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5 The Contours of Political Ideology and Orientation Do particular political ideologies and orientations predominate among college-educated Americans who have come of age over the last thirty-plus years? My study of these fifteen people, however diverse they might be, can reveal only modest, tentative answers to such a question. But the benefits of this close-up focus, and of the richness of detail yielded by in-depth interviews, are nonetheless substantial. For I am able here to analyze not only what people say about their politics at great length, but also how they say it. And as Bakhtin (1981) in particular has argued, speech and the language people use must be understood as a kind of historically situated and influenced dialogue with one’s culture and society. As we will see, what these people say and how they say it seems to echo and, on occasion , contradict the contemporary American political culture and news media environment outlined in chapter 2. Only seven of the participants ever used any form of the word “ideology ” in our interviews, and only one, Gregory, did so with any regularity. With their words as my guide, I am nevertheless going to discuss what I see as their “ideologies,” as well as their orientations to and understandings of politics and civic life, especially government and formal politics. I have devised three interrelated categories to classify the most common and compelling aspects of their ideologies and orientations: “Class and Power,” “Race,” and “Government.” CLASS AND POWER Agency and Class These fifteen Americans came from varied socioeconomic backgrounds. Two grew up poor or working class, six were lower-middle class, four middle class, two upper-middle class, and one upper class. The fact that each went on to receive at least some college education no doubt inclines the sample toward upward class mobility, and there was some rough indication of that (even at this relatively early stage in their adult lives). At the time I last spoke with them, my best estimation was that at that point—between early 2002 and early 2003—three were lower-middle class, eight middle class, three upper-middle class, and one upper class. This relative lack of poor or working-class backgrounds and voices in my study may very well have had implications for the way these people as a group tended to talk—or not to talk—about class. That said, it is also important to note that, relative to other college-educated individuals, this group did not tilt toward affluence either. Tracy, Gregory, and Timothy, and to a lesser extent Sophia and Sadie, expressed their concern for and at times identification with, the poor and working class. These five participants talked in different ways, with different levels of sophistication, about how society was structured unfairly, and how people of modest means suffered the most from the inequities. Tracy, for example, spoke of how she wanted very much to move out of her parents ’ apartment and live on her own but that “economically, that’s not possible right now because rents are so high,” and that “the status quo being what it is, I’m not benefiting from it.” Then again, my sense was that for Tracy, Gregory, and Timothy, their sympathies and attachments had at least as much to do with the fact that they were people of color (and in Gregory’s case, gay as well), and so identified with underdogs and knew what it was like to be deprived of power. Similarly, it seemed to me that the feminist views that Sophia and Sadie shared were connected, along with their liberal-left politics (and for Sadie, her childhood experience of being on welfare), to the concern they expressed for the poor and working class. Of the fifteen participants, they were the only two to cite socioeconomic inequality as one of the three most important problems facing America (“poverty” was also cited once, by Timothy). Of the Euro-American men, Nathan came the closest to expressing unadulterated sympathy for the poor and working class when he talked about how he too identified with underdogs, and about social welfare programs being necessary because “there are people who obviously need help.” A few other participants also expressed concern for poor and workingclass Americans, but it was striking how consistently even they made it clear that people can triumph over adversity if they just make good decisions (including, in particular, staying in intact nuclear families) and work hard. Sometimes this...


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MARC Record
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