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Class in Drag or Who’s Middle Class Anyway?: Sarah Palin, Joe Sixpack, and Main Street [5 October, 2008]

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I watched Sarah Palin on Thursday night with my fingernails digging into my hands.  Joe Biden must have remembered the fuss over Al Gore’s sighs during the latter’s debate with George Bush, because he showed restraint even as Palin consistently refused to answer critical questions on issues like health care.

Well, that didn’t stop me from sighing, screaming, and yelling at the television.  I’ve previously written about Sarah Palin’s politics on abortion in “Barefoot and Pregnant in the White House.”  The debate only reinforced my worst fears, despite the absence of any mention of the issue – neither Palin nor Biden were asked about their positions on abortion (or perhaps they were asked about it during the time that I vainly attempted to bury my woes in a giant cookie).  If McCain and Palin get elected, we can look forward to our lives resembling scenes straight out of The Handmaids of God.  I’d look horrible in a red wimple.

But I’ll admit that even I forgot about abortion on Thursday because I was distracted by Palin’s peculiar evocation of “Joe Sixpack” and her constant attempts to perform a version of class that’s supposed to remind us all of “middle America,” the land of the virtuous and hardworking folk who say “gonna” and “doggone it” and...oh, forget it.  I’m not even going to try to replicate what she did.  Her folksy rendition of the speech patterns of people we’re supposed to recognise as the “average American” was nothing more than a caricature of class in America.

I’ve long been fascinated by the impulse of so many politicians to simulate middle class/working class origins.  But even more fascinating to me is the extent to which we hold on to the idea that we’re all just part of a struggling middle class, despite mounting evidence that a lot of us are just plain poor.  According to the reigning fiction of our times: nobody’s poor, we’re all just middle class, and we’re all just coasting by, agog at the possibility of a hint of the illusion that we just might, perhaps, perchance return to the hollow shells of foreclosed houses and dry grass lawns and reclaim our middle class lives.

When will we admit to our widespread poverty and forget the fiction of being middle class?  When are we going to tell the politicians around us to shut up already about rescuing the middle class and do something for those of us who are just plain poor?  I’ll be attempting to answer that question in a variety of ways over the next few months, and the first foray comes in the form of (shameless plug here) an article on class in America I wrote recently for the October issue of The Guide, titled “Class in Drag.”  While you’re at it, please do look through the rest of the magazine, which is probably the last truly radical/leftie queer publication in the United States, cleverly disguised as an extremely useful gay tourism guide.  Back issues are archived on its website, and there’s some fantastic and enlightening material here.  Pick a month, look through the table of contents, and you’ll see what I mean [Update: The Guide has since become nothing more than a gay tourism guide, and its best writers, including Bill Andriette, James D’Entremont, and French Wall have left].

Originally published on The Bilerico Project, 5 October, 2008.  Read the comments here.

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