race, class, and the health care proposal
Lately there have been a spate of charges and counter-charges regarding race in politics and, especially, criticisms of the Obama Administration. First came Gates-Gate where the race issue was admittedly hard to avoid. Then came posters showing Obama as Heath Ledger as the Joker with the word "socialism" in the background--a stretch, I think, but perhaps with some hidden racial overtones. Now Paul Krugman, in the NY Times, has written that the angry behavior of opponents of Obama's health plan is driven by "the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement," part of the "angry white voter" strategy that dates back to Richard Nixon. (Comments on Krugman's column were closed by 9:15 this morning, suggesting that the angry people may have included some Times readers.)
I may be missing something, but I find it awfully hard to see racial overtones in the health care debate. What I see, instead, is incipient class warfare: the 70 or 80 percent of people who are more-or-less-satisfied with their health care are not particularly anxious to share it with the 10 or 20 or 30 additional percent (depending on the proposal) who would benefit from the Administration's proposals. This isn't particularly admirable, but it was surely foreseeable, particularly as the entrenched groups are concentrated and organized and the challengers are diffuse and demoralized. (Where is Mancur Olson when you need him?) That Obama has been unwilling to take on the largest entrenched interest (unions) by calling for taxes on excessive health benefits, choosing instead to pretend that we could have expanded coverage without any significant sacrifice, has not helped things either.
The surprising thing to me is not the behavior of the health care opponents but that the Administration's supporters have not been better prepared for it. Part of it, I think, has to do with the education and sensibility of what passes for today's political left. People have been doing identity politics for so long that they seem honestly unable to confront what is essentially an economic or class issue. The marxist nostrum that everything is about class has been turned on its head: everything is ultimately about race, gender, or personal identity, even when at first it seems otherwise. So liberals talk about Skip Gates or Heath Ledger while conservatives rally people toward their basic economic interests. In elite circles the former may triumph. But as a long term political strategy, it's nothing short of bizarre.