Liberals have long wondered why working-class voters support policies that (the liberals think) hurt the working class. Why would victims of pollution side with the polluters? Theories abound. Thomas Frank accuses the G.O.P. of luring voters with social issues but delivering tax cuts for the rich. Others point to the political machines built by ultra-wealthy donors like Charles and David Koch. Still others emphasize the influence of conservative media like Fox News. [Arlie Russell] Hochschild sees these as partial explanations but wants a fuller understanding of “emotion in politics” — she wants to know how Tea Partiers feel, on the theory that the movement serves their “emotional self-interest” by providing “a giddy release” from years of frustration….
Hochschild…assembles what she calls the “deep story” — a “feels as if” story, beyond facts or judgment, that presents her subjects’ worldview. It goes like this: “You are patiently standing in a long line” for something you call the American dream. You are white, Christian, of modest means, and getting along in years. You are male. There are people of color behind you, and “in principle you wish them well.” But you’ve waited long, worked hard, “and the line is barely moving.” Then “Look! You see people cutting in line ahead of you!” Who are these interlopers? “Some are black,” others “immigrants, refugees.” They get affirmative action, sympathy and welfare — “checks for the listless and idle.” The government wants you to feel sorry for them. And who runs the government? “The biracial son of a low-income single mother,” and he’s cheering on the line cutters. “The president and his wife are line cutters themselves.” The liberal media mocks you as racist or homophobic. Everywhere you look, “you feel betrayed.”
Hochschild runs the myth past her Tea Party friends. “You’ve read my mind,” Lee Sherman said. “I live your analogy,” Mike Schaff said. Harold Areno’s niece agrees, and says she has seen people drive their children to Head Start in Lexuses. “If people refuse to work, we should let them starve,” she said. Actually, anger this raw may depart from the 1990s, when welfare critics often framed their attacks as efforts to help the poor by fighting dependency. The resentments Hochschild presents are unadorned, and they have mutated into a broader suspicion of almost everything the federal government does. “The government has gone rogue, corrupt, malicious and ugly,” one Tea Partier complains. “It can’t help anybody.”
Did welfare really “end”? Conservatives say no. Cash aid plummeted, but food stamp usage soared to new highs and the Medicaid rolls expanded. There’s room for debate, but the grievances Hochschild presents feel immune to policy solutions. As long as larger forces are squeezing whites of modest means, it’s going to “feel as if” people are cutting in line. In Lexuses.