By all appearances the Democratic Party had a successful convention last week.
Having no record to run on and no policies to propose it fell back on its basic strategy: rally the oppressed against their straight white male oppressors.
It’s a lesson out of Class Struggle 101. It is also an exercise in modern demagoguery.
Within today’s Democratic Party, African-Americans are guaranteed a privileged position. So privileged, in fact, that other groups are supposed to see themselves as having suffered the same oppression that American blacks did.
Thus, the convention worked long and hard to identify and isolate oppressed minority groups, the better to make them into classes of voters. Among them, Hispanics, Muslims, Native Americans, illegal immigrants, union members, gays and, of course, women.
It isn’t new. This time, the anxiety is so thick that the Democrats made their most blatant appeal to single women as a political class by telling them that the white male establishment was going to take away their sexuality, or some such thing.
As a political tactic it has worked before. The Democratic Party has mastered the art of manipulating single women into expressing their class solidarity in the voting booth.
One should not underestimate the power of class identification through victimhood. After all, African-Americans have suffered the most economically under the Obama administration, and yet, they are going to vote for Barack Obama in near unanimity.
Class interest has swamped self-interest.
To build a permanent majority liberals are always on the lookout for new oppressed groups. Two weeks ago Salon’s Paul Campos has written an essay that lays the groundwork for creating a new class of Democratic voters: the obese.
He does not say it explicitly, but how else to understand his absurd screed about how the obese are the new homosexuals, and thus that fatophobia is equivalent to homophobia.
Campos argues that obesity, like homosexuality has been singled out and labeled by the medical establishment as a disease, something that needs to be treated and eliminated.
This has, by his lights, given everyone the freedom to discriminate against people on the basis of weight.
The extent to which either one’s sexual orientation or one’s weight are chosen states is minimal. With rare exceptions, people cannot intentionally alter either their sexual orientation or their weight in a long-term way. Given all this, to label same-sex orientation or higher than average body weight as diseases stigmatizes those who are so labeled to no purpose, other than to express disapproval of deviance from social norms to which the stigmatized cannot adhere.
Telling fat people they ought to be thin is about as helpful as telling gay people they should be straight. It took many decades for the medical establishment to recognize that its “cures” for “homosexuality” did far more damage than the imaginary disease to which they were addressed, and that the biggest favor it could do for gay people was to stop harassing them. Fat people are still waiting for the same favor.
Of course, this is nonsense. But note now the obese are being invited to join the class of those who are stigmatized and harassed for failing to adhere to social norms that, we are led to believe, are unjust.
The analogy is obviously specious.
True enough, most homosexuals are born gay, and it was a very bad idea to try to “cure” them.
And some obesity is caused by metabolic and genetic disorders.
Let’s assume that we know the difference between obese and overweight. And let’s assume that we do not want to see everyone become skeletally thin.
Still, why does it happen that America has so many more obese people than anywhere else in the world? Is it something in the water or in the gene pool?
Whereas homosexual orientation should neither be treated nor cured, obesity can be treated and can be cured. With a great deal of effort, with more effort than most people can muster on their own, but it can be done. Witness the television show called “The Biggest Loser.”
Writing in Scientific American, a self-identified obese man named Amr Aboulleil refutes Campos’s points succinctly:
While it may be the case that obesity should not be seen as a disease, it is and should be seen as a disease-causing factor. A long-term study of men ages 40 to 65 with a BMI between 25 and 29 found they have 75% increase in risk of coronary heart disease, and overweight women a 50% increase. Furthermore, hypertension (which can lead to congestive heart failure), is three times more common in obese individuals. In 2006, another study found that in 2002-2003, nearly 60% of newly diagnosed diabetics were obese, and that in 1997, 18.3 of every 1000 obese people were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, as compared to only 2 of every 1000 individuals of normal weight.
Despite these diabetes statistics, the article claims that attempts to “lessen the prevalence of diabetes by eliminating ‘obesity’ makes no more sense than trying to lessen the prevalence of HIV infection by eliminating ‘homosexuality’.” The fallacy in this argument is that while there is nothing intrinsic in the biology of gay people that predisposes them to HIV infection, insulin resistance is a well documented result of obesity that can lead to diabetes.
If America is leading the world I obesity one must suspect that a great deal of it is caused by a culture that promotes bad habits, like eating too much of the wrong foods and exercising too little.
These are bad habits, even moral failings, and they can certainly be changed. Replacing bad habits with good habits is more difficult for some people than for others, but living in a culture where we are constantly told that we should love people as they are and never judge them does not help.
People need an incentive to change their bad habits. Being accepted as they are creates a disincentive.
We live in an extremely tolerant, even permissive society. We are told on a regular basis to satisfy our sexual appetites, lest we become seriously ill.
Why should anyone be surprised that a significant number of Americans has decided that they will become ill if they fail to satisfy their alimentary appetites, too?
Paul Campos notwithstanding we do not live in a culture that is especially harsh in its judgment about obesity. We do not live in a culture where people indulge their gluttony and sloth as a statement of rebelling against the white male establishment.
On the contrary, we live in a culture that promotes and sustains obesity.