Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Household Insecurity

Which is the most powerful source of anxiety about the insecurity of American households?

A) Same-sex marriage

B) Angelina Jolie

C) Neoliberalism



According to Richard Kim and Lisa Duggan's classic analysis, the correct answer is C). (though you get half credit for B).

The net effect of the neoliberal economic policies imposed in recent decades has been to push economic and social responsibility away from employers and government and onto private households. The stress on households is intensifying, as people try to do more with less. Care for children and the elderly, for the ill and disabled, has been shifted toward unpaid women at home or to low-paid, privately employed female domestic workers. In this context, household stability becomes a life-and-death issue. On whom do we depend when we can't take care of ourselves? If Social Security shrinks or disappears and your company sheds your pension fund, what happens to you when you can no longer work? In more and more cases, the sole remaining resource is the cooperative, mutually supporting household or kinship network.

But if marriage is the symbolic and legal anchor for households and kinship networks, and marriage is increasingly unstable, how reliable will that source of support be? In the context of these questions, the big flap over marriage in this election begins to make a different kind of sense. If voters are not particularly homophobic, but they are overwhelmingly insecure, then the call to "preserve" marriage might have produced a referendum vote on the desire for household security, with the damage to gay equality caught up in its wake.


According to conventional wisdom, in 2004 Karl Rove redirected this anxiety about household insecurity onto a manufactured threat to households, gay marriage, marshalling his values voters to electoral victory. Critics persuasively argue that the success of Rove's brilliantly Macchiavellian gay marriage strategy is actually a myth, and that the ballot initiatives boosted turnout among both Bush and Kerry voters (both of whom were against gay marriage).

But assuming that Rove was tapping into a genuine anxiety, what happened to it in the past two years? Gay marriage is certainly not central in this year's debate, even with the Jersey decision. Are voters just so disgusted with Iraq and Katrina that they're not focused on how tough things have gotten for their households? How might this anxiety about household insecurity manifest itself more directly?

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