A Mutt Like Me, Let’s Bring Back British Leyland, and Obama’s Top/Bottom Coalition

At Barack Obama’s first “presidential” press conference, he said the following:

We have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic. There are a number of breeds that are hypoallergenic.  On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me.

Some have taken offence.  But consider this: in The Ten Weeks, the high school sophomore Terry Marlowe laments the impact of her own Sino-Italian heritage (and other things) to her father Dick:

“…And (at university) I’ll still be ‘the giraffe,’ ‘slanty-eyes,’ and ‘the Virgin Terry.’ Don’t you think that hurts? Don’t you care?”

“I do care,” Dick said. “And it does hurt. I’ve had to deal with prejudice ever since I’ve lived here. I had to work hard to overcome it. It’s not easy, we both know that…You’ve got a great life ahead of you, but you’ve got to go through some tough times first. Everybody does. Look at me,” he stopped. She looked up at him almost blankly. “You’re the product of two great civilisations. It’s written on your face. You’ve got what it takes for success, whatever path you choose to get there.”

I wonder: did anyone ever tell Barack Obama that?  Certainly not his father; he spent his life (and one book) dreaming about him.  Chances are, he mother didn’t either.  Obviously he got past that, but what will be the result?  Barack Obama, for all of the adulation, remains an enigma, and the results of his tumultuous background have both fuelled his rise to the top and will direct the way he deals with the success.  And we will unltimately be either the beneficiaries or the victims of that.

Anglophone societies–particularly ours–don’t deal with mixed-race people very gracefully, unless everybody’s forgotten how the racial mixture took place to start with.  As I’ve said before, the ability of people to procreate cross-racially is a sign of the fact that we are one human family, which in turn is IMHO a sign of divine intent.  We need to look at it in this way.


Since many of us have discovered Obama’s socialist appeal, let’s start things off right by proposing that he test drive such an idea on an industry that is in desperate straits:  the auto industry.  He could start by replicating the British solution to the problem: consolidating the American auto companies into one conglomerate, like the UK did with British Leyland back in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

British Leyland was put together in 1968 by putting Britain’s two largest auto conglomerates together, an act encouraged by the government and that left-wing stalwart, Tony Benn.  This put marques such as Austin, Morris, MG, Jaguar, Rover and Wolseley into one company, resulting in what one rag referred to as a “rickety chandelier.”  The light fixture was partially nationalised in 1975, but ultimately was dismembered as one division after another (especially Austin and Morris) fell to either foreign or domestic competition.

Car enthusiasts of the era will remember BL cars of the era frequently finding themselves “on the side of the road, bonnets up.”  That led me to compare the Episcopal Church to the old British car: when it runs, it’s great, but when you need it the most, it breaks down.  So, for that matter, did British Leyland.

This rather “tongue in cheek” exhortation would be funny except that a) there are probably people in the Obama transition team considering it and b) the American auto industry is probably headed for the same fate as its British counterpart.  In addition to producing cars that people either don’t want and/or can’t afford, the trade unions–the scourge of both UK and US car industries–have saddled their companies with long-term obligations to pensioned employees they can’t afford.  It’s true that it’s the result of an era when it was easier to give into the trade unions rather than fight them, but an administration that is (on paper at least) committed to “card check” is in no position to gracefully reverse these obligations.  The inevitable result is that we are about to enter an exercise in futility whose result is all too predictable.

Back in the 1970’s, UK Ford advertised itself as “the bright spot in the British car industry.”  Today Toyota can claim that place in the US, while Ford watches as its own fortunes are sinking.


Finally, Michael Barone makes an interesting observation about the coalition that brought Obama victory:

Obama led among those with incomes under $50,000 (big) and those above $200,000 (narrowly). Among the 56 percent with incomes in the middle, it was pretty much even. Similarly, Obama won 63 percent among those with no high school education and 58 percent among those with postgraduate degrees but led only very narrowly among those in between. That’s reflected in the finding that McCain did better with noncollege whites (58 percent-40 percent) than college whites (51 percent-47 percent). At the moment, this top-and-bottom coalition outnumbers the broad middle. But if the political balance tips, it could be the other way around.

The first politician that I’ve observed assemble a top-and-bottom coalition was Mayor John Lindsay of New York. He started off as a Republican, a very liberal one, and won the mayoralty in 1965 and 1969 with coalitions of affluent Manhattan whites on the one hand and blacks and Latinos on the other. In both elections, he won with a plurality of the vote and was behind in the four outer boroughs taken together. Lindsay championed soft policies (in the sense of the word in my book Hard America, Soft America) on crime and welfare that produced disaster in New York and in other cities where such policies were followed. Those policies answered the demands of both sides of his top-and-bottom coalition: The top wanted generous policies toward the poor that made them feel good about themselves, the bottom wanted short-term money transfers and leniency toward criminals in their midst. The top paid a small price for the results of these policies; the bottom paid a very large one. Fortunately, soft policies on crime and welfare were abandoned after three decades, thanks to Republicans like Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York and the many other politicians (mostly Republicans, but including many Democrats) who followed their lead. I’ll leave to future speculation the consequences of policies Obama may follow to meet the demands of his top-and-bottom constituency.

If there’s something demographic about this election that Evangelicals need to pay attention to, it’s this.

US society and culture has been very middle class for many years, and Evangelical churches have taken advantage of this.  Unfortunately, that aspect of our society has been progressively nibbled away at by the growing income disparity between the top of the society and the rest of it.  It’s ironic that Barack Obama–who ran on a middle-class tax cut–was brought to power by a top/bottom coalition.

But the truth is that politicians know that you have to dance with the one(s) that brought you.  If Obama’s policies favour (or pander to, take your pick) his top/bottom coalition, the rest of us will be literally caught in the middle.  The trend towards the ends may accelerate, in which case Evangelical churches will find themselves ministering to what will be effectively a Third World country.

Isn’t change delightful?

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