Saturday, April 10, 2010

You're Working Class and Conservative? Why?

I’m trying to understand working class conservatives. Really. I want to understand working class conservatives. But I can’t.

I understand wealthy and powerful conservatives. What I don’t understand are conservatives who drive Hyundais. The ones who do their own shopping. Mow their own lawns. You know, the folk who provide the GOP with numbers while remaining blissfully ignorant of the fact they’re cutting their own throats.

The best example comes from Raleigh County, West Virginia. Here’s the tragic confluence of small government, big business and a malleable electorate too addled by the sizzle to realize the steak is for someone else.

The last Republican president was a great believer in removing the reins from business and letting it run free. Pure, unfettered capitalism would cure America of all its ills.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was neutered. Likewise the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Countless regulatory agencies had their staffs and funding cut. Statutes were winked at. Protections ignored. Penalties intended to drive responsible corporate behavior were scaled-back or eliminated altogether.

Nowhere was this more true than in the coal industry.

The intimacy big coal enjoyed with the last Republican president should have aroused the suspicions of the First Lady. Advances made by generations of miners, their unions and local, state and federal governments all but disappeared under that administration.

The ultimate expression of this largesse came from Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

He concluded it was more cost-effective to pay the fines levied by government inspectors than to upgrade the safety infrastructure in his mines. And thanks to the small government, big business climate created by conservatives, it was.

It wasn't all bad. While guilty of thousands of violations over the past decade, no one could accuse Massey of filling their workers with propaganda like "Our employees are our most-valuable asset" could they?

As punishment, the good voters of northern Appalachia again voted Republican in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.

The nation’s second and third-largest coal-producing states (Kentucky and West Virginia) have become the reliable source of Republican presidential votes the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states have been for generations.

Like battered wives, the mantra of working class conservatives seems to be don’t bite the hand that beats you.

Given the institutionalized abuse shown the working class by Republicans, this seems an extraordinarily steep price to pay for gun ownership. Or to protect fetuses until they emerge from the birth canal. Or to impose an angry, hateful God on the population.

Actions still speak louder than words. And I still don’t understand.

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