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Catch22girl’s post about the woman living in her car got me thinking, and I finally picked up the copy of Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America’s Class War that my sister sent Mr. Tiger for Christmas. It’s by Joe Bageant, a self-described red neck from Winchester, Virginia. It’s a fascinating read.

 

His thesis is that a combination of poor education, conservative values and voting patterns, Scots Irish self-reliance work-ethic, outsourcing and  “white trashenomics” (credit and mortgage schemes that result in insurmountable dept) have combined to make working-poor white people the great and growing tragedy of the American dream gone wrong. Some of his stats:

 

  • There are 19 million poor and working poor whites in the U.S.
  • 24 per cent of American dual-income families make less than $35,000 a year.
  • One third of American workers make less than $9.00 an hour.
  • There are 45 million Americans without health insurance.
  • Medicaid enrolment went from 33 million to 56 million between 2001 and 2005.
  • A 2007 budget proposal called for a $10.6 billion cut in funding to Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Medicare and Medicaid cost $417 in 2006. The Pentagon’s budget was $419 billion.
  • Four per cent of every tax dollar goes to social programs. Twenty-five per cent goes to paying interest on government bonds.
  • Between 89 million and 94 million American adults are functionally illiterate.
  • Twenty-five per cent of those can read, but not well enough to follow five consecutive paragraphs of text or dense documents such as sales contracts.
  • Only 28 per cent of Americans believe in evolution.

 

On self-reliance:

 

“We first started hearing about the average Joe needing to take complete responsibility for his condition in life, with no help form the government, during the seventies, when Cold War conservatives Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz dubbed themselves “neoconservatives.” In doing so, they gave a name to an ultrarightist political strain that passionatly hated taxes and welfare of any kind, and that favored a national defence strong enough to dominate any part of the world—or the whole world—at any given time. Neconservatives hated the counterculture and saw it as the beginning of everything that was wrong with America. And they saw plenty of evidence of a shift toward a welfare state, most notably Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which for the first time funded school districts, college loans, Head Start, Medicare, and Medicaid, and cut poverty in half. America was close to being a Communist welfare state, and people had better start taking some personal responsibility, they thundered. We find neoconservatives today all but owning the Republican Party and attempting to axe Social Security and slash unemployment insurance in the name of “personal responsibility.”

 

But what sort of personal responsibility is possible in the neocon environment? A wage earner’s only asset is his willingness to give a day’s work for a day’s pay, the price of which he does not determine. So where does he get the wherewithal to improve his circumstances? He gets that wherewithal from the wages he earns. But in the new neocon environment, that wage does not support savings. It does not support higher education. It only allows the wage earner to survive from paycheck to paycheck, hoping he doesn’t lose his job and feeling like a loser down inside.”

 

His discussion of the mortgage crisis (which hadn't happened yet, but was confidently predicted) is telling. The American economy is based on buying stuff, and even the President is telling people that shopping is the best way to be a good citizen. In the absence of a good education, people haven’t a clue what they’re getting themselves into when they’re subjected to high-pressure sales tactics for that double-wide trailer that is worth less than the purchase price the moment they take possession.

 

He blames television for keeping people ignorant and distracted from the coming economic and ecological collapse.

 

I haven’t finished it. It’s a bit too depressing to read all in one sitting. The interesting thing is that he’s talking about his own family and the people he loves, so he has an insider’s take on the situations he is describing. He somehow manages to call them dumber than dirt without being mean about it. He writes a blog at www.joebageant.com.

 

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