Thursday, February 3, 2011

Singing Songs

Andrew Sable, looking for inspiration in the glory of the unsung laborer, recommends this speech by Patton:
An Army is a team. It lives, sleeps, eats, and fights as a team. This individual heroic stuff is pure horse shit. The bilious bastards who write that kind of stuff for the Saturday Evening Post don’t know any more about real fighting under fire than they know about fucking! We have the finest food, the finest equipment, the best spirit, and the best men in the world. Why, by God, I actually pity those poor sons-of-bitches we’re going up against. By God, I do.

All of the real heroes are not storybook combat fighters, either. Every single man in this Army plays a vital role. Don’t ever let up. Don’t ever think that your job is unimportant. Every man has a job to do and he must do it. Every man is a vital link in the great chain. What if every truck driver suddenly decided that he didn’t like the whine of those shells overhead, turned yellow, and jumped headlong into a ditch? The cowardly bastard could say, ‘Hell, they won’t miss me, just one man in thousands.’ But, what if every man thought that way? Where in the hell would we be now? What would our country, our loved ones, our homes, even the world, be like? No, Goddamnit, Americans don’t think like that. Every man does his job. Every man serves the whole. Every department, every unit, is important in the vast scheme of this war. The ordnance men are needed to supply the guns and machinery of war to keep us rolling. The Quartermaster is needed to bring up food and clothes because where we are going there isn’t a hell of a lot to steal. Every last man on K.P. has a job to do, even the one who heats our water to keep us from getting the ‘G.I. Shits’.

…One of the bravest men that I ever saw was a fellow on top of a telegraph pole in the midst of a furious fire fight in Tunisia. I stopped and asked what the hell he was doing up there at a time like that. He answered, ‘Fixing the wire, Sir.’ I asked, ‘Isn’t that a little unhealthy right about now?’ He answered, ‘Yes Sir, but the Goddamned wire has to be fixed.’ I asked, ‘Don’t those planes strafing the road bother you?’ And he answered, ‘No, Sir, but you sure as hell do!’ Now, there was a real man. A real soldier. There was a man who devoted all he had to his duty, no matter how seemingly insignificant his duty might appear at the time, no matter how great the odds. And you should have seen those trucks on the road to Tunisia. Those drivers were magnificent. All day and all night they rolled over those son-of-a-bitching roads, never stopping, never faltering from their course, with shells bursting all around them all of the time. We got through on good old American guts.
It's a great speech. 

Sable then puts out a call for similarly inspiring odes to the working man.  Beyond the physical rewards for labor, he writes, the work cannot be honored enough - especially by the left.

But one wonders – is any of this more than blather without the actual existence of rubber-meets-the-road improvements in lives? Like decent pay, benefits, pensions, etc? Ooooh… I said pensions!  Because now more than ever, it seems we need less speeches and more actual, real-world "trickling down".

Because I recall the time I proposed to a conservative, in a conversation about trade schools vs. college, that we don’t respect the working class in this country. She assumed to remind me that I would sure respect a plumber when he came to fix my broken pipe. Well, that was my point. Not only do we not respect their work, but in terms of pay, physically demanding labor is often valued less – certainly the less skill it requires. Anyway, many of the traditional tools we have had for guaranteeing some measure of wage equality (unions, minimum wage, health care, regulations, etc.) are hated by the very same people who would champion such oratory.

I realize there are nuanced arguments for how unions, minimum wage, health care mandates, etc. all end up hurting the lowly worker. But those aside, there is a substantial degree of meritocratic pablum out there, in which each man is measured not by his work, but by his wage. And that there is no real inequality in making less, because that is simply what one deserves, according to the wisdom of the market. So if you can barely pay your rent, can’t afford health care, work in unsafe conditions with no job security and no retirement benefit – well it’s your own miserable fault. (You just need to work harder and you too can be like Rush Limbaugh with your fat suits and thick cigars.)

All of this ends up doing two things: it avoids offering any prescriptive measures for change, and reminds us that there need be no real change anyway. Things are fine just the way they are. Except they aren’t, really. So the class anger – which is real – is magisterially woven into a narrative about Cadillac union memberships, wine and cheese college elites, public pension cartels and anyone else getting “payed off” by a Democratic party less interested in social justice than funneling taxpayer money to liberal interest groups and rubbing their pagan social mores in the faces of mustachiod Nascar mechanics.

What’s interesting to me about this set-up is that it offers a tragic salve: it recognizes that there is an injustice out there, but buries the blame in a phantasmagorical, Freudian blend of class resentment and cultural fundamentalism, none of which actually gets at the real truth. Public pensions are not to blame for the fact that pensions don’t exist anymore. Unions are not to blame for the fact that so many people are without health care. The minimum wage, child labor laws and regulations are not the reason that all of our jobs have gone overseas. Well, actually they are. But that’s just sad.

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