Okay, I've canvassed most of my friends since the election this past Tuesday and the prevailing mood seems to be not euphoria, but relief. It's as if the bully had finally been removed from the classroom, and we could go back to enjoying other, even have the occasional fight, without worrying that someone was going to snatch away our milk and cookies.
The bully is, of course, the coalition of neo-conservatives and the Religious Right that makes up President Bush's base - the Pulpit Bully. In their zeal to privatize everything in sight, they've employed their usual strategy of appealing to people's worst prejudices: they've attacked the public sector as inefficient, bloated...in a word "fat." Which to most Americans translates as "disgusting."
The private sector, on the other hand, they promote as a lean mean fighting machine. Like the army with which Donald Rumsfeld thought he could win in Iraq. Like the corporations Wall Street rewards when they trim their excess flab - like, say, 2000 workers. Like Republican Governor of Arizona Mike Huckabee, touting himself as a Presidential candidate in 2008, because he's gone "from fat to fit." There's a qualification.
But it's not just the Republicans for whom "lean" has become an ethical and aesthetic ideal. The Democrats too have declared a war on fat. Formerly tubby President Clinton is leading the charge: Obesity is an epidemic - mostly among poor people, but still. Obesity is a drain on the economy - we have to pay for the health care of fat people who are usually poor and can't afford insurance. Obesity is, well, bad.
Here's how I see obesity: as a symtom. The larger problem is over-consumption. In a society that identifies consumption with patriotism, valorizes "growth" above all else and assigns status according to how much you consume, we compete with each other to see who can consume the most. Those at the top of the food chain eschew food entirely. Instead they build bigger houses than they need; they drive bigger cars than they need; to run those houses and cars, they over-consume energy. Why don't we think they're disgusting?
But no, we reserve our disgust for the people for whom food is the only thing they can afford to consume. Cheap food, full of calories and trans-fats. Which we now must tell them not to eat for their own good. But if our culture is a consumer culture, what are we really telling them? "You can't consume. You can't be part of the culture."
So forget the war on fat. It's a class war. And it doesn't address the larger problem. We need to cut back on consumption period. Make cutting back on energy consumption an upper-class thing and I promise you we'll cut back on food as well. All we're asking is, let us let out our stomachs along with our sigh of relief.