Wednesday, March 09, 2005

talking to people- rhetoric on the left

Lilian Rubin's article,"Why Don't They Listen to Us?
Speaking to the Working Class"
touched on problems not exclusive to the "left" in the USA. In Canada, progressives often seem to fail to connect with people they attempt to champion. As a friend of mine put it, the leftwing should be speaking in Walmart's not Universities, if they want to reach their constituencies. And this doesn't mean simply excoriating Walmart and other organisations for well-documented labour abuses, economic dislocations and so on.

Working families literally don't have time for arguements against exploitative businesses- such families need inexpensive clothing and items, and need to buy them before they go to their second job. In the day-to-day struggle to make ends meet, Walmart seems like a good idea. Musing- for example about radical alternatives in gender politics, or Scandinavian style business and labour practices- is a luxury that is afforded to or even demanded of some academics. Outside the academy, few are in a position to devote energy to considering or putting into practice policies suggested by academics. Excepting , of course, elected legislators whose agendas represent constituencies that vote for them and that give them poltical donations. Those legislators select the academics who agree with them.

I applaud academics for coming up with difficult, nuanced or sometimes visionary thesis' . My criticism is that these thesises are sometimes assumed by their authors to assume gospel stature. The far reaching implications however, often fail to connect with a man or women attempting to make ends meet, often with a raft of children in tow. Many folks haven't the time to do much save half -listen to fox news. The left, which as Rubin points out is generally populated by highly educated and informed individuals, should remember its constituency is hanging on tenaciously to a precarious hold on economic, social and political identity. such folks don't see, and moreover don't have time to see, that letting go could lead anywhere but down. moreover, progressive policies have to be seen as celebrating working peoples' sense of self-reliance, hardwork and commitments to their families and communities. Criticising folk's faith, family and function at work, isn't going to bring them onside. The rhetoric and policies of the left have to reflect this.

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"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."
-E.M. Forster