Timothy Noah takes readers' questions about Democrats and the working class.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
April 17 2008 4:23 PM

Class Action

Timothy Noah takes readers' questions about the Democrats and working folk.

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Rural America: To me, the real question should be why isn't anyone taking advantage of all the technological advances to allow people who want to live in small-town America but keep their big city jobs to do so? Home-shoring, telecommuting—it could revitalize large sections of the country, relieve stress on the cities, save gas, let people stay near aging parents ... an economic mix in all areas of the country, rather than an "us" and "them." Then there would be viable communities for people at all income levels.

Timothy Noah: I agree. But my sense is that these opportunities are more readily available to people in higher income brackets.

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Prescott, Ariz.: If Barack Obama had done the following instead of saying Americans are "bitter," do you think his coverage would be more or less negative? Left his ill first wife after multiple affairs; participated in the "Keating 5" scandal; gotten so friendly with a young and blonde lobbyist that his staffers felt they had to intervene; done legislative favors for the clients of said lobbyist; voted against the "Bush tax cuts" then later supported them; actively courted the support, and made campaign appearances of a man who calls the Catholic Church the "great whore"; constantly blurred the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims even while claiming that foreign policy is his strong suit; admitted he didn't know much about economics.

Timothy Noah: You forgot, "Gave a speech this week about what he was going to do for the working class and then announced tax cuts that benefit almost exclusively the rich."

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Misconceptions: Bush before he became president had less money budgeted for the military and military families than did either Gore or, subsequently, Kerry—both of whom actually served in a combat zone. Yet military folks voted overwhelmingly for Bush. I bring this up because more and more we see that the reality of what the candidates do flies in the face of what people believe.

Hardly a day goes by that a conservative doesn't say "I'm here to show that the liberals are wrong about there being class warfare between the rich and the poor." Yet, through each Republican administration, the gap between those with wealth and those without widens. Republicans use every bit of evidence of wealth on the liberal side to say: "They are wealthy. We're just like you, we're not the intellectually elitist. Wouldn't you rather sit down to a beer and barbecue with us?" Having been born and raised in the country in both the public and private school system, I have been troubled by one question: Since when did stupidity become a virtue in the U.S.?

Timothy Noah: Since a certain western politician got himself elected president. I'm going to resist the urge to say who.

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Chicago: What amazes me is comparing 1994 to 2008. That was "the year of the angry white male," and there was no bigger foe than Hillary Clinton. I think Sen. Clinton's ability to capture the white working-class vote (even if it's only in the Democratic primary so far) shows amazing resilience on her part.

Timothy Noah: Yes, her self-reinvention is quite remarkable. She's going around singing the praises of the 2nd Amendment, when in fact her position on firearms (lukewarm support for gun control and a strong disinclination to discuss the subject) is identical to Obama's. To me, the most appalling thing she's done in courting Pennsylvanians is sit down with Richard Mellon Scaife, who during the 1990s was the key funder of what Hillary Clinton then called the "vast right-wing conspiracy." As I wrote in an earlier "Chatterbox" column, it's preposterous to denounce Jeremiah Wright's "hate speech" while making peace with a world-class hater like Scaife. This is a guy who once accused the Clintons of killing Vince Foster, the deputy White House counsel who killed himself in Bill Clinton's first term. He is also an unbelievable misogynist. There is no chance I could repeat here the word he once called a female reporter from the Columbia Journalism Review who was seeking an interview. He went on to say that she was ugly and that her mother was ugly.

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Fairport, N.Y.: Let's be blunt here: a large part of this problem—the problem of working-class whites voting against health care and other services for themselves—stems from expensive media campaigns intended to bamboozle them into keeping the corporate party in power. Why don't people like you ever discuss this? Most of our media is owned by large corporations with outside business interests that dwarf the size of their media division. Of course they're going to use their media division to fool working-class voters into voting the interests of their corporate masters. Isn't that just common sense?

Timothy Noah: That's true, but we, the voters, have a duty not to let ourselves get bamboozled by such propaganda.

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San Diego: Above you mention the possibility that the media's fixation on Obama's "bitter" comment may be a way for them to dispute that they are pro-Obama. This is slightly off-topic, but how about if the media did something similar to dispute that they are pro-McCain? He is his party's nominee for president, after all, so the media's tendency to shift focus from him to the Democratic race, as if Obama and Clinton were the only candidates around, is weak.

Timothy Noah: The media did do something to combat the accusation that it is pro-McCain. The New York Times ran a piece alleging that McCain got too close to a young female lobbyist. The story was poorly sourced and pretty smarmy, I thought.

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Washington: Is there a difference between a Democrat and a progressive (who almost exclusively are Democrats)? I think the progressives—who certainly come across as very elitist—sort of have become the face of the party, whether or not they really are the majority of Democrats.

Timothy Noah: I really hate that word, "progressives." For one thing, it's historically faulty. The real progressives of the early 20th century more closely resemble today's center-left Democrats. I think the best word to describe these folks is the much-reviled term, "liberal." I don't mind calling myself a liberal. Anybody care to join me?