OPINION

If a myth gets repeated enough, it often becomes conventional wisdom. Since the November election, the pundits have been telling us non-stop that we are a nation “bitterly divided,” and that the main contradiction in our society is a “cultural divide,” pitting against each other “two Americas,” the “red” states and the “blue” states. “Moral values,” they tell us, are the main issue on the voters’ minds, dividing us more than anything else.

The truth is, there are two Americas.

There’s the America of the super-rich, the CEOs, the modern-day robber-barons; the top one percent of Americans who today own more wealth than the rest of us put together; the Wal-Marts, the Microsofts, the oil transnationals. The real elite — you know, the ones Bush describes as “my base.” This America made out like bandits under the first Bush administration, enjoying unprecedented tax giveaways and deregulation.

Then there’s the America of the rest of us — working people, farmers, and racially and nationally oppressed people who have been ravaged by the Bush agenda; who have seen their overtime taken away, their jobs shipped overseas by the millions, their real wages slashed, their right to vote attacked. This America has gotten poorer and poorer while wealthy America has gotten richer. If the real two Americas had voted their interests, Bush would have been swept out of office in a landslide.

Enter myths like the “cultural divide,” invented to obscure the real class divide in our country, to divide and conquer the working class, to misdirect legitimate anger at declining living standards and worsening quality of life.

Here’s how the trick works. The ultra-right says, “Hey ‘red state’ worker: Has your overtime been slashed? Wages going down while the cost of housing and everything else goes up? Family has no health care? Kids’ public school a disaster? Don’t blame the wealthy corporations and right-wing politicians who cut their own taxes while taking food out of your kids’ mouths and books out of their hands. No, blame Hollywood! Blame Barbra Streisand and Jane Fonda! Blame the mythical wine-sipping, sushi-eating, amoral, liberal elitist snobs of the coasts. They want to take your Bible and your guns and turn your kids gay!”

Then they say to the “blue state” workers, “Has your job been shipped overseas while the corporations responsible got a tax cut? Can’t make ends meet? Family has no health care? Be mad … at those country-listening, NASCAR-watching, evolution-denying bumpkins of the heartland!”

These stereotypes are just that – harmful stereotypes. They pit working people against each other and let the rich and corporations off the hook. Those on the left should beware, because few of us are immune from the influence of such stereotypical thinking. How many times since the election have you heard people say that the “blue states” should secede from the “red states”? How many times have you heard otherwise progressive people speak derisively about rural people, using terms like, “trailer trash” or “hick”? Such concepts only lend credence to the ultra-right lie that a coastal “liberal elite” is oppressing the “authentic” people in the “heartland,” who must therefore reject this “elite” by supporting candidates like Bush.

The ultra-right, over a period of decades, has painstakingly woven this myth of a “liberal elite,” to divert attention and anger from the real elite. That they have had some success is demonstrated by the re-election of the most colossally failed administration in history, and the substantial majorities Bush won in some rural heartland states. Not only the word “liberal,” but even the word “Massachusetts,” were transformed into epithets.

Meanwhile, a section of workers and farmers — contrary to their interests — voted for the most elite of them all, a multimillionaire born into his riches, who used his family’s wealth and connections, first to avoid military service in Vietnam, and then to gain entry to institutions for which he lacked the minimum qualifications, from the Ivy League to the White House, and who more brazenly than any president in our history represents the interests of the super-rich and the huge corporations.

Let’s be clear: despite the media spin, Bush was not the candidate of the “common man.” Workers, including substantial majorities of union members, people of color, youth, women, and those earning below $50,000, voted against Bush. Nevertheless, a significant minority of workers voted for him, particularly in rural regions. The left cannot afford to concede this geographic territory.

Many were swayed by so-called “moral values.” Again, the media has greatly overstated this, based on a flawed exit poll where 22 percent identified it as their main issue. Even so, the fact remains that moral and religious values are important to many working people. The left cannot afford to cede this ideological territory.

After all, what could be more immoral than conducting a murderous war of aggression against our brothers and sisters in Iraq, supported by lies for the profit of a few?

What could more grossly violate the “golden rule” than denying millions of children health care, decent education, and adequate nutrition, while giving away our entire budget surplus in massive tax breaks to the super-rich?

What could be more offensive to family values than gutting federal overtime regulations, depriving millions of overtime pay and precious time with their families?

What could be more sinful than stealing billions of dollars of Social Security funds from the elderly and giving it to Wall Street?

What could be more un-Christian than trying to bring back Jim Crow and steal elections through suppression of the African American vote?

How long before we rail against the ultra-right’s sinfulness with the same fervor that they hypocritically employ against progressives? How long before we bridge the phony “cultural divide” by rejecting its stereotypes and uniting against the real enemy, the real elite, and kicking them out of power, so we can build a truly moral nation?

Jason Rabinowitz (jrabinowitz@beesouthayer.com) is a union attorney in Sacramento, Calif.

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