Archie and the Pharisees

Archie Bunker, of All in the Family could go down as the most damaging fictional character in American history. Before Archie, the image of the working family was, in part tied to G.I. Joe and Rosie the riveter. These people were not geniuses or necessarily able to solve great problems on their own. But, they were, as part of a team, capable of accomplishing significant tasks.

Archie single-handedly represented all that was wrong with society.  He was the reason society wasn’t progressing. If we could just ignore people like him, or shut them up, society would progress quickly and dramatically.

In the Christian parable of “The Pharisee and the Publican”, the publican prays simply for forgiveness while the Pharisee explains to God that he is worthy because he is not a sinner like the publican. Archie lets everyone be the Pharisee because at least “we are not like Archie Bunker.” Entire government agencies exist to make sure that the Archies of the world can’t treat people unfairly.

The “justification” for politically correct speech codes is that Archie can’t be trusted and we have to limit his speech to make the world a better place. In the rules of this Orwellian Newspeak, no impure thoughts can be expressed. We assume (incorrectly, I think) that if people can’t express thoughts we disapprove, they won’t think those thoughts.

One of the icons of the left, Saul Alinsky, identified these people and described their concerns in the last chapter of his Rules for Radicals. In “The Way Ahead” he describes a “fearful people who feel threatened from all sides … with a Social Security decimated … the shadow of unemployment from a slumping economy … beset by taxes…”

Alinsky continues, “They look at the unemployed poor as parasitical dependents, recipients of massive public programs all paid for by them, ‘the public'”. He then describes what is needed to include these people in the progress he wanted to see and warns, “If we don’t win them Wallace or Spiro T. Nixon (sic) will.”

Unfortunately for America, that is not the route the “experts” chose. Instead, they took the self-glorifying route of the Pharisee and spent their time telling themselves that, at least, they weren’t like Archie. Thomas Sowell describes this in his book, The Vision of the Anointed, with its wonderful subtitle,” Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy.” He speaks of the “anointed” and the “benighted” (i.e. the Bunkers) and how the anointed have decided that the Bunkers of the world should not have a voice in social policy because they lack the enlightened understanding needed to rule.

From the 70’s on the popular phrase among the cognoscenti for the statements of people like Archie was “code word.” Any concern raised by Archie was simply dismissed. It could not be that he had any safety concerns about having his children be bussed into dangerous neighborhoods.  His complaints about bussing were just a code word for racism.  It could not be that he was really concerned about crime. That had to be a code word for racism. Apparently, Archie had no real problems; he just had excuses for racism. In the meantime, the self-anointed  leaders continued on their way disregarding all the complaints.

The character of Archie Bunker was inspired by Alf Garnett, the character from the BBC sitcom Till Death Us Do Part. A recent episode during the British elections shows how this arrogance can harm political discourse.  Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister from the Labour Party was talking to a lifelong Labour voter. The woman was explaining her concerns about the level of immigration into the UK. After the conversation, a lapel microphone captured Brown’s comment about “that bigoted woman.” Here was a politician dismissing serious concerns from a woman who regularly voted for his party. Not surprisingly, Labour lost the election and Mr. Brown has announced his resignation as head of the Labour Party.

Right-wing commentators love to play the tape of candidate Barack Obama talking about people “who cling to their guns and their religion.” The term “limousine-liberal” worked for years as shorthand for politicians who don’t take “working people’s” views seriously even as they ask for their votes.

Most elections are about the incumbent person or party. In difficult, or scary, times, the opposition need only remove any fears the voters may have about giving political power to a different person or party. With the economic problems and military conflicts during the 2008 campaign, the US was ready to give power to a politician they felt they could trust. Mr. Obama’s calm demeanor sealed the deal.

Now that he is President, it is not surprising to find that the problems continue. In the economy, bailouts continue, the Euro is falling, the stock market is fluctuating, states and countries are facing budget problems, unemployment and mortgage problems continue.

In other areas, we have oil spills, people trying to blow up planes and Times Square and some pretty disreputable governments having, or about to have, nuclear weapons. It is, frankly, a wonderful time to be a pessimist.

Yet, when people complain, or are nervous, or ask what is going on, it must simply be because they are racist and their President is black. That’s absurd! There are real issues and real reasons to be concerned about both our safety and our economic future. When people express those concerns and their differences with policy ideas they need to be heard and have their ideas addressed.

Alinsky’s discussion of these people fully explains the anger.  At a time of economic uncertainty, when jobs and homes were being lost, the administration and Congress kept talking about jobs but only as a reason, or excuse, for the programs they wanted to implement to help the poor. The Democrats did everything possible to anger the working-people and nothing to alleviate their fears and concerns.  Alinsky would certainly have understood the anger.  Why can’t we?

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