Sunday, April 20, 2008

Victim-Heroes, Now and Then

Jonathan Chait, on the hilarity of George Will coming to the defense of the common man:
Blue-collar whites now occupy the same position in American politics that people of color hold in the smaller political subculture of academia: a victim-hero class whose positions (usually as interpreted by outsiders) enjoy the presumption of moral superiority.

The victim-hero class is the object of competitive flattery and the subject of mutual accusations of disrespect. You can't read a Peggy Noonan paean to real America--"a healthy and vibrant place full of religious feeling and cultural energy and Bible study and garage bands and sports-love and mom-love and sophistication and normality"--without thinking of a junior faculty member extolling the dignity of Guatemalan peasant women. Bill O'Reilly's or Tim Russert's endless invocations of their working-class backgrounds are the equivalent of the campus activist who introduces every opinion by saying "As a woman of color . . . ." (The one difference being that the latter really is a woman of color, while the former are multimillionaires who retain only the most remote connection to blue-collar life.)
The academic left, however, has engaged in a 20-year-long self-critique of identity politics. The anti-academic right has attacked the identity politics of the left, but never its own. The junior faculty members and campus activists who appear in Chait's characterization are figures of the past, ghosts of yesteryear.