August 29, 2004

What’s the Matter with Politics? Home Shopping, That’s What

The Great Backlash began with the coming together of two very different political factions: traditional business Republicans…with their faith in the free market; and working-class “Middle Americans”…who signed on to preserve family values.

For the former group, the conservative revival that resulted has been fantastically rewarding…After all, they are wealthier as a class today than ever before in their lifetimes. But for the latter group, the aggrieved “Middle Americans,” the experience has been a bummer all around. All they have to show for their Republican loyalty are lower wages, more dangerous jobs, dirtier air, a new overlord class that comports itself like King Farouk—and, of course, a crap culture whose moral free fall continues…

Thomas Frank
What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

Lisa Sells Class on QVC

Lisa Sells Class on QVC
(Quicktime Movie, 13.2 MB)

After a hard day at the office I often enter the house, grab a beer if I’m in a “red state” of mind or a glass of Chardonnay if I’m feeling “blue” and sit down to hours of entertainment watching QVC. Yes, this home shopping network is the best way to decompress after hours of project management and endless meetings. I never buy anything, but my family questions my sanity nonetheless. I watch with amazement.

How do they sell those things to all those people? Diamonique to NASCAR replicas. I love the way those perky “SJ’s” (selling jockeys) make everything from scrapbook-making kits to 18K gold sound so, so delicious. They talk as if they are describing sumptuous treats from a high-class menu. Where do they find the words? How do they talk like this non-stop? My mouth waters. Everything sounds so good —extra authentic.

To buy is to be. And the buying public calls in to express their satisfaction and to profess their love.

Simultaneously, I am amazed by how many people express their adoration for George W. Bush and the Republican Party. They are selling us something too. Many of my friends are shocked to know that somewhere close to half the population is susceptible to their selling pitches. How could this be? The facts to the contrary seem so clear.

I’ve been ruminating about this attraction. And I am finding a striking correlation between home shopping and the political landscape (both Republican and Democrat).

In my effort to analyze I present a “conversation” between Lisa, the perky SJ from QVC and Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. Every once in a while a few bystanders will chime in. These are their real words. Only the synthesis is mine (Lisa’s words are in roman text, Frank’s in italics, and bystanders in gray boxes).

Ok, they’re not really talking to each other. People this close to the extremes usually talk at each other. But we can listen in with fascination and awe.

• • •

This, speaking of bangles, is just right. This is one of the most popular pieces of jewelry we have ever done in an 18K gold. And if you have always wanted it, now’s the time to get it. Why is that? When midnight rolls around, and we all turn into pumpkins, this introductory price goes away forever and ever. Amen.

Class, conservatives insist, is not really about money or birth or even occupation. It is primarily a matter of authenticity, that most valuable cultural commodity. Class is about what one drives and where one shops and how one prays, and only secondarily about the work one does or the income one makes.

It’s a big savings. It’s about $23 just for being in the right place at the right time. PLUS, it’s on Easy Pay, which means it’s four payments of Easy Pay. So that’s four payments of $62.29.

Look at the texture going all the way around this. It’s this beautiful, beautiful texturing. THIS is going to be gorgeous with today’s “Special Value” earrings. Look at that together. Texture, texture, texture, texture. It’s all good.

We have already caught a whiff of this peculiar way of thinking from the red-state/blue-state literature. The great divide between those parts of the country that voted Republican in 2000 and those bits that voted Democratic…is supposed to have something to do with social class: the producers versus the parasites, the hardworking versus the comfortable, the common people versus the snobs, and so on.

It’s also going to be beautiful with the watches you already have, with the necklaces you already have. That necklace we just looked at had texture on the links. This has texture going all the way around and look at how it’s twisted. Do you see that twisted design going all the way around? And it has this, you can feel, you know it really has a detail and a definition to it and a dimension to it. It’s not a flat, round bangle —you feel the dimension going all the way around. AND I love the texture because 18k gold is the richest color in gold.

Those who run America, the theory holds, are despicable, self-important show-offs. They are effete, to use a favorite [conservative] backlash term. They are arrogant. They are snobs. They are liberals.

There exists in this country an elite that believes itself entitled to tell the rest of us what we may and may not do—for our own good, of course. These left-of-center, Ivy-educated molders of public opinion are concentrated in the mass news media, the entertainment business, academia, the pundit corps, and the legislative, judicial, and administrative government bureaucracies. Call it the divine right of policy wonks. These people feed on the great American middle class, who do the actual work of this country and make it all happen. They bleed us with an income tax rate not seen wince we were fighting for our lives in the middle of World War II; they charge us top dollar at the box office for movies that assail and undermine the values we are attempting to inculcate in our children.

G. Gordon Liddy
When I Was a Kid, This Was a Free Country

They, the conservatives, are the real outsiders…That they are often, in fact, people of privilege doing their utmost to boost the futures of a political party that is the traditional tool of the privileged is a contradiction that does not trouble them.

I’ve never understood why we take Bush and his family seriously. They come from the investment-inherited-money wing of the Republican Party. They display no real empathy for anyone who is not of their class.

Kevin Phillips
Former Aide to Richard Nixon and author of American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush

If you would look at 24k gold you would say “That doesn’t look real.” It would be so yellow. So deeply yellow to you. There are countries in the world where 22k gold is the norm. And if you looked at that you would —in fact India is where you find a lot of 22k and a number of other countries too, but it looks so yellow it doesn’t look real. PURE gold is so deeply yellow that when you get more gold in the gold, it’s a deeper color; it’s a RICHER color. So when you’re going to invest in a piece of jewelry for a lifetime, 18k gold is definitely the way to go. It’s, it’s extra. It’s special.

That’s the whole point of being a liberal: to feel superior to people with less money.

Ann Coulter

It’s almost like Tony Robbins comes in —he has great programs. I just took his personality profile again. WOW, have I changed. I need drugs. I don’t know what it is. But anyway, [laughing] he always talks about how, you know, there are a lot of people who are good.

Good doesn’t get you anywhere. And the little bit of a difference between good and great, the little bit is what starts that curve and as time goes by that’s what makes the person who comes out on top. The difference between 18k gold and 14k gold is what is going to make it —I think 14k gold is great. But 18k gold is so different and so special and so beautiful. It’s something you don’t typically find in the stores. You only typically find it if you are going to Madison Avenue.

…the great goal of the backlash is to nurture a cultural class war, and the first step in doing so…is to deny the economic basis of social class. After all, you can hardly deride liberals as society’s “elite” or present the GOP as the party of the common man if you acknowledge the existence of the corporate world—the power that creates the nation’s real elite, that dominates its real class system, and that wields the Republican Party as its personal political sidearm.

I was pricing a bracelet on Madison Avenue one time that I absolutely loved. I didn’t buy it, needless to say, you’ll understand when I tell you what I’m about to tell you but it was beautiful. It was absolutely beautiful. And if you took this price, hmmm, and you put a zero behind it and multiplied it by three, you still wouldn’t be at the price of that bangle. I mean, it was the price of a good used car. Because it’s 18k gold. And typically 18k means only handmade, only one of a kind, practically speaking, only really expensive, only that couture designer —Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, Beverly Hills, Boca Raton, Michigan Avenue kind of feel. That’s not what most of us can afford.

But now, to have 18k gold that is a couple dollars a day, that you can enjoy for the rest of your life, that you can give to your daughter and she’s going to give to her daughter. And someday your granddaughter is going to be wearing that bracelet and somebody’s going to say “That is the most beautiful bracelet” and she’s going to say “Thank you, it was my grandmother’s.”

But the jewelry that really really survives is the platinum and diamond, is the 18k, the really top of the line, that’s the stuff that is at the most expensive auction houses in New York. That is sought after by the socialites. THAT’S the kind of feel you’re getting with that bracelet. Timeless. Timeless. Timeless. Timeless.

But the time to get the introductory price and Easy Pay goes away at midnight. That part is not timeless.

The truth is that the culture that surrounds us—and that persistently triggers new explosions of backlash outrage—is largely the product of business rationality. It is made by writers and actors, who answer to editors and directors and producers, who answer to senior vice presidents and chief executive officers, who answer to Wall Street bankers, who demand profits above all else. From the megamergers of the media giants to the commercial time-outs during the football game to the plots of the Hollywood movies and to the cyberfantasies of Wired and Fast Company and Fortune, we live in a free-market world.

So, think about getting that for someone for Christmas who you really love. You know, for your mom. She’s timeless. She’s beautiful. She has great taste. Your wife, if you’re married. Your wife loves great jewelry and you don’t know what to get her and you’re a little perplexed by the whole “woman and jewelry thing,” that’s ok. She’ll love the bracelet. You’re best friend who’s always there for you, who ever it happens to be. Your daughter whose getting married, going out on the job market, just got the promotion, whatever it happens to be. But all the good stuff —Easy Pay and introductory price go away at midnight and it’s one size fits most…

We are encouraged to consume Dr. Pepper because it will make us more of an individual; to consume Starbucks because it is somehow more authentic; to pierce our navels and ride souped up Jet Skis and eat Jell-O because these are such “extreme” experiences…

Ordinary working-class people are right to hate the culture we live in. They are right to feel that they have no power over it, and to notice that it makes them feel inadequate and stupid.

And we’re going to go to the phones.

QVC: Hi, you’re on the air with Lisa, what’s your name?

Consumer: I’m Debbie.

QVC: Hi, Debbie, how are you?

Consumer: I’m great, Lisa, how are you tonight?

QVC: I’m fine Debbie.

Consumer: You look so beautiful tonight.

QVC: Thank you so much.

Consumer: And listen, before we talk about gold, Paxil will help you with your personality.

QVC: Will it? I see ads for that all the time [laughs].

Consumer: It will help you get that curve a little bit faster, Lisa.

QVC: Oh, that’s good. I’ll definitely go for that. I’ll talk to my doctor immediately. Debbie, what do you think about the bracelet?

Consumer: Oh my God, it’s the bomb.

QVC: Isn’t it gorgeous?

Consumer: It’s, it’s beautiful.

QVC: Don’t you think Debbie when you look at that, to me, it’s very old money. Do you kinda get that feel?

Consumer: Well, ya, I live in Florida. Palm Beach is nearby. It’s definitely a Palm Beach bracelet.

QVC: You know old money then, girl.

Consumer: Yes, I do. I don’t have it of course, but I know it.

QVC: But, you know what, I don’t have it either. But you don’t have to have it to recognize it.

Consumer: True.

QVC: You know, that’s like some people are smarter than I am. I don’t have to be as smart as they are to recognize what they have [laughs]. That’s ok.

Consumer: You know, you get me in a lot of trouble. Because one day I’m going to be a bag lady and I’m going to be having a sign on that says, “Will work for QVC.” I’ll be the most accessorized bag lady you’ll ever see.

QVC: You will! And Debbie, when things are on Easy Pay it makes thing a little easier.

Consumer: This is true.

QVC: Yes, it does. Enjoy. And Debbie, don’t forget, one of my favorite brand new things, this necklace, only a few left. And that brand new something coming up at 8:30.

Consumer: Okay, I’ll be looking for that. You are my ultimate favorite. I know you hear it all the time. But girl, you could sell an Eskimo snow.

QVC: Heh heh heh. That show’s coming up later in the week. No, I’m kidding. Thank you so much.

Consumer: Alright, honey, goodbye.

QVC: Bye Debbie [waves goodbye] !

…but it is just as clear to me that liberalism deserves a large part of the blame for the backlash phenomenon. Liberalism may not be the monstrous, all powerful conspiracy that conservatives make it out to be, but its failings are clear nonetheless. Somewhere in the last four decades liberalism ceased to be relevant to huge portions of its traditional constituency…

This is due partially, I think, to the Democratic Party’s more-or-less official response to its waning fortunes. The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the organization that produced such figures as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, and Terry McAuliffe, has long been pushing the party to forget blue-collar voters and concentrate instead on recruiting affluent, white-collar professionals who are liberal on social issues. The larger interests that the DLC wants desperately to court are corporations, capable of generating campaign contributions far outweighing anything raised by organized labor…

The way to collect the votes and—more important—the money of these coveted constituencies, “New Democrats” think, is to stand rock-solid on, say, the pro-choice position while making endless concessions on economic issues… Like conservatives, they take economic issues off the table.

The Democrats understand that they killed themselves politically when they reached a point where they couldn’t talk to the blue-collar worker in South Philadelphia or Queens. But now they just want to raise as much money as the Republicans, and so they’re mute.

Kevin Phillips

As for the working-class voters who were until recently the party’s very backbone, the DLC figures they will have nowhere else to go; Democrats will always be marginally better on economic issues than Republicans…But, as E.J. Dionne has pointed out, the larger result was that both parties became “vehicles for upper-middle-class interests…”

Frank regrets that Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” strategy — minimizing Democrats’ economic differences with Republicans — contributed to the erasure [of the economic]. Politics would indeed be simpler, and more to the liking of liberals, if each citizen were homo economicus, relentlessly calculating his or her economic advantage, and concluding that liberalism serves it. But politics has never been like that, and it is becoming even less so.

When the Cold War ended, Pat Moynihan warned, with characteristic prescience, that it would be, like all blessings, a mixed one, because passions — ethnic and religious — that were long frozen would come to a boil. There has been an analogous development in America’s domestic politics.

The economic problem, as understood during two centuries of industrialization, has been solved. We can reliably produce economic growth and have moderated business cycles. Hence many people, emancipated from material concerns, can pour political passions into other — some would say higher — concerns. These include the condition of the culture, as measured by such indexes as the content of popular culture, the agendas of public education and the prevalence of abortion.

George Will
The Washington Post

So nice. You know I’ve never had anyone come up to me and say, “I hate your show.” It’s so, it gives you renewed faith in the human race when you see how nice people are. Everybody’s very supportive and very kind and, it’s just the nicest thing, people are busy and you’re running around and they just take second out to say “Hey, I watch you on QVC and I really love your show” or “I really enjoy watching the channel” or whatever. It’s always nice. I think that’s so great.

And that people come back, hopefully, because we keep you company. And we always want to do that. We love having you; you know, hang out with us and say hi. But we love knowing that, you know what, every once in a while something’s going to come across that screen you’re going to go “Oh yeah. That’s it. That’s the piece I’m looking for.”

Almost 600 already ordered. Think about something so beautiful in a bracelet, something that’s not trendy. This is not a fad, this is not a trend. This is not layered t-shirts, this is not bellybutton piercing. This is not any of those things that come and go.

This is timeless, beautiful, old money elegance. And the four payments of Easy Pay and the introductory price go away at midnight tonight. So J-92769. That is very popular.

Please stay on the line.

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