I see what he means. Liberals in conservative states like New Hampshire are drawn to politics as much by social climbing as by ideology. Up there, liberals make up the core of high-status occupations, like info-tech or academia?and anyone who has old money is liberal, too. It's the proles who tend to be the flag-waving Republicans.
This is something I first noticed a decade ago among my sister's liberal friends at the University of Vermont. They would hang around in Leunig's coffee bar drinking cappuccino by day, Maker's Mark or Beaujolais nouveau by night, and talk about what a jerk Ronald Reagan was. As they got drunker, they'd find a few moments to tell "shoobie" jokes. Shoobies were the people who'd been laid off of factory jobs or were riding out the winter on failing farms, and would show up in Burlington once a week to collect their welfare checks. The term "shoobie" is an age-old northern New England slur that derives, I think, from the industrial age, when the very poorest of mill-workers would carry their lunches to work in shoe boxes. Today it serves as useful shorthand to distinguish the interlopers in Burlington (like those who were born there) from the people who actually belong in town (like Bernie Sanders and all the pretty girls from Shaker Heights studying international relations and Spanish poetry).
When class aspirations get mixed up with political opinions this way, you get weird results. At UVM, you could argue productively about Nicaragua or animal rights or disarmament with a red-diaper baby from the Upper West Side whose parents had season tickets to the opera. For him it was just politics. But the son of Nixon delegates from a trailer park in Rutland who showed up on campus in overalls hoping to get laid by women who went to Andover and Dalton, carried $700 handbags, vacationed in Portofino and actually knew who Marcel Proust was?that kid would be the most unreasonable, dug-in, dogmatic, brain-dead, down-the-line socialist imaginable. It wasn't just politics to him?it was ambition, friendship, self-reinvention, identity.
One gets the impression that all the people haranguing the two candidates last week were of this ideological arriviste variety. Take that battle-ax Ingrid Bailey, who rose midway through the debate to ask Bill Bradley about gays in the military. Did she ask, "What is your policy on gays in the military?" No, she did not. She said, "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have not been fully extended to gays and lesbians in this country. Social justice for these citizens is long overdue. Can't we do better than the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'?"
We all know the answer to that. For both Bradley and Gore, the answer to what ought to be given to gays is, "Everything but the kitchen sink." (The kitchen sink being that guaranteed election-loser, gay marriage.) But clearly Ingrid didn't want an answer; she just wanted a trophy to hang on the clubhouse wall. And it's a good thing she didn't want an answer, because Bradley's answer was incoherent.
"If a gay American," said Three-Dollar Bill, "can serve openly in the White House, in the Congress, in the courts, in the Treasury Dept. and in the attorney general's office, why can't they serve openly in the U.S. military? It doesn't make sense. If a gay American can be a bricklayer, a doctor, an athlete, a lawyer, a painter, why can't a gay American be a sergeant and a lieutenant colonel? It does not make sense to me."
This arietta was hailed in the aftermath as particularly sensitive and touching. But Bradley's answer is itself senseless because it brings us directly to the Kitchen Sink?and Bradley opposes gay marriage. If gays are "our neighbors, our bosses...no different in many ways than all of us," as Bradley says, then why not let them get married?
This is classic Democratic "idealism"?it stops the moment any significant number of voters disagrees.
Al Finished Since the two candidates are distinguished by nothing, except the slightly more straightforward way in which Bradley presents his plans to expand government, anything I say about Bradley goes for Gore, too. But Gore is dead, for two big reasons.
First, as John Goodman says to John Turturro in Barton Fink, "The problem with you, Bart is you! don't! listen!" For all the talk about "Clinton fatigue," there are a lot of things about Clinton-style leadership that Americans have grown very comfortable with, and one is the nodding, empathetic, feel-your-pain shtick. Gore knows this, and yet he can't quite pull it off. He can dress up in his dark-dyed suits like some Italian shoe salesman, he can wander through the crowd, he can ask people to tell him their children's names, he can stay after the debate and take a few more questions. But spiritually, no matter what he did last Wednesday, Gore gave the impression he'd much rather have been on a podium talking down to people. He treated what was supposed to be a "dialogue" as a speech. Whenever Gore got a good?i.e., a hard?question, he'd ignore it. Gore used a general question about the alienation from the political process to distance himself from Clinton: "I understand the disappointment and anger you feel toward President Clinton. I feel it myself." Fine, but that's not what the guy asked. Then a woman wondered how campaign finance reform can be achieved, given that the current system favors incumbents, and it's incumbents who'd have to fix it. Good question! Gore replied: "Let me take 10 seconds to finish my last answer"?which was about health insurance. And he never did end up talking about the incumbency problem. In other words, enough about your concerns?let's talk a minute about my concerns.
Gore's second problem is that, however much people talk about Clinton fatigue, it pales next to Gore fatigue. Laying the groundwork for a Gore succession, the Clinton White House has waged a seven-year propaganda offensive on his behalf. It has failed. Last week, a Gannett poll asked people whether they considered candidates were trustworthy or untrustworthy, a leader or not a leader. Eleven percent consider Bradley untrustworthy, 21 percent don't trust Bush, but 30 percent don't trust Gore. Fourteen percent consider Bush not a leader, 16 percent wouldn't be led by Bradley, but a whopping 48 percent think Gore lacks leadership ability. Granted, "leadership" is a mere pundit's trope, an empty concept. But at the very least, such numbers render ridiculous the idea that people are going to like Gore "once they get to know him." They know him. Gore may not be "the best vice president in American history," as the Clintonites so ludicrously put it, but he is almost certainly the best-known vice president in American history. He's a closed book.
The highlight of the debate was the way the Vice President bit the bullet when he got a softball question from a woman whose daughter had juvenile diabetes. Gore looked out soulfully at her and said, "I'm hopeful we can find a cure for that. And cancer. And other diseases."
Oh, say it, brother! Speak truth to power! Imagine the things we could get done in the country if we actually had a president who was anti-cancer.
Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink Democrats in Congress, meanwhile, are trying to make electoral headway by being anti-murder. In a budget debate that's been notable for slippery accounting on both sides, the Democrats outdid themselves in arguing that hate-crimes legislation ought to be tucked into the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill. We can differ about whether the best way protect minorities from getting beat up is by honoring our commitment to them as citizens or by accessorizing them with a whole wardrobe of special rights. But the Democrats have sought to portray this difference as between a pro-murder faction and an anti-murder one.
Vermont's Pat Leahy, fleeing his inner shoobie, declaims: "Too often when wealthy and powerful interests press their priorities, Congress finds time to do their bidding... Well, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act is an opportunity to act not in the interest of powerful and wealthy interests, but in the national interest."
Charles Schumer, who in half a year in the Senate has proved himself one of the most gifted political operators on the Hill, sent the message that he can still be one of the most sleazy. Even by the standards of political rhetoric, I have never seen anything quite so dishonest as Schumer's rant on the hate-crimes bill. "This is America," Schumer said, "and if there were real compassionate conservatism, then hate crimes would be in the Commerce-Justice-State bill. We cannot just talk about being compassionate and then say that it's okay to beat up someone or deface someone's property because of their race or their creed or their color or their sexual orientation. We can't wink at bigots and say, you know, we don't think what you're doing is so bad."
On the other hand, if Mr. Schumer isn't lying?if he actually believes that one of our major political parties has a tacit policy of condoning the killing of those it doesn't like?then he's so far out on the extremist fringe as to make Pat Buchanan look like the heir to Adlai Stevenson.