Neglected Voter by David Paul Kuhn

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“A brilliantly insightful analysis of American politics at the national level.”—General Wesley K. Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander

“A provocative wake-up call to American liberalism.”
—Jules Witcover, Legendary Washington political columnist

“If you follow politics, you already think you understand the "gender gap" — but you're wrong. You won't really comprehend its massive implications until you read this book. We know a lot about why women vote disproportionately Democratic, but until David Paul Kuhn undertook this sophisticated, absorbing study, no one had adequately explained why men vote disproportionately Republican. Using a masterful combination of first-person interviews, polling data, and personal insight, Kuhn shows why millions of white men in America broke their ties to the Democratic Party and made Republicans the majority party for two generations. But Democrats needn't despair, because Kuhn also shows them how they can win white men back.” —Larry Sabato,founder and director of the University of Virginia 's Center for Politics and author of A More Perfect Constitution

“Democrats will not get very far by blaming the voter. David Paul Kuhn, author of 'The Neglected Voter: White Men and the Democratic Dilemma' points out that moral issues cannot easily be separated from economic ones. Poor people fret more about family breakdown because they see more of it than rich people do and its consequences, for them, are worse.”—The Economist magazine

“Archilochus once said, 'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.' David Paul Kuhn, a seasoned and compelling political writer, obviously knows many things... The Neglected Voter is a smooth, fast-moving tour through presidential election history since 1960, sprinkled with interesting voter statistics. It's entertaining, full of pithy quotes from winners and losers, hard to put down. I enjoyed it, and so would anyone interested in presidential politics.” —David C. Acheson, The Washington Times, November 11, 2007

“A very smart book.” —Tucker Carlson, conservative commentator

“Kuhn accurately links the Republican dominance of the past 40 years to the loss of the Haggard vote…[and] wisely suggests a ploy similar to John Kennedy's in 1960: Make the argument that we're weaker because of the Republicans.” —Joe Klein,
Time magazine

The Neglected Voter, excerpts:

…The United States remains the only nation in the western world where the conservative party consistently wins the vote of the workingman, poor and middleclass alike.


… Richard Nixon was watching the Ohio State–Purdue football game on television while more than a quarter-million protesters poured down Pennsylvania Avenue, filling Washington’s Mall with a sea of antiwar activists. It was 1969. In February, the final issue of the Saturday Evening Post was published, and with it went one of the last vestiges of the 1950s. By the first of March, Mickey Mantle had announced his retirement, and by the end of March Dwight Eisenhower was dead. In Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, the gay patrons of the Stonewall Inn refused to let police hassle them any longer, and so began three days of rioting and the modern gay-rights movement. A month later on Chappaquiddick Island, just as he was emerging as the leading Democratic contender to challenge Nixon in 1972, Senator Edward Kennedy’s car plunged off a bridge. Though he escaped, his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, died. With her death went the last presidential hopes of Joseph Kennedy’s sons.

Soon after, the first U.S. troops began to withdraw from South Vietnam, and on July 20, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. In mid-August, more than 400,000 young people gathered for the Woodstock Music festival. By October protesters gathered on the Washington Mall to unite in their declaration, “Hell no, we won’t go!” On November 18, the patriarch of what could have been, Joseph Kennedy, died. In early December it seemed as if the counterculture would soon vanish as well: when some 300,000 people gathered to see the Rolling Stones perform in California, Hells Angels beat the concertgoers, killing several, and the idealism of the flower children slowly wilted with the self-inflicted disorder.

And then there was the white workingman. He ate eggs and corned beef hash, and loved his Sundays, more for football than for church. Each weekday, he woke up when it was still dark, dragged himself to work, had lunch with the guys, came home, chatted with his wife over supper, and watched the activism unfold on television. His daughter could not afford to be a hippie; she had to work. He was proud of his son, who luckily returned alive from Vietnam. The son did as his father had done before him, serving his country when his country called. But now his son was being called a “baby killer” by those who had not fulfilled their duty.

This white workingman was not part of any movement. He was said to want to keep down women, minorities, anyone not like him. And those white men doing a little better but still working hard, they were “the man.” They were wrong by birth, white and male and simply “not with it.” Like a black face in the ghetto, the workingman was the white face in the white neighborhoods (soon the suburbs, then the exurbs as he retreated from urbanized America) just as society seemed to say he was little more than a rerun, a relic, a dusty outlook to be washed away with the endless good of ceaseless progression.

Amid feminism, black power, and gay rights, he was at minimum a by-stander, an outsider. At maximum, he was the very face of everything the counterculture was countering. But his gripe was often larger than him. The protesters were challenging the very social contract he had agreed to, surrendered to, when he decided to be a man, get a job, support a family, and attempt to make it in this world. The common man, celebrated in the 1950s for earning his keep, was now a sucker for surrendering to the system. The road his fathers had walked—paved with the belief in vows, duty, and honor—was being condemned by this new generation.

The white workingman was forgotten, a victim of the very bigotry said to be his sin alone. He was portrayed as being frozen in amber, crying out to dominate, to persecute. So he looked for those who did speak up, men who publicly turned against the new liberal tide. Sometimes this push-back was born of racism. But the progressive tide smothered far more than “white male privilege.” It nearly drowned the values and outlook of the traditional American man.

As the nation was awash in protest, white men recalled the Apollo landing. They saw the best of America and hoped not to drown in the worst. Nixon understood this perfectly; he found an American tale worth telling, worth holding onto, worth taking to the critics. When liberals cast white workingmen as the antagonists, those same men began to follow the alternatives—the demagogues, the instigators, the false, the stars, and the worthy—because, though the alternatives were conservative and white workingmen were often moderate, they saw men standing up, and their stand was clear. Some of these alternatives were grunts, some were generals. Some were acting, and some were genuine. But they were at least men, men who said it was okay to be skeptical, to be a white man, to question some of the progress of the times without undermining its glories.

“The Problem of the Blue-Collar Worker”

…What came back on April 16, 1970, was a confidential Department of Labor report by Jerome M. Rosow, the assistant secretary of labor for policy. Titled “The Problem of the Blue-Collar Worker,” only about 25 copies were ever circulated. When a copy leaked to the Wall Street Journal, that paper’s headline read: “Secret Report Tells Nixon How to Help White Workingmen and Win Their Vote.” “Income needs for a growing family rise faster than are normally provided by advancement,” the report read, and it was these workingmen who viewed their jobs as “dead ends.” “Since 1965,” it continued, “money wages have advanced 20 percent but real earning measured in true purchasing power remained almost static.” The report stated that, “economic insecurity” was “com-pounded by the fact that blue-collar workers are often the first to feel the effects of an increase in unemployment... [and] are more dependent on sheer physical health for their livelihood.... These people are most exposed to the poor and the welfare recipients. Often their wages are only a notch or so above the liberal states’ welfare payments.”

The confidential report found that “the blue-collar worker increasingly feels that his work has no ‘status’ in the eyes of society, the media, or even his own children,” adding that these white men feel like “forgotten people.” In a telling paragraph, the report stated that the blue-collar white male’s “only spokesmen seem to be union leaders... they are overripe for a political response to the pressing needs they feel so keenly.”

The events of the day overtook the report’s influence. Nixon announced he was sending troops into Cambodia, expanding the war in Vietnam. Student protests resurged on campuses nationwide. After several days of unrest at Ohio’s Kent State University, National Guardsmen released a volley of gunfire, killing four students and severely injuring others.

Four days later, in Manhattan’s Financial District, hundreds of college students gathered to demand the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. All over the city, American flags were at half-staff to memorialize the slain Kent State students. As the hour neared noon … white men, many wearing overalls, some with brown or orange or yellow hardhats, their work boots resounding through the streets, their calloused fists clasped, came from four directions. They moved in on the white activists, many of whom were richer and better educated than them. Chanting “Love it, leave it” and “All the way, U.S.A,” a few hundred construction workers broke the police lines.

Activists attempted to take refuge in the lunch-hour crowds. But the construction workers sought them out and attacked activists with their hardhats and their fists, even pummeling one man with a wrench. The chanting attracted more construction workers, who made their way to a federal building and forcefully outflanked police in order to place American flags at full-staff beside the statue of George Washington. It was the spot where America’s first president had been sworn into office.

Near City Hall, a 29-year-old Wall Street lawyer, who was a Democratic candidate for the state senate, was beaten to screams of “kill the Commie bastards.” Running through the streets, yelling, holding American flags up high, workers stormed City Hall, cowing policemen stationed to protect the mayor’s office. They forced city officials to raise the flag to full-staff. As the flag was raised, the men sang the Star Spangled Banner. When policemen kept their helmets on, one construction worker demanded that they take the helmets off out of respect. Many of the officers did.

The Hardhat Riot was like an ax in a plank of wood. From then on, the Democratic divisions were vivid in every splinter and, as the plank became more and more broken, the riots symbolized that the Democratic coalition was burning apart, its divisions now incandescent in the worst way…

On the White Male Gap

… Between Harry Truman’s narrow victory in 1948 and George W. Bush’s victory in 2004, every strata of the white male vote shifted in the Republicans’ favor. For the poorest third of Americans, white women’s support for Democratic presidential candidates went up 3 percent. For white men in the same income bracket, there was a 25 percent decline! The much-discussed success of the GOP in reaching poor whites over the past half century is a story of men. Within the middle third of white Americans, the Democratic Party saw a decline of 15 percent among white females. But white men left Democrats at twice that rate. Their support for Democratic presidential candidates declined 29 percent between 1948 and 2004. A third of white middle-class men left the Roosevelt coalition in the past six decades. Even within the wealthiest third of whites, a group that is traditionally Republican, Democrats lost 6 percent of white men since 1948, while they earned the support of 3 percent more women.

… Reagan’s chief strategist Richard Wirthlin first coined the term “gender gap.” “The context of the gender gap—once it was identified and the press ran with the idea—the question they always asked was, Why is Reagan doing so poorly among women? But that’s only one blade of the scissors. The question I was always interested in was, Why was Reagan doing so well among men?” Wirthlin tells me over breakfast. “It’s been a mystery to me for 25 years why that wasn’t recognized. When the question is refocused on the issue of our strength, then it provides a very different point of view. Mainly, why spend tremendous campaign resources in trying to soften the harsher, negative image of women and rather reinforce the strength among men?” He adds, “One of the political axioms, I have always felt, was you concentrate on your strength.”

First Looks at Reagan’s Confidential 1980 Campaign Plan

… Near the conclusion of Reagan’s confidential 1980 campaign plan, chief strategist Richard Wirthlin detailed his intention to “break up” the Democratic coalition. To “target the populist voter,” the campaign would work toward the “development of the aspiring American populist theme of ‘anti-bigness—big government, big business, big labor.’” They were to deflect questions about Reagan’s California governorship, under which spending sky-rocketed, by insisting that the issue of the election was Carter’s presidency. The populist media messages were to be “simple, direct, and optimistic.” They were to focus on “specific” media messages for “blue-collar and labor union members” utilizing “principal themes” that “project a realization that these voters are no longer solely motivated by economic concerns but by larger social issues as well.”

Jimmy Carter’s Take

... Jimmy Carter never saw it coming. The patriarch of today’s Democratic Party, once the “new man” of the new South, is seated beneath a photograph of a lake beside a snow-covered mountain, a gift from Ansel Adams. His blue veins push against his pale skin. There are pictures of his wife and daughter and the Jimmy Carter of the 1970s. The nuclear engineer, the man who left his naval career to save the family farm, the last rural American to win the White House—every chapter of his life is present in Carter’s long blue stare.

“You are the last Democrat to nearly split the white male vote,” I tell him.

“Oh really,” Carter replies, pausing, and tilting his chin upward.

“When Ronald Reagan won the presidency, he won a slim majority of white women. But he dominated white men. Mr. President, you went from 47 percent of the white male vote in 1976 to only 32 percent in 1980. White women re-turned to Democrats. White men never did.”

“Oh really,” Carter repeats, “that’s surprising.”

He turns away, looking to-ward the 1970s portrait of himself. “Women are more inclined toward peace and social issues—education, health care, the avoidance of war,” he says, returning to the female vote. Carter lives today in the same town where he was born. His red brick ranch house is “just two football fields” from the center of Plains, a small town in the Deep South of Georgia. “I think,” he replies, “that a lot of those middle-classmen are beginning to ascertain that this Republican administration has been both wasteful, has put an extraordinary and unprecedented burden on our children and grandchildren for debt, and has subverted any possibility in the future for escalated improvements in education or health and has grossly favored extremely rich people.”

Carter references the widening wage gap between executives and workers. In 1980 the CEO-to-worker ratio in annual earnings was 42 to 1. By 2005, it was 411 to 1. “Those kinds of trends are sometimes esoteric but sometimes they become absurd,” Carter adds, “just a general feeling that I’m getting screwed, my bosses are getting rich and I’m not getting any better…”

The Other Side of the Gender Gap

… In the last three decades, hundreds of books were published discussing the Democratic decline. But none got to the pith of the problem. From the defeat of Hubert Humphrey to the failed bid of John Kerry, the very voter who built the edifice of Republican presidencies remained substantially ignored by liberalism, the media, and the academy. The gender gap was seen through one gender’s eyes—and they were not male. “Women Shifting Sharply Away from Reagan, Republican Party,” the Washington Post headlined in May 1982, looking toward the midterm elections. The political director of the Democratic National Committee, Ann F. Lewis, told the Post, “‘The right-wing takeover of the Republican Party’ has driven moderate women from the party.”15But the facts demonstrated otherwise. The left wing was driving far more men from Democrats. Lewis was wrong about women as well. Reagan won the votes of more women than Carter with a slim majority of white women. By September of 1983, Newsweek’s coverage typified the mainstream media. Its headline asked, “What Do Women Want?” The gender gap, it told us, was “shorthand for the president’s persistently lagging support among women.”

A decade later Business Week asked in a headline, “Can the GOP Bridge the Gender Gap?” explaining, “The party tries broadening a base beyond angry white men.” But it was the Democrats whose base was thinning. Two decades of wrongheaded reporting and political science research about one of the most fundamental issues in modern presidential politics persisted. It was not simply a question of considering the male side of the issue. The media and political analysts ignored the fact that the gender gap was fundamentally a male issue! They were intellectually negligent in failing to consider that civil rights, the culture wars, and the shifting perceptions of gender, war, urban upheaval, the economy, and the welfare state were drastically changing how white men voted. And the reasons were far more substantial than backlash…

On Cultural Populism, the South and the Role of Race

… The Deep South had changed drastically by 1968. Humphrey won only 5 to 10 percent of the white Deep South vote, in contrast to the region’s loyalty to Democrat Al Smith in 1928. Moreover, in Dixie, Democrats won only about one quarter of white southern voters in 1968. Since Eisenhower defeated Stevenson in 1952, Democrats had won at least half of southern whites. The South was no longer friendly territory for Democrats after 1968. The majority of the Confederate states were now with the party of Lincoln, and black Americans— aware that Democrats were now their champions for equality—abandoned the party that had won their freedom.

Yet, the rise of the Republican Party did not begin over racial politics, though it did begin in the South. The “southern Flip,” when Democrats below the Mason-Dixon line switched parties, is often traced to South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond in 1948. Thurmond’s defection from the party of Harry Truman demonstrated that the Deep South could be sliced from Democrats. With a promise to defend segregation, Thurmond’s Dixiecrats won four states in the Deep South, including Alabama and Mississippi.

But the first substantive Republican inroads into the loyally Democratic South had occurred two decades earlier. Hoover won the presidency for the Republicans
in 1928 on values issues, portraying the Democratic New York Governor Al Smith as a cultural outsider. Smith was branded with the taint of the slick urban political machine of Tammany Hall; he was Catholic and against prohibition. The portrayal allowed Hoover to reach much of the Protestant South, and he won in a landslide. It was the first widespread Republican victory in Dixie since Reconstruction. The party of Lincoln won five southern states in the peripheral South, including states like Florida, Tennessee, and Texas, on cultural issues. In total, nearly half the southern vote left the Democrats based on a cultural populist appeal in 1928.

… At one point during the 1928 campaign, the evangelist John Straton connected Al Smith with the liberalized vices of the city. He said over his radio broadcast that Smith stood for “Card playing, cocktail drinking, poodle dogs, divorces, novels, stuffy rooms, dancing, evolution, Clarence Darrow, overeating, nude art, prizefighting, actors, greyhound racing, and modernism.”

Almost eighty years later, as the Iowa caucuses neared, Howard Dean was the front runner for the 2004 Democratic nomination. In some of the first salvos of attack advertising, a conservative tax-cutting group ran a commercial denouncing Dean. In the ad, a white couple was asked what they thought of Howard Dean’s plan to raise taxes on working families. The man replied that Dean should: “Take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times–reading,” and the wife chimed in, “body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, Left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.”

… Andrew Jackson was the first modern president to seek the common white man’s vote and, in 1840, the first modern campaign was an effort to undo his legacy. In this endeavor, Whig William Henry Harrison was championed as the everyman. His campaign sang of his log cabin. He referred to himself as a humble back-woodsman. But Harrison was from a most distinguished American family, raised on a palatial Virginia estate, and classically educated. His father was a signatory to the Declaration of Independence. It was 1840 and Jackson’s heir, President Martin Van Buren, was fighting for reelection.

The Whigs realized that they had no hope of retaking the White House if they continued to be perceived as the privileged party. They were intent on re-orienting the public debate along cultural lines, to transcend class, as Sean Wilentz explains in The Rise of American Democracy. The Whigs alleged that “Democratic corruption was spiritual as well as material,” Wilentz writes. Davy Crockett became a symbol of the Whigs as leaders “suddenly showed a fondness for the manly.” With vivid echoes of the conservative cultural populism of the modern day, the Whig Horace Greeley said, “Wherever you find a bitter, blasphemous Atheist and an enemy of Marriage, Morality, and Social Order,” it was “one vote for Van Buren.”

During barbecues and bonfires, Whigs handed out free hard cider. Harrison paused at one point in a campaign speech to take a swig and whooped Indian calls on the stump. An astonishing eight out of ten eligible voters turned out, and Harrison won. There was much of Harrison in George W. Bush. The son of a president and the grandson of a senator, Bush nevertheless campaigned as a regular guy, “a plain-spoken fella’,” and a Christian man. Americans sought a “straight shooter” who understood why so many were offended by Clinton’s conduct. If Reagan was in-tent on reinvigorating America’s manhood, Bush was intent on restoring the moral promise of that manhood…

Norman Mailer and the Politics of Masculinity

… Norman Mailer limps forward, bellows “Hello,” and shoves his grip into mine. It’s the end of summer in Provincetown. Tall green hedges surround his redbrick home. He sits down in a rattan chair beside his patio’s sliding doors, facing the Atlantic. Beneath the whirl of the ceiling fan sunlight streams in, highlighting the crevices of his round, wrinkled, unshaven face. Mailer pushes up the sleeves of his denim shirt, ruffling the notes stuffed into its breast pockets, his thin gray chest hair pushing through his v-neck undershirt. He sits in navy blue sweat pants and fleece slippers looking at me, squinting. Mailer is 83 and still pushing on. Mailer made his name with two superior novels: written at age 25, his World War II tome The Naked and the Dead was inspired by his experiences as a grunt during the war; the other was written at about twice that age—in 1968—the story of the 1967 peace demonstrations in Washington, titled The Armies of the Night. But the novelist’s best work told the tales of presidential campaigns, the wars of attrition, from Kennedy to Clinton. Mailer found the character in the candidate and captured the time in the character, and he did it before anyone else.

For a half century, Mailer was the dominant voice of white masculinity. American Studies author Louis Menard once called him the “last man of the1950s.” Mailer’s voice is still precisely that. It’s as if he watched on television what followed Eisenhower, DiMaggio, and Kennedy, and while the world turned to color, Mailer remained in black and white. He is a proud anachronism, contributing to and contorting the times, asserting his relevancy, but never leaving the mid-century that molded his manhood, and America’s as well.

“They talk male talk!” Mailer blurts out, explaining why he believes white men shifted to the Republican Party. “And the Democrats, who now owe so much to their need to try to make up for the loss by trying to get the female vote, no longer talk male talk because it outrages the women, those who are up high in the party.”

Four distinct creases appear across Mailer’s face. Two oval bags puff under each of his eyes, like tired half circles. From his nostrils down to the cleft of his chin, two other lines are shaped like lightning bolts. He thinks like lightning— quickly, in rapid blinks of thought, and then he watches what burns.

“The irony is that most of those [Republicans] are pretty soft also, for totally different reasons. They have had their lips at the hindquarters of the corporation for decades. And they are without honor too,” Mailer says. “But they have learned a secret that the way to get the male vote is to pretend you are a repository of male honor.”

… [Reagan’s] clear phrasing, his nerve, his willingness to speak in the language of right and wrong, of good and evil were all the makings of the man. Representative John Murtha, a Democratic hawk, recalls that he and Reagan may not always have agreed but “we always knew exactly where he stood.” Murtha pauses and stiffens his lip because that is all he feels he needs to say.

…Though Reagan was divorced and from Hollywood, he met nearly every traditional American archetype of the leading man. He was tall, dark, and handsome. He was the strong silent type. He called a spade a spade. He was clean cut and athletic, for God and against communism. “What Reagan communicated without overtly seeming to,” conservative columnist George Will says, “was that the backbone of America hasn’t changed. That what always made America still does make America. So there was this element of nostalgia for Reagan, an awfully forward-looking nostalgia for change.” Even Reagan’s pompadour was reminiscent of a more stable era. As certainty itself seemingly withered, he was certain. Reagan played the western man for so long, the actor became the role.

… It was not always this way. In Franklin D. Roosevelt’s day, the paternal side came to the aid of the downtrodden American man. This man was not to be nurtured, but offered a good job, and if he took the good job then better days awaited him. “The New Deals’ masculine ideal was the selfless public servant,” who found “satisfaction,” Roosevelt’s attorney general Francis Biddle wrote, “from sinking individual effort into the community itself.” Even at the infancy of active state liberalism, there was a stern understanding that, except for the ill and elderly, a man earns the fruits through his labor.

FDR referred to the New Deal as insurance, not handouts. He was the strong father giving America’s struggling sons a second chance. His calming voice rallied the nation with his fireside chats, while the crippling effects of his polio were hidden from the public. Yet it was his trial through polio, its onslaught on his masculinity, that enabled the patrician to grasp an enfeebled nation.

FDR came to personify the nation’s perseverance, through his personal tragedy, through our Great Depression, to our finest hour, the Second World War. As with Theodore Roosevelt before him, it was the struggle in the man that made the man.

… The same year Millett’s book came out, 1969, Mailer ran unsuccessfully to be mayor of New York City. It was the height of Mailer’s popularity as well as of the controversy that surrounded him. He was in the center of Manhattan’s social debates. Two years earlier, Mailer’s Why Are We in Vietnam? had hit bookstores. As the left took up the antiwar cause, the veteran of the Second World War realized
that manhood itself was wrapped up in Lyndon Johnson’s bravado. “It came, to name the year, right around 1970,” Mailer tells me. “Lyndon Johnson contributed to it enormously in that he empowered the women despite himself, you might say, because Vietnam was such a catastrophe of machismo . . . that you might say it was the downfall of machismo as a winning principle in American life,” Mailer continues. “Now if you talk about it statistically you might say that respect for machismo dropped; it was once at 55 percent and it dropped to 45 percent. It didn’t turn the country inside out. It changed machismo from a value to a liability.”

Mailer’s analysis was conservative. In a series of studies on what “a real man” meant, it was found that until the late 1960s the overwhelming answer by Americans was “a good provider for the family.” Neither sexual potency nor physical strength nor strength of character—or being “handy around the house”—came close to the provider ethos. The pinnacle of this conception of men, and all that it implied, was exactly 1968! The year Johnson did not run for reelection, 85 to 90 percent of Americans defined a “real man” as a “good provider.” By the late 1970s, the provider notion fell to third in the ranking, at 67 percent.

…“The war in Vietnam was really a handmaiden to [feminists’] aims,” Mailer says. “A lot of men at that time, particularly in the Democratic Party, had a feeling of ‘How could we have gone so far wrong?’” Mailer shakes his head. “It is this ridiculous assumption that war is manly and good, and a good many of us hated the idea. We hated the war in Vietnam. It was so obviously a bad war, compared to a necessary war like the war against Hitler. Put it this way: I think the barriers were broken. There was a great breach in the solidarity of men. A great many serious men, who were proud of their manhood, were now disgusted with their manhood, their machismo, their gung-ho.”

Blaming the Powerless for Power

Little could have antagonized white men more than the 1993 Newsweek feature titled
“White Male Paranoia.” The article described how white men were creating a false victimization. To prove it, it noted the most affluent and elite white men:

It’s still a statistical piece of cake being a white man . . . just 39.2 percent of the
population, yet they account for 82.5 percent of the Forbes 400 (folks worth at
least $265 million), 77 percent of Congress, 92 percent of state governors. . . .
So now they want underdog status, too and the moral clout that comes with victimhood?

… the Newsweek article was typical. It didn’t bother looking at all those who were not at the upper echelon of power. This other white guy also wanted inside the “old boy’s club.” But he didn’t come from the right neighborhood, the right culture, the right schools, didn’t talk the right way, and he lacked the financial safety net that grants boldness to those who otherwise would be meek. And the troubles were his too. Between 1973 and 1992, the weekly earnings of men in the middle of the wage scale declined. The trend reverberated throughout the economy.

Between 1973 and 1993, the average American’s standard of living rose at a
slower rate than in any previous 20-year period since the Civil War.

... Men’s earnings in 2005 were lower than their earnings in 1973, when adjusted for inflation. … Much of the decline, and stagnation, in white male income began with the recession of the 1970s. By the 1980s, as factories in Pittsburgh and Detroit began downsizing dramatically, it was white men who were hit hardest. They suffered a 53 percent loss of high-paying jobs, while there was a 97 percent in-crease in low-paid work for white men.

“What struck me most,” Michael Harrington wrote, “was the psychological impact of the possibility, or reality, of poverty upon them. In a sense it was precisely because they had once been confident members of a white, mainly male, working class that had battled the companies and won, that they were so devastated now. Almost all of them referred to themselves as ‘middle class’ and it was because of that self-image that they were so demoralized by, say, the fact that they no longer had health insurance (they lost it along with their jobs) and had to worry about medical care for their kids.” Yet liberals paid little attention to white men, as factories closed, as their economic well-being became progressively destabilized, and generations of industrial workers were left to reinvent their livelihood, and therefore, their personal manhood. Democrats’ attention was on the emerging movement to lift up women. But white men were facing a lowering concrete ceiling all their own.

… “The Democratic Party stopped being for unions, stopped being for workers, and those people in the way it had been since the 1930s,” says Michael Podhorzer, who helps lead the AFL-CIO’s political department. “Rather than putting the emphasis on the fact that the Democrats were now trying to expand what government was doing on behalf of others in America, it was that the Democratic Party was suddenly not coming through for workers, and for unions in particular.” He later adds, “As the Democratic Party became less credible to workers, as fewer workers were in unions to mediate all of this, the Republicans discovered and became more and more skilled at exploiting cultural issues.”

… Meanwhile, national Democrats did not address the effect of industrial out-sourcing upon the white male working class. “Some of the first jobs to leave the country were the steel jobs, then the coal jobs,” emphasizes John Murtha, who has served in Congress throughout this era. “I think it is about the manufacturing jobs that went away. Those are the kind of jobs men can do. They had to get new jobs that were not as demanding physically, that woman were as good at and could work side by side [with men].”While seven out of ten Americans are against “outsourcing,” they see a wave of it all around them.

White men feel it wash over them and pray not to be one more sap pulled under. Harlow Reseburg sees it daily. He’s the project coordinator at Milwaukee’s only dislocated-worker retraining center, housed in a restored factory beneath an overpass. Reseburg has white hair, long gray sideburns, thick arms, and a belly. His office deals with 1,800 to 2,400 dislocated workers at onetime. Milwaukee, like so many cities in America, has graveyards of vacant plants. Reseburg commutes 48 miles daily to work and is a member of three unions, including the steel workers and machinists unions. After jobs are lost, union or not, his office is often the first, if only, network for the newly unemployed.

Dislocated workers are, Reseburg says, “insecure; there is a lot of fear. Press coverage is minimal. Many times when you have a large plant closing, there are suicides. They take the blame on themselves. Corporate America in New York decided to close a plant in Wisconsin,” Reseburg tells me in the fall of 2006, in his blue shirt and black suspenders, clasping his POW-MIA coffee cup… “Most definitely feel their whole self worth gets threatened,” he tells me. “I worked with a human relations person from one of our larger employers and he was unemployed three years before I met him. He [continued to go] to work for 18 months, never told his wife that he lost his job. He spent close to $100,000 that he had in his savings account just to put on the show that he got up every morning and went to work. He went out and looked for work. This was in the mid ’90s. He wanted to get the same $140,000 a year that he was making before he became unemployed. His first job that I found him was for $60,000. He lasted six weeks. Then he went to $30,000 and that lasted for six months.” If women had been stuck in a world that relegated femininity to house cleaning and child rearing, men were stuck in a world that relegated masculinity to the ability to provide for that house, for the money to feed the child, for their very happiness…

© Excerpts from The Neglected Voter by David Paul Kuhn, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2007. Copyright David Paul Kuhn, 2007.