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Hey, Reagan Democrats!
Sometime in the future…
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll just follow me over in this direction, I’d like to show you one of our rarest and most reviled species here at The Human Zoo – it’s the proverbial ‘Reagan Democrat’.
“Most of your younger visitors here at the Zoo have no idea what a Reagan Democrat could be, so I always like to take the time to explain it to them. Indeed, most of them don’t even know what Reagan was, except that they keep hearing the people who wrecked Old America talk about this wrinkled prune faced guy with the Gumby hair as if he were some sort of deity. I get a lot of questions about how someone could actually have done things that don’t sound even remotely plausible, but I generally leave that for the historians to explain, other than to remind people that injecting religious dogma into politics doesn’t just mean stupidity only when it comes to policies related to sexuality, war, taxation, the economy or the environment.
“But already I digress… The Reagan Democrat (technically, Imbecelicus politici) was always the strangest and most contemptuous of species from the habitat of American politics, as you’ve perhaps already heard. Try to imagine another example from the animal kingdom that could be so readily counted upon to bring harm upon itself and others. There are some of course, but usually they are simply ignorant animals, often with very limited cranial capacity.
“The Reagan Democrat, on the other hand, was simply obnoxiously greedy, and took great pains to aggregate to itself as much stuff as was possible, including even meaningless psychological affirmations of its existential worth. It wasn’t very long, of course, before another animal in the jungle noticed this tendency, and established a parasitic relationship with the Reagan Democrat. These others were known as The Wealthy (Plutocratus illegitimi), and they got very rich – though they could still never seem to achieve happiness – by exploiting the opportunities provided to them by the Reagan Democrat. A very mean-spirited and deceitful group of marketing gurus like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove were generally the weapon of choice for accomplishing this.
“Anyhow, before we enter the exhibit, perhaps I should stop now and take any questions. Yes, you, young lady, what can I tell you?”
“Well, sir, you’ve never quite defined what a Reagan Democrat is. And, especially, why someone associated with Mr. Reagan would be a Democrat. Wasn’t he from that other party, the, uh…, the… Regressocans? …the Degenocrats?”
“Ah, fine questions, indeed, and you’re quite right that I’ve been remiss in not explaining those fundamentals so far. It’s an occupational hazard, I suppose. We zoo curators get so caught up in admiring our own erudition that we sometimes we forget to do our jobs properly!
“Speaking of which, where were we…? Oh, yes, I was going to answer your questions about the meaning of this term. First of all, let’s get that political party name straight. Reagan was a Republican. That’s what makes the creature we’re about to see so interesting. It came from working class roots, often recently arrived just a generation earlier from some very poor Eastern European country or such. Its local social unit had only recently been elevated to the middle class, and this achievement had everything to do with the progressive policies the Democratic Party. For the first time ever, and because of these policies, it had a good job, a house in the suburbs, two cars, and it could send its offspring to institutions of higher education which had previously been reserved exclusively for elites, as represented by Mr. Reagan’s party.
“But it was very, very greedy, and thus differentiated itself off into a new species which was marked by the fact that it could have its underdeveloped psychology readily appealed to for purposes of exploitation by Republican operatives, representing the economic elite species. In fact, it was actually pretty easy to do. All they had to do was throw some line about an evil foreign bogeyman down to the Reagan Democrat, or perhaps a story about uppity darker skinned members of the genus, or some televised ruse about how very, very bad people were out to destroy Christmas, the silly religious holiday of yore… Anything like that would generally work.
“It really didn’t matter very much what ploy was chosen, though the more naked the appeal to greed or vanity, the better. For instance, a handful of elites could carve out for themselves massive chunks of the commonwealth’s (formerly) common wealth, but as long as they tossed a few pennies in the direction of the Reagan Democrat at the same time, the latter was sure to support what amounted to his or her own financial undoing, every time. Likewise, since the Reagan Democrat tended to be the most fearful and the most self-loathing of animals in the human sphere, the basest appeals to its vanity could also buy votes en masse, and on the cheap, too. You just had to make him feel a little bigger than someone else – women, foreigners, brown people, homosexuals – it didn’t really matter. Then you could get his vote and pick his pocket.”
“Excuse me, sir, but what do you mean by pick his pocket?”
“Ah, yes, well that means that you could go to Washington and make policies that actually hurt the Reagan Democrat, but he would nevertheless support them, because you had fooled him with some sort of ruse, such as those I just mentioned. Does that make sense?”
“Well, not entirely. But perhaps if we could actually see one now, it would all become more clear.”
“I thought you’d never ask! If you’ll just follow me around this corner… and just down this hall a bit… turn right here… no, no – hard right… once more, please… And there he is! We’ve preserved his natural habitat, and you can actually see him in his normal condition right now. As you may observe first-hand, he is now sound asleep. One might well note that this is both a literal and metaphorical condition. See what I mean about curator erudition! In any case, note the Reagan Democrat in his prime. He’s about sixty or so, sitting in his comfortable suburban home, leaning back in his recliner chair. On the side stand are several empty beer cans – nothing fancy, of Coors. Note also the remains of his meal of chicken wings and potato chips on a plate, sitting next to an array of primitive remote control devices. He has a football game on the wide-screen television – it appears to be the Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Dallas Cowboys – and he is as pleasantly divorced from reality as any drunken afternoon of passive entertainment provided by organized violence could possibly offer. Check out the drool oozing down his chin.”
“But is he happy, sir?”
“Well, no, of course not. I would have thought that would be obvious by the bloated belly, the need to stay drunk, the passive entertainment of the televison set as his best friend, the reveling in organized violence all day long, and the general narcosis of the specimen. But, in fact, there is more. He is greedy and selfish and jealous and narcissistic and bitter. He is a walking demographic for political operatives who see him coming from ten miles away and cater to his every resentment with lies about the reasons for his unhappiness, lies about how to solve his problems, and lies about their actual motivation in seeking his vote. And, what is more, it works – just about every time. The Reagan Democrat, in short, is a pathetic sight. Unfit, unhealthy, unhappy, uncaring, unintelligent and highly unappealing. Worst of all, a hypocrite. After decades of being the direct beneficiary of progressive policies made in Washington, he seeks to pull up the ladder behind him, so no one else can use it. Really, I think we’d all have to agree, this is clearly one of the most disgusting and parasitic creatures of the animal kingdom. ‘Leeches with legs’, as I like to call them! Though, really, even that’s far too generous, since leeches don’t have much in the way of other options.”
“Well, what happened to them? I thought they were extinct…?”
“Almost, but as you can see for yourself, a few rare specimens survive to this day, carefully preserved under highly controlled conditions. But most of them are long gone now, the victims of natural selection. That was especially ironic, of course, since one of the fairly tales they were sold – and happily bought – was the dogmatic religious bit about evolutionary theory being false. Oops! In any case, they were essentially full participants in their own fleecing, until there was just nothing left anymore. For three decades they sucked down the mantras of right-wing political propaganda, just as they sucked down their anesthetizing carbonated alcoholic preparations. For three decades they belched their way into the voting booth to choose Republican candidates who advocated attacking some third world country, or ending affirmative action, or fighting against the secular war on Christmas, or denying food benefits to some poor kid living just two blocks away, or keeping women in their place, or – especially – cutting taxes.
“And for three decades these victorious Republican politicians marched off to Washington, whereupon they played a little at tokenist fulfillment of these campaign promises, but meanwhile set about in great earnestness and energy to do what they had really come to do. Namely, to fleece the people who had put them there, the Reagan Democrats. And so they did. Massively, and continuously. Until there was nothing left to fleece anymore.
“And thus ends our story, my young friends, and I thank you so much for coming to the Human Zoo today. I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit!”
“But, excuse me, sir. One last question, please. Could they really have been that dumb? Even after three decades of being ripped-off, did they not ever wise up?”
“Well, I say, you really are quite a smart little whippersnapper, aren’t you, young lady?! Another very good question. As a matter of fact, yes, some of them are reported to have begun to figure this out toward the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. After all their selfishness, after all their aggressiveness, after all their self-loathing, and even after all their beloved tax cuts, they began to notice that they had not gained an inch in their standard of living from where they had been three decades earlier, when they abandoned the progressive politics that had helped put them in the middle class to begin with, and in fact they discovered that they had lost ground enormously. Moreover, they noticed that the plutocratic class had become fantastically wealthier during that same time period. Indeed, in three decades, the richest ten percent of Americans had gone from bringing home about a third of all national income to about half, just like it had been in 1929.
“Oh, and speaking of which, it was a nearly letter-perfect repeat of the Great Depression – complete with Republican governments, massive tax favors for the rich, deregulation, Gilded Age style polarization of wealth, and a devastating global economic implosion – that finally began to awaken many Reagan Democrats from their slumber. The capper was what the Republicans did in an attempt to ‘bail-out’ the sinking economy. The very people who had failed to regulate the folks causing the Even Greater Depression of the early twenty-first century now took $700 billion worth of taxpayer money and handed it to those same financial ‘industry’ crooks, without any requirements at all on what they could do with the money, not even restrictions against bonuses or getaways to five-star resorts. But when the blue collar auto industry wanted just $15 billion to keep millions of middle class jobs afloat, the Republicans wouldn’t give it to them.
“This was altogether just too much, and by this time even acephalic Reagan Democrats began to figure out they’d been duped. And while many could never admit their stupidity and their greed, some quietly returned to being just regular old Democrats again.
“Indeed, in 2008, not only did many of them vote for a Democrat for president, they even voted for a black Democrat. Amazing!
“Of course, he did promise them tax cuts…
“Well, anyhow, thank you once again for joining us on the tour here at the Human Zoo. I hope you’ve enjoyed your stay.
“Please do be careful as you exit. As always, the way out is to the left.”
DAVID MICHAEL GREEN is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (firstname.lastname@example.org), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net