Don't Drink the Tea. Think With the WE.
Mar
2012
6

Rick Santorum, David Brooks and Misunderstanding Class



Yale lecturer John Stoehr has published an adept piece on Al-Jazeera this morning titled, Rick Santorum is not from the working class.

In the piece, Stoehr first traces the misconception of Santorum’s class standing to David Brooks whose ability to understand class Stoehr unequivocally admonishes:

Unlike other leftist writers, I don’t think David Brooks is a moron. I just think he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to class. He’s in good company; most media people don’t and that’s to be expected. It’s been a long time since American journalism completed its transformation from a gritty, inky, smokey and seedy avocation to a credentialed, highly-trained and highly compensated profession. It used to be a job for hacks scrambling for scratch. Now it’s the preserve of the college-educated middle and upper-middle classes. So I don’t fault Brooks for not understanding class. Only for pretending to.

Coming from a man who lectures at Yale this may seem a bit unfair, but his analysis is difficult to refute.

As for to the flawed suggestion that, because he is the son of Italian immigrants, Rick Santorum is inherently “working class,” Stoehr contextualizes the conversation with respect to “capital” and lays the myth to rest:

If you have no capital, then you have nothing with which to survive in a free-market economy other than selling your labour for money. From the beginning, you are at a disadvantage. Part of the price of this fundamental exchange is that you partly surrender control over your time, energy and even your body. If you have a boss – a real boss – you’re working class. If your dad or mom has a real boss, more so.

I’m annoyed for having to point out the obvious, but I suppose I must, because Americans live in a society in which our media does not understand class. So here it goes: Santorum’s dad was a clinical psychologist. Mom was a nurse administrator. Santorum himself holds three advanced degrees, including a juris doctor. After losing his Senate seat in 2006, Santorum cashed in as a lobbyist. His net income is $3 million. He never had a working-class job, a working-class wage or a working-class boss. Gimme a break, Santorum grew up in the suburbs! Santorum is no more working class than Romney.

As Romney has been repeating over and over during the campaign, people shouldn’t be blamed for succeeding. That Santorum’s parents made a stellar life for their son just a generation removed from immigrating stateside is the embodiment of the American Dream. Santorum, and perhaps more so David Brooks, using this history to attempt to paint Santorum in similar light, however, is the antithesis of that dream. It is the undermining of that dream, and what compelled Stoehr to put together such a gorgeously written piece about the modern conservative psyche:

In a way, the question of why Republicans don’t like Romney is itself a product of the conservative imagination. After all, he’s still the frontrunner and still the candidate most feared by the White House. Perhaps doubting Romney’s electability is a way to mitigate the pain of knowing the true nature of the GOP – as the party of capital. Capital knows no loyalty, no community, no morality. In its wake, all that is solid melts into the air. Romney is exactly the candidate the party deserves. If he couldn’t win in November, that wouldn’t be entirely his fault, and conservatives shouldn’t imagine that it’s otherwise.

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