Thursday, September 25, 2008

BLARNEY

Tomorrow night, should John McCain prove himself able to multi-task and the first presidential debate goes on, Sarah Palin will step once again onto the faux populist stage. Just ten blocks from my office, Palin will sidle up to the bar, have a beer and shot, and cheer on McSame with a rowdy crowd of handpicked Republican supporters. The campaign has chosen a symoblic watering hole: a woodpaneled place called the Irish Pub, where my people (or rather people pretending to be my people) can get a pint of Guinness on tap and pretend that they are back on the old sod of the Emerald Isle.

Alas, there's not much Irish about the Irish Pub other than the beer, a couple of Irish flags, and a bunch of Celtic tchotschkes. It's a corporate sort of place, one that caters to the after-work crowd in Center City Philly on weeknights and fills up with frat boys and Wharton students who, no doubt, will be drowning their sorrows now that Bear Stearns, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch won't be lavishing them with lucrative job offers.

The faux populism of watching the debate in a faux Irish pub would not be lost on the Irish people whom I knew best. Grandma and Grandpa S, who immigrated from Ireland to the United States in the early 1920s, became die-hard Democrats when they moved to the U.S. My grandfather, a city bus driver and lifelong union member, and my grandmother, who took care of her four children and various folks in the extended family, were the sort of commonsense, working-class people who supported political candidates for bread and butter reasons. They voted for politicians who promised to protect their jobs and economic security--not candidates who pretended to be like them while representing the interests of stock brokers and CEOs. Grandma and Grandpa S owed a lot to the party of FDR, especially their monthly Social Security and union pension checks. They kept their savings in a bank regulated by the FDIC. They could have cared less about capital gains tax reductions and corporate bailouts.

I'm hoping that enough voters, especially in Rustbelt swing states, share my grandparents' simple wisdom and resist the sham populism of McCain and Palin. Pretending to be one of the people makes for fine symbolic politics but, after eight years of government under the guy you could drink a beer with, it's time to move on. We don't need any more drinking buddies in the White House. This week's polls, the best for Obama/Biden in a while, suggest that the direction of the campaign might be changing. Still, we should expect the Republicans to cling to their blarney. John McCain will keep fulminating against the Wall Street honchos whose fortunes he protected from regulation for the last quarter century. Sarah Palin doesn't have much to pitch, other than herself as a small-town, anti-elitist of the God, Guns, and Guts variety, minus the bitterness but also minus the brains.

So tomorrow night, if the debate goes on, I'll be watching in my neighborhood watering hole, owned by the son of Irish immigrants and probably the most racially diverse bar in the city. And I'll hoist a pint in honor of my grandparents and the politics that their grandchildren's children deserve.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

If there's anything worse than Republican faux populism, it's Ivy League faux populism. C'mon dude, you live in a mansion and teach rich kids who pay $50K a year for their education!

Tom S said...

Hey anonymous--I do teach rich kids and I've blogged about how difficult and frustrating that can be. And yes, I live in a big house (mansion is an overstatement), but I could only afford it because it was undervalued because of its location in a racially and economically diverse neighborhood in a relatively poor city.

The fallacy of your reasoning, common to adherents of the perfectionist strain in American politics, is that to be a "real populist" or an "authentic leftist," you have to live in a garret and wear sackcloth and ashes. For me, politics is not a fashion statement. It's a commitment about where I put my intellectual energy and resources and where I donate my money. That's what matters.

Anonymous said...

Hey RI--As someone who puts a premium on where people live (or what bar they choose to visit), you also contribute to that perfectionist strain. I loathe Sarah Palin's politics, but the fact that she went to a bar in a relatively poor city isn't good enough for you--it has to be the right kind of bar, in the right neighborhood, with the right mix of people, the proprietor of which must have the right background.

By the same token, it's not good enough to live in the city (too many Wharton types?), it has to be the right neighborhood with the right racial and economic mix. And god forbid someone lives in the suburbs--they're all just white racist republicans.

Talk about perfectionism! Have a little empathy, bub.

Tom S said...

Amonymous bub: thanks for getting back to me. Your point about the bar is well-taken. When it comes to bars and beer, I am an elitist. I'll take my local over the Irish Pub any day, because I don't really like the Pub's boisterous, frat-boy atmosphere. My local has a better beer selection. And I do have a soft spot for the children and grandchildren of Irish immigrants like my bartender. Call it Irish identity politics if you want.

That said, should you ever decide to reveal your identity, whether you are Irish or not, I'll buy you a pint at the Irish pub or any other bar of your choosing. That's the place to continue this conversation.

But let me clarify a few things. I have nothing against Wharton types or anyone else for that matter who choose to live in Philadelphia. And I don't care where they live, because whether it's Center City or Kensignton, the city needs their tax dollars, just as it does mine. I'd rather they spend their disposable income in Philly and write their tax checks to the city then pay into the overflowing coffers of the relatively rich cities. As for suburban residents, their motivations are not nearly of as much interest to me as the long-term consequences of the collective decisions which are sometimes the result of individual racism, but more often the result of public policies and real estate practices that systematically favor suburbs over cities in ways that reinforce the advantages and disadvantages of race. I wouldn't have misgivings about the suburbs if the American housing market was not so constrained by race and class.

Tom S said...

Oops--a typo. I meant "relatively rich suburbs" not "cities."

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