The 'Working Class' and Its Values

Workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Tracy, Calif., August 3, 2015 (Robert Galbraith / Reuters)

On ‘working-class values,’ woke children, the police, Walter Mondale, wild California, and more

When I was coming of age, I heard a lot about “the workers,” usually from the left. And there were many “workers’ parties” throughout the world, of course. In the United States, the Communists had called their newspaper the “Daily Worker.”

That paper ceased publication in 1958. Are there still workers’ parties? I consulted Wikipedia, the handy-dandiest. The name “workers’ party,” says the entry, has long been used both on the left and on the right. “It is currently used by followers of Marxism, Marxism-Leninism, Maoism, social democracy, democratic socialism, socialism and Trotskyism.”

That’s a lot of isms.

Wikipedia then gives you lists of workers’ parties present and past. Those lists are long, and they crisscross the world.

More and more, I hear Republicans here at home talk about “the workers.” And they call their party a “workers’” one. Listen to Kevin McCarthy, the GOP leader in the House: “The uniqueness of this party today is, we’re the workers’ party.”

And Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, is talking about “working-class values.” Recently, he spoke in favor of unionization at Amazon. The company had “decided to wage culture war against working-class values,” he said.

I have some questions, and we might ponder the answers. First of all, what is the “working class”? Who are “the workers”? Obviously, not everyone who works. Who is in the “middle class”? Who gets bumped to the “upper class”? Etc. What are the criteria?

And do such categories make sense in America?

Also, does everyone in the “working class” have the same values? Surely, they are individuals, aren’t they? Do they all like the same things and think the same way? Are their values identical?

Furthermore, how do you know? How do you know who’s in the “working class” and what their values are? Call up George Gallup? And, if you’re a politician, how do you get to be a spokesman for “the workers” and their values?

What are middle-class values? What are upper-class ones? Polo sticks made of a particular kind of wood?

Speaking of polo: It has long been said that Britain’s problem — its obsession and hang-up — is class, while America suffers from race. But we have our share of class talk here in the USA, too. As a rule, politicians talk about “the middle class.” Joe Biden has bragged that he is known as “Middle-Class Joe.” (By whom, I don’t know.) Is it now cooler to talk about “the workers” than about the middle? (Again, do the middle work?)

One of the reasons I rejected the Left, long ago, is that I thought its class talk, and class thinking, was nuts. I’m not crazy about it from the other direction either. In my view, the best thing you can do for “workers” — and for all of us — is foster a free society.

(Incidentally, employees of Amazon voted more than 2 to 1 against unionization.)

• Earlier this week, I saw a tweet that made me wince. Also think. It came from a former National Review intern. “I left the GOP and the broader conservative movement because I decided that I don’t want to identify with a group of people who wake up in the morning and tell themselves that they are victims.”

The instinct of today’s Right, of course, would be to dunk all over this. Dunks ’r’ us. But I think some thinking is in order, to go with the dunking. We could use some rational, earnest discussion. Indeed, our former intern’s tweet would be a good subject for a symposium.

• I balked at the word “but.” I was listening to Asa Hutchinson, the governor of Arkansas, and a Republican. “Are we going to be a narrow party that expresses ourself in intolerant ways,” he said, “or are we going to be a broad-based party that shows conservative principles but also compassion in dealing with some of the most difficult issues that parents face, that individuals face.”

Anyone can know what Hutchinson meant, of course. Still, I balked, and smiled a bit, at the word “but” — “conservative principles but also compassion.” In the late 1990s, when Governor George W. Bush started to talk about “compassionate conservatism,” another Texas Republican, Phil Gramm, said, “Freedom is compassionate.”


• I got a note from a friend of mine, which I’d like to share with you, because it tells us something about politics today, and particularly on the left. Hold on to your socks — or maybe you won’t be surprised:

Jay, a friend of mine told me a really depressing story. His two adult children, in their twenties, don’t get along with him anymore, and it’s over politics. The kids are on the left. But the twist of the story is that their father is not a Trump fan. He’s not even a moderate. He has been a classic hippie as long as I’ve known him. He has never voted for a Republican. He thought both Bushes were devils. He hated and hates all things Reagan. But he’s not woke enough for his kids, and he doesn’t understand why.

Extremism is in the air, and on the ground.

My friend continues:

I’ve seen something similar with a couple I know: a husband and wife. They’re moderates, not progressives, but they never liked Trump, they proudly voted for Obama, and so on. The couple they most often travel with is a lesbian couple. Nevertheless, their woke daughter thinks they’re bigots now. It’s so weird.

Weird, for sure — and dangerous, too.

• What does it mean to “stand” with someone? I was thinking about this, in the context of Hong Kong. I am for “standing” with people and their rights. I suppose it means full support, in the various ways support can be offered.

In November 2019, President Trump said, “Look, we have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi. He’s a friend of mine. He’s an incredible guy.”

Can you stand with people under dictatorship and with the dictator at the same time? I don’t believe that’s a straddle that can be pulled off. You have to choose.

Last week, Secretary of State Blinken said, “We will continue to stand with Hong Kongers as they respond to Beijing’s assault on [promised] freedoms and autonomy, and we will not stop calling for the release of those detained or imprisoned for exercising their fundamental freedoms.”

I hope it is so.

• It occurred to me to read a piece I wrote in 2014: “A Job Like No Other: On policing.” The subject of policing was hot then; it is hot now. In my business, you sometimes write a piece so you don’t have to address the subject ever again. You say your piece (so to speak). You sing your song.

In 2014, there was a lot of criticism of the police from the right. Times change so fast, don’t they? Today, the cry you hear is “Defund the police!” Let me quote a little from my 2014 effort:

“Demilitarize the police!” is the cri du jour. Fine. Demilitarize the police. But when a military or quasi-military posture is called for, don’t let the police stand there, demilitarized. Don’t sacrifice them to suit a more traditional view of policing. Call in the actual military.

Anyway, I thought you might be interested in this mid-2010s piece. Let me say too — this is braggy — that I got an exceptionally nice compliment from a colleague. He said, “I disagree with everything in your piece, but it’s a very good piece.”

• Maybe a word about Walter Mondale. Maybe a slice of a review I wrote a few years ago. The book is Stuart Eizenstat’s, on the Carter presidency.

. . . you get a big and colorful cast of characters, not all of them southern, but with the accent on the South. . . . The vice president, Walter Mondale, was a Minnesotan. His voice, in quotations by Eizenstat, is a delight throughout. He once advises the president that America must not be pushed around by “these twerps,” meaning the Iranian revolutionaries.

Charles Krauthammer, the conservative columnist, once worked for Mondale, in less conservative days. “I loved him,” he once told me. I can see why.

After the former vice president died, David Brooks — my old colleague at The Weekly Standard — tweeted, “Walter Mondale was possibly the kindest and most humble politician I’ve known.”

• Did you see this bit of news? “Brazil building new Jesus statue even taller than Rio’s Christ the Redeemer.” Well, easier than practicing a little Christianity, I suppose.

• I feel like imposing some pictures on you. Behold the California Central Coast — wild, rugged, pre-historic:

• You remember the title “How Green Was My Valley”? Well . . .

Finally, a humble scene — a lady’s garden with a white picket fence. Warms the heart of a square like me. Makes me feel all Norman Rockwelly.

Thanks for joining me, my friends, and have a good weekend. See you next week.

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