We get boycotted

The website Boycott Alabama Now, created by a disgruntled UAW retiree, has been a nine hours’ wonder in the Alabama media. Joe Babiasz, already tagged “Joe the Autoworker” by at least one ink-stained wretch, has a grudge against our state because our Sen. Richard Shelby has been the most outspoken critic of a bailout for General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.

The text on Babiasz’s site is far from persuasive; it’s too wordy and unfocused. Visitors from Alabama have been amused by its way of threatening to punish Alabama’s economy (a hollow threat) while also flattering Alabama’s “great people.” Joe seems like a decent guy who can’t bring himself to be mean to us.

There’s also something poignant about it. Joe Babiasz, like many thousands of others, spent most of his life as a loyal employee of one of America’s landmark companies, GM. Watching it fail now would have to feel like a death in the family. Doing nothing to rescue the company must seem to him like watching a loved one drown instead of throwing out a lifeline. There’s no way to argue with these feelings. It would be vindictive to belittle them.

It’s another sign of the mindless destruction caused by the financial crisis, most of it happening beneath the mass media’s radar. Joe Babiasz chose Richard Shelby as a focus for his rage, the mostly impotent rage that millions are feeling to a greater or lesser degree. His effort to do something — start a boycott, embarrass the heartless senator — springs from this deep well of emotion.

My family is fortunate to be in a relatively recession-proof condition right now. But in less than a year’s time I expect to be entering the academic job market, and it looks a lot less promising than it did only last summer. Still, we have reason to be thankful. Yesterday I found this personal story from fellow historian Elle. When your family is suffering, it’s hard to take a detached view of the policy alternatives available. Your heart tells you something must be done. Anything.

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