I grew up in a folksinging family. Consequently, my idea of the hobo was very romantic – he was an IWW angel. Big Rock Candy Mountain sounded like a lot more pleasant utopia than the Dictatorship of the Proletariat – and it still does. In folk songs, he was always a canny step ahead of the bulls, all in order to be free.
However, I’ve noticed something about hobos in the last decade or so: there’s been a political sea change. When you see a bum with a political sign, it is invariably Limbaughdian. I saw, for instance, a man with a white beard a couple of hours ago, with two signs, one the usually begging one (“Help me I’m hungry” or something like that) and the other one, on poster board, a long denunciation of Obama for bringing Naziism to the United States. Santa Monica is, I think, progressive territory, or it once was, which is why the city council is still fairly liberal about letting street people be. I’d be surprised if Obama didn’t rule here during the last elections. Thus, the sign was not a means of sucking up to a potential audience – and besides, the handwriting was too angry for that explanation to float.
He reminded me of a beggar I used to run into in Tarrytown in Austin – another Democratic Party stronghold – whose signs routinely denounced Democrats for being traitors, simps, underminers of our ways, etc.
Now, there is a myth among liberal academics that the uneducated white guy is a strong supporter of the worst Republicans – but in fact, stats show, pretty consistently, that the more educated you are, the more likely you will vote Republican. Here, simple economic interest seems to explain the pattern. College graduates, with their higher salaries, are more inclined to vote for the party that will keep their taxes down. Of course, there are exceptions in this group, and the Third Party Dems have seen in the social liberalism of this group an ace way of stealing a march on the GOP – adopt GOP economic policies and combine them with social liberalism. But that strategy acknowledges the lifestyle interest of the desired constituency.
In the case of the hobo block (and it is probably not a block that goes to the polls), it is hard to see the cultural or economic interest in denouncing the party representing the “handout”. After all, the man with the beard and my friend from Tarrytown are directly demanding a handout! One would think the more handouts the better. This was, in fact, Norman Mailer’s strategy when he ran for Mayor of New York – he actually recruited angry homeless people because these were the people he wanted to appeal to. Norman Mailer was one of a kind.
But that was a long time ago, when the Big Rock Candy Mountain still distantly glimmered. It saddens me that it seems to have gone into permanent decline. The man with the white beard is surely old enough to have been a “child of God/walking along the road” of Joanie’s song – but somewhere along the journey, he absorbed the politics of Ronald Reagan. It is as though the anti-state views of the old IWW – in which the state and corporation were identified as one monster – have been transformed into simple anti-state views, in which the state is bad cause it keeps down the hardworking billionaire.
This makes me think that American politics are even more hopeless than I already think them. Wow.