As a teenaged cashier seeing
how food stamps were used by
so-called disadvantaged people, I
changed my mind about the Democratic
Party. I also learned how
people gamed the welfare system.
They’d buy two dozen packs of
soda with food stamps and then
sell them at a discount for cash.
They’d ring up their orders
separately, buying food with food
stamps, and beer, wine, and cigarettes
with cash. They’d regularly
go through the checkout line
speaking on their cell phones. I
could never understand why our
lives felt like a struggle while
those living off of government
largesse enjoyed trinkets that I
only dreamed about. . . .
Every two weeks, I’d get a
small paycheck and notice the line
where federal and state income
taxes were deducted from my
wages. At least as often, our drugaddict
neighbor would buy T-bone
steaks, which I was too poor to
buy for myself but was forced by
Uncle Sam to buy for someone
else. This was my mindset when I
was seventeen, and though I’m far
less angry today than I was then, it
was my first indication that the
policies of Mamaw’s “party of the
working man”—the Democrats—
weren’t all they were cracked up
Political scientists have
spent millions of words trying to
explain how Appalachia and the
South went from staunchly Democratic
to staunchly Republican in
less than a generation.
Some blame race relations
and the Democratic Party’s embrace
of the civil rights movement.
Others cite religious faith and the
hold that social conservatism has
on evangelicals in that region.
A big part of the explanation
lies in the fact that many in
the white working class saw precisely
what I did, working at Dillmans.
Nobody likes to feel like a