Timothy Egan: Middle Class Too Easily "Distracted" To Know Own Best Interests

Former Times reporter Timothy Egan is vexed that many middle-class Americans are heeding "the brat's cry of Joe Wilson" and succumbing to "generalized rage" stoked by "well-funded Astroturf outfits."

Timothy Egan, liberal Times reporter turned ultra-liberal nytimes.com "Outposts" blogger, titled hisWednesday nightentry "WorkingClass Zero," acondescending, stereotypically liberalattack on blue-collar folks too ignorant and easily "distracted" to fight for their own interests, which Egan defined as government-controlled health care.

Egan was vexed that many middle-class Americans were instead heeding "the brat's cry of Joe Wilson" and condescendingly reduced the concerns of conservative protesters of the size and influence of the federal government to "generalized rage" stoked by "well-funded Astroturf outfits."

The first nine years of the new century have yet to find a defining label, something as catchy as Tom Wolfe's "Me Decade" of the 1970s or the "Silent Generation" of 1950s men in gray flannel suits. Bookmarked by the horror of 9/11 and the history of a black president, the aughts certainly don't lack for drama.

But last week, lost in the commotion over the brat's cry of Joe Wilson and the shotgun blast of rage in the Washington protest, something definitive was released just as this decade nears its curtain call.

For average Americans, the last 10 years were a lost decade. At the end of President George W. Bush's eight years in office, American households had less money and less economic security, and fewer of them were covered by health care than 10 years earlier, the Census Bureau reported in its annual survey.


Harvard economist Lawrence Katz called it "a plutocratic boom." If anything comes close to defining the era, that would be my nomination. President Bush cut $1.3 trillion in taxes - and the biggest beneficiaries by far were the top 1 percent of earners. At the same time, Wall Street was inflated by the helium of a regulation-free economy that eventually gave us Bernie Madoff and banks begging for bailouts.

Now consider the people who showed up in a state of generalized rage in Washington over the weekend. They have no leaders, save a self-described rodeo clown - Glenn Beck of Fox News - and some well-funded Astroturf outfits from the permanent lobbying class inside the Beltway. They are loosely organized under a Tea Party movement, but these people are closer to British Tories than 18th century patriots with a love of equality.

Where was the Tea Party movement when the tax burden was shifted from the high end to the middle? Where were the patriots when Wall Street, backed in Congress by Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, rewrote securities laws so that the wonder boys of Lehman and A.I.G. could reduce home mortgages to poker chips at a trillion-dollar table?


"A working class hero is something to be," John Lennon, that product of ragged Liverpool, sang just after leaving the Beatles. "Keep you doped with religion and sex and T.V."

As someone who had a union card in my wallet before I owned a Mastercard, I don't share Lennon's dark view of blue collar workers. But as long as they can be distracted by people who say all government is bad, while turning a blind eye to manipulation at corporate levels, they're doomed to shouting at phantoms.