Once in a while a mainstream American politician forgets the script and deviates from the self-imposed censorship of the club rules.  It happened about three weeks ago in San Francisco, when presidential contender Barack Obama casually mentioned that some of the American working class, embittered by their harsh economic reality, sought solace in religion, guns and the comforting distrust of those who look different.    

Obama immediately faced a barrage of self-righteous indignation from his rivals and the corporate media, all of whom undoubtedly knew exactly what he meant.  Hilary Clinton and John McCain, both corporate candidates, and worth tens of millions of dollars in private wealth, amazingly accused Obama of elitism.  As disingenuous as Clinton and McCain were, Obama had broken the rules by venturing into the forbidden territory of class and social control.  Clinton and McCain need not have worried.  Obama is a team player and knows what is expected of him.

The image of American workers as classless, God-fearing patriots must be maintained.  This is what the American “two party, one ideology” system demands and what our rulers have successfully managed to do since the country was created.  Discussion of class inequality and how it is made palatable has always been regarded as unpatriotic.

Public figures who have tried to raise class inequality as a serious issue are quickly marginalized, labeled extremist and generally rendered unsuitable for public office.  

Even Martin Luther King was just another black civil rights troublemaker until towards the end of his life he began to see that racism and the class system were inextricably linked and perpetuated by a capitalist order that needed Americans to stay divided, suspicious and self-controlling.  It was then that King went from being a troublesome priest to dangerous subversive.  These days race, unlike race, is openly discussed despite still being exploited politically with sophisticated coded language.  Race is simply no longer a taboo subject, at least when it is detached from class.  America is publicly anti-racist and politicians promote this.   

Class remains an entirely different matter.  Traditionally American business and political elites have been able to maintain greater economic inequality compared to other industrialized societies, because, along with constant indoctrination, there was enough upward mobility to keep working Americans satiated and hopeful.  In the last 25 years this upward mobility has come to a grinding halt as real wages have deteriorated along with living standards.  Working people may have more gadgets and channels to watch than their parents but the things that provide meaningful quality of life, such as health, housing and higher education, are increasing out of reach.  The average American today simply cannot do what his parents were easily able to and with less formal education. What we have in the United States is an increasingly barbaric class system, with inequality at levels unseen since the 1920s.  This has meant that increasing numbers of Americans have become the working poor.  They work so they can live and not much more.  As hope disappears, many turn to religion and blind patriotism, even xenophobia, to find meaning or just a delusional sense of continuity.

What Obama did, however tamely, was to attack the methods by which working people are kept distracted and in doing so he challenged the idea of classlessness in this country.  The reaction Obama generated openly shows how central the myth of classlessness is to the dominant ideology.  It is impossible for a tiny sliver of American society to own jost of the wealth and resources without the mass of people being indoctrinated to believe that everyone has the chance to join the rich.    

The corporate media, Clinton and McCain attacked Obama, not just because they smelt blood in a political sense but because they dare not let class become an election issue or ever.  Too many necessary delusions rest on the myth of America’s classlessness.