society into two halves: the socially affluent, better educated and wealthier Belmont and the economically deprived Fishtown, otherwise known as the Boondocks or the other side of the tracks.

Maher's interview with Murray is a non-entity. The two men basically circumvent whatever points they are trying to make, and I got the impression that Maher actually wanted to agree with Murray about some things, but since Murray's abhorrent views are generally a bete noire to the sort of fashionable liberal Maher pretends to be, any agreement was not the done thing.

Basically, now that more and more poor white people (many ex-inhabitants of the fabled Middle Class) are depending upon welfare benefits, Murrays book is just a white version of Losing Ground, which dealt with the  so-called problems welfare programs engendered for people of colour who took advantage to the point of depending on them.

For this, as with most everything else, Murray points his finger at and blames everything on ... the Sixties.

You can watch the verbal sparring in these two clips - the interview encompasses the second half of the first clip and the first half of the second:-

The part which interests me is the bit where Maher asks Murray to explain the social differences between the affluent Belmont and, as Maher puts it, "my people, Fishtown." He then goes on at length to explain that he was raised in a town which, prominently, had a Belmont and a Fishtown section, and that he was from the Fishtown end of the stick.

Maybe that's true for Maher, but I've actually lived on the edge of the sort of Fishtown Murray means. I've walked through it. I've attended school with some of its inhabitants and taught many of their children.

Maher comes from River Vale, New Jersey, a bedroom town in affluent and mostly white northern New Jersey. Maher's father was a news editor at the local NBC-affiliated radio station, a white-collar job. So maybe the people who lived on the Belmont end of River Vale were the corporate executive types and maybe the Fishtowners comprised the middle-management sorts embodied by Maher Sr.

The fact is that Maher was able to attend an Ivy League university, during the Seventies when the great middle-and working-class exodus began to institutions of higher learning; but Maher wasn't one of the rest of us, who were able to attend, thanks to the social welfare legislation enacted by Lyndon Johnson, which Murray abhors. Maher wasn't a scholarship boy at Cornell.

Daddy paid.

As Paul Begala points out later in the program, it's plausible that tuition at Cornell in the 1970s was relatively inexpensive compared to its humongous costs today, but the fact remains that it was a privately-endowed university and cost considerably more than Begala's state-funded University of Texas or even my alma mater, the University of Virginia (which, thanks to Bob McDonnell, is now more privately-endowed than state-funded).

Truth is, Bill was always destined to live in Belmont, otherwise known as Brentwood in Los Angeles.

The Fishtowners, white and black, were those poor souls, presented as normal parts of their demographic, shown in Alexandra Pelosi's patronising film shorts shown several weeks ago on the program - and they are people whom Bill Maher would cross the street to avoid in real life, much less real time.

It's insulting when someone who has no concept of working class life seeks to identify himself with such people, because mostly, this is done to curry popularity and favour. Bill is quick to identify Willard pandering to the (white) masses and now trying to curry favour with the youth vote.

Bill should look in the mirror.

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