How are we to make sense of flash mobbing, the London rioting, more hatred expressed for the Tea Party, more calls for ever more debt and spending, and Barack Obama’s dive below 40% approval in the polls? Let me backtrack a bit.
I grew up with die-hard Roosevelt Democrats. Packers, shippers, and distributors made all the profits; farmers, we were told, did the work. Co-ops like Sun-Maid were noble; in contrast, grasping private packers paid on “consignment”: give us your produce in an oversupplied market and we will get what we can, when we can, for it. Often plums and peaches were dumped, and we paid the packing and storage fees for the privilege of losing the crop. Unfairness, not the capricious nature of market capitalism, is what we wished to hear.
In my youth, my mother helped out in the “Dollars For Democrats” campaign. I remember the 1960s’ talking points still, as she drove us through the poorer sections of the San Joaquin Valley raising money for JFK (Nixon would win the state by 36,000 votes). We had high hopes for Pat Brown and Sen. Claire Engle. Charles “Gus” Garrigus was our local assemblyman. At eight I met a young Alan Cranston at a run-down café on the old 99 Highway in Selma, a sort of awkward gangly guy still at that stage talking about hard-core, bread-and-butter populism.
After all, what was so unfair about wanting a 40-hour week, overtime pay, disability and unemployment insurance, public works and infrastructure (e.g., the California water projects, LAX, the state freeway system), fair housing, money for the new JC/CSU/UC tripartite “master plan” of higher California education? It was not uncommon in those days to see unpaved streets and a few outhouses — something I was told the distant wealthy could avoid but the state should not.
Most of my parents’ and grandparents’ friends, however, were Grange/Farm Bureau/Chamber of Commerce Republicans. I emphasize “friends” since in the early sixties, pre-Vietnam-protest age, politics still never impeded friendships. Most of my mom’s rural friends were amused rather than angered by her genuine liberalism, since it was directed at trying to improve the lot of the working poor, who were ubiquitous and often next door.