I wasn’t aware of this, but I’m apparently in the middle of an identity crisis and so is the rest of white America. Yeah, I’m white. Sometimes laughably so. I grew up in the suburbs. I drink too much expensive coffee. I spend too much time in front of a computer. My dogs are my children. I’m self-indulgent enough to contemplate an identity crisis, real or not.
To 2012 conservatives, white people are the last untapped voting bloc. Yep, I just said that. The most sought after demographic of the last 236 years is now fresh and new. First though, Republicans need to figure out, Who The Hell Are White People? The answer, it appears, is exactly like the answer to same question about any minority voting bloc. It’s that we are two dimensional. We either wear hardhats and swill cheap beer while watching NASCAR or we rest our sparkling clean tushies on solid gold toilets.
In fact, some guy named Charles Murray wrote a book about it. It’s called Coming Apart. It’s one of many recent essays on the supposed demise of white America, including, and most famously, Pat Buchanan’s Suicide of a Superpower.
Gawker took a look at Murray’s website at the right-wing think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. On his site, he attempts to end white confusion by telling us exactly what sort of white person we are. If you score a 20, you’re Hank Williams, Jr. white. If you score a zero, you’re even more Mitt Romney than Mitt Romney. I scored between a 9 and a 12, which means:
On a scale from 0 to 20 points, where 20 signifies full engagement with mainstream American culture and 0 signifies deep cultural isolation within the new upper class bubble, you scored between 9 and 12.
In other words, even if you’re part of the new upper class, you’ve had a lot of exposure to the rest of America.
In other words, it means absolutely nothing. The interesting conclusion I can gather from the quiz and from Murray’s writing is that everyone but politicians should strive to be rich and white. Politicians, on the other hand, should strive to be more “every man.”
Curious to know how the politicians scored? So was Gawker. They took the test for them. Here are the results:
Barack Obama: 8
Mitt Romney: 6
Newt Gingrich: 4
Rick Santorum: 6
Ron Paul: 5
As I look across the field of Republican Presidential candidates, I see nothing but a whiter shade of pale. More importantly, I see white privilege. I see millionaires trying to assert their values and their agenda on the rest of us. Quite frankly, I have less in common with the four Christians In Name Only in the race than I do with any of my non-white neighbors.
So, rather than try to understand the vast white middle ground, or even attempt to find out what the hardhat/cheap beer/NASCAR crowd is really concerned about, conservatives are doing what they always do, just assume that everyone in the world strives to be exactly like them and more importantly, that they and their demographic brethren are simply better than absolutely everyone else.
In a book review of sorts, rich white guy, David Brooks profiled rich white guy Charles Murray’s book. Brooks’ review of the book starts innocently enough. He correctly illustrates the growing gap between rich and poor with this:
His (Murray’s) story starts in 1963. There was a gap between rich and poor then, but it wasn’t that big. A house in an upper-crust suburb cost only twice as much as the average new American home. The tippy-top luxury car, the Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, cost about $47,000 in 2010 dollars. That’s pricey, but nowhere near the price of the top luxury cars today.
More important, the income gaps did not lead to big behavior gaps. Roughly 98 percent of men between the ages of 30 and 49 were in the labor force, upper class and lower class alike. Only about 3 percent of white kids were born outside of marriage. The rates were similar, upper class and lower class.
Then he goes on to say that the classes have become “tribes,” which sounds pretty damn scary. He says that the “upper tribe” is the upper 20% of the country’s economic class and that the “lower tribe” is the bottom 30% of the country, and they are far inferior people.
Roughly 7 percent of the white kids in the upper tribe are born out of wedlock, compared with roughly 45 percent of the kids in the lower tribe. In the upper tribe, nearly every man aged 30 to 49 is in the labor force. In the lower tribe, men in their prime working ages have been steadily dropping out of the labor force, in good times and bad.
People in the lower tribe are much less likely to get married, less likely to go to church, less likely to be active in their communities, more likely to watch TV excessively, more likely to be obese.
Of course, as a conservative, Brooks’ answer to economic and social inequities is not to encourage policies that will help bridge the gap, like protecting unions, enacting regulations that protect customers or bringing jobs back to the US. No. Brooks’ answer is to send us all to sleepaway camp so we can see what really great people the wealthy are:
We need a program that would force members of the upper tribe and the lower tribe to live together, if only for a few years. We need a program in which people from both tribes work together to spread out the values, practices and institutions that lead to achievement.
Brooks and Murray are simply regurgitating the entire Republican philosophy. While the reality is that most Americans are just a paycheck or two from abject poverty, Republicans manage to convince a good percentage of those teetering on the edge that they are just a couple of good habits away from being one of the elite. Or as Herman Cain phrased it, ‘If you don’t have a job and you are not rich, blame yourself!’
And sadly, that strategy works. Despite the fact that the wealthy and primarily white write the laws that protect their own wealth, the less-than-wealthy still believe that the brass ring is within reach. And therein lies the problem with the message of the Democrats. While we are undeniably right that we live in a world of “I got mine so f*** you,” it’s not a message of hope. In a country where vapid but wealthy “housewives” are held in higher esteem than teachers and community organizers, it’s tough to sell the message that value can be defined as something other than monetary. It’s also tough to sell the idea that it’s okay that the housewives buy one less pair of Louis Vuittons and have that money used in a way that might allow the government to create jobs that will actually help bridge the gap. Oh no! That would be class warfare, unlike calling us tribes.