Isn't it funny that one day you wake up and you discover that you have become that which you hate. I remember a friend of mine saying that to me once. He used to be a member of the English working class and after two years returning to school he had become the wine sipping type of person that he used to look down on back in the motherland. The same feeling came across me as I read this book simply because where most of the books that offer a critical view of the American political system take a top down approach, Bageant, who has his roots in the American working class, takes a look at it from the bottom up, namely from the view of your average American working class town (or city as he now calls it).
The reason that I have commented on how I have become that which I have hated is because of what Bageant describes as the working class view of middle class liberal types, and that is as a bunch of <i>late</i> sipping intellectuals that really do not understand what a hard days work is really like, and in a way that is true. I am currently sitting outside at a table in a cafe on Elizabeth Street in Melbourne, not so much drinking a <i>late</i> (because I cannot drink excessive amounts of milk), but I am drinking the next best thing and that is a long black (with a side of milk). I have associated with members of the Australian Left in the past, and many of them seem to be university educated individuals that generally want more free time, more money, and less work.
The nature of the political right and left in Australia is somewhat different to that in the United States because our political parties tend to be more inclined to the left, though right enough to remain relevant to the Americans. Mind you, the working class here in Australia is also different because they are paid quite well, and sitting near me in this cafe are a bunch of construction workers who are also drinking <i>lates</i>. However they are the rough and tumble loud mouthed members of the working class who probably only use the internet to fuel their porn addiction.
I can appreciate what Bagaent is saying here because even though the working class here in Australia is getting nowhere near as screwed as they are in the United States (you are more likely to get screwed if you work in a office in Australia than if you work in a manufacturing plant, not that there are many manufacturing plants left, and even then many of the office jobs are getting off shored as well). We do have better healthcare here in Australia as well as education, even though our government is attempting to gut that as well.
This is one of the main points that Bageant makes here and that is the importance of education. One of the reasons that the working class in the United States is functionally illiterate (or worse) is because of the quality of education, but then again in some parts of Australia the public school system is little more than government funded day care. The children aren't being taught, and they aren't learning. It is not that they aren't learning, but they aren't learning to think. Universities are being priced out of the hands of the working class, which adds another layer of ignorance to the situation. Further, the only thing that many of us learn comes out of the idiot box, and we end up being swayed by the fine sounding words that the next motivational speaker who comes along says.
Mind you, here in Australia Christians bemoan the state of our post-Christian society, but Christianity in Australia is nowhere near what it is like in America. Australians generally don't go to church, and generally don't buy the rubbish that comes out of many of the pulpits. In a way the fundamentalist Christians in the United States seem to make the same claim about their country though from what I gather from what Bagaent has to say Christianity in America is alive and well, it is just that we don't see all that much of it from where we are sitting. Here in Australia most of what we see coming out of America tends to come out of Hollywood, and I would hardly call the Hollywood culture a true reflection of American culture, not if what Bagaent says is true. We mostly get a glimpse of American life as it appears in the cities, and while the city life in Australia may reflect that, that is not necessarily true in the United States. The thing about Australia is that the bulk of our population is crammed into the cities that dot our shores, and even then, a bulk of that population is located on the Eastern Seaboard (which includes Melbourne, despite Melbourne being on the South Coast).
However, just because the Australian people congregate in the cities does not necessarily mean that Australians are a more liberal lot (assuming that the liberals tend to congregate in the cites, which seems to be the case in the United States). While I still argue that Adelaide is a small town, in reality it is a city, however it does have a small town mind set. That is probably the main reason why I wanted to get out of there. The thing with small towns in Australia is that there are only two things to do: drink beer and play football – that pretty much defines Adelaide. The towns in Australia, like the United States, tend to also have a much more conservative view (which is probably a good thing that I did not move out to Dubbo), and that is the case with Adelaide. As I said, Adelaide is a city with a small town mindset, and that mindset tends to be very conservative (as well as very narrow minded). There are Adelaidians that cannot imagine why anybody would not want to live in Adelaide, and I was rebuked once for saying that I hated Adelaide (and I still do, which is why I do not want to go back). In a sense, it was that mindset, and that conservative streak, that made me want to leave and come over to Melbourne (which I finally managed to do after twenty years of trying).
However, my rant about Adelaide reflects an important point with regards to this book. Bageant says that one of the problems with the left in the United States is that the left, like me, do not want to have anything to do with people holding the conservative mindset. From Bageant's descriptions, the people of Adelaide are actually more intelligent than the people that he describes in rural America in that when they vote for the conservatives (despite the fact that South Australia has had a Labor government for almost twelve years) they do so because they have that upper crust attitude. The people of Adelaide (that is the people that do not live in the northern suburbs who believe that if you read a book in a pub then you must be homosexual) do have a gentrified air about them. That was why a Queenslander that I lived with for a while ended up leaving. What Bageant was suggesting though was that the left seems to think that they are better than these people, and that the country hicks (as I put them) are the problem and must be dealt with as opposed to a group that actually needs somebody to step out and help them. If you read a lot of leftist literature (which I have done) they seem to think that the problem is at the top, and attempt to attack the top thinking that that is the way to deal with them, as opposed to courting the base (which, despite George Bush's joke about the billionaires being his base, is in reality the American working class) and doing something to solve their problems.