Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Paranoid Style

Bill Monroe, circa 1930

One of the best things about bringing my lunch to work, something I've been doing for a couple of months now with Libby's essential collaboration, has been my total avoidance of Mr. Limbaugh's daily rants--I'd always tended to turn him on during the few minutes it took to drive down to the hot dog stand--and while there's no doubt much fresh manure that I have missed (not to mention the hot dogs), how much difference is there, really, between last year's "analysis" and yesterdays--when it comes to the world's greatest salesman and his bag-o-tricks.   This week's Limbaugh riposte is worth a thought, however.  As you can find if you care to google, there has been much comment on his attempt to remove the term "worker" from the conversation concerning events in Wisconsin.  As is always the case, Mr. Limbauigh has a long game.  Here's what he's doing.

Of course the term "worker" is used with great frequency in American conversations.  It is a word rather like "guy," or "pretty."  There are other more precise words, which some know or think of, and others don't.  But there's never been any hidden implication in the word.  There's blue-collar workers, and white-collar workers.  There's "working people" and "working stiffs," "factory workers," "textile workers," "chicken-plant workers."  Basically ain't nothing to see here, let's move along, right?

Well Mr. Limbaugh is suggesting a "tell."  Turns out "worker" is a Communist word, a European word.  We don't, he said, have "workers" at all in the United States.  And so--by implication--when you the listener hear someone using the term "worker," be suspicious.  That person, he suggests by implication, is operating on a theory which in fact undermines the American paradise we are living in, if we only knew it.  And of course since you'll find quite a lot of "worker talk" around unions, unions themselves become suspect, an outside un-American "thing" to be distrusted.

Like so much of right-wing punditry, it's about saying that a person really can't trust his own lyin' eyes.  Hannity said on Friday that there was absolutely no evidence that the Tea Party had a racist aspect.  Forget all those posters you thought you remembered seeing.  The ones that are still easy to find on the internet, if you but look.  Forget that table of tee-shirts at the Rand Paul rally.  Today is a fresh, new reality.  "Workers," says Mr. Limbaugh, only live in Russia and China.  (You need the scare-quotes to even have that absurd statement make any sense; what Mr. Limbaugh's goal is is for you to imagine those scare-quotes whenever you hear the word--see how it works?)

Thing is, the Adam Smith/Ayn Rand social philosophy has no room in it for either government or unions.  If people would just let the wise men who built industry get on with their important work, everything will be fine. Unions just get in the way, as does government interest in how business works.  Never you mind your pretty little heads.  And if you hear someone talking about "workers," it's just evidence that that person is probably not really American at all. Everyone ought to own a copy of "Harlan County, USA."  That there's some workers, by gawd, and we ought to never forget 'em.  And the Governor of Wisconsin?  He's the guy with the pistol in the old pickup truck.  And the Duke Power Stockholders Meeting folks?  That's the Koch brothers.

Right now there's a systematic effort being made by a number of states to actually outlaw unions in public sector jobs.  That's a pretty breath-taking fact.  It's true.  The screeching harridan on my local "Rush Radio" morning drive show said, last week, "They ought to fire all the teachers, just like Reagan fired the air traffic controllers."  Some people want to push life in America back to how it was in the '20s, before Social Security, back when a strike could bring out the National Guard.  In a couple of weeks they're apparently going to stop sending the Social Security checks out, to make some kind of point or other.  When and if that happens, go hunt up the scene in "Harlan County" where the miner's wife is getting on the miners for not coming out to the picket line.  See if you hear a Russian accent.

Sounds a lot more like Bill Monroe to me, too.

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