Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Does It Feel Like to be a Problem? How Do (Conservative) White Men Really Feel About Their Role in Mitt Romney's Defeat Last Night?



The post-mortem for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign has begun in earnest. Obama's deft campaign strategy aside, was Romney doomed by an inability to tell the truth, low likeability ratings, Ayn Randian plutocratic comments about the "47 percent," his position on letting the car industry fail, or consistent appeals to the far Right through a use of anti-black and anti-immigrant rhetoric?
 
There are many causes of political death for Romney. In time, some will be proven to be more important and significant than others.

The leading explanation suggests that Romney and the Tea Party GOP were defeated because of changing demographics, and an electoral base which was overly dependent on white voters. Because the Republican Party is the country's de facto White People's Political Party, Romney put himself in an untenable position: to motivate the base, he would have to embrace policies that would push away and alienate women, people of color, young people, and a part of the white electorate who was turned off by the Right's herrenvolk, "take our county back" appeals to a mythic White American past.

Romney and the Republican Party's America no longer exists. In truth, it was always a chimera and a lie. But, the lie could be sustained because enough white folks took it to be real.

Whiteness is characterized by a set of attributes which include invisibility and a sense of being "normal." White racial identity--and white masculinity in particular--does not like being interrogated.

Ironically, in a version of "racial heliocentrism," whiteness loves being the center of all things.

As such, intense discussions about "white working class male voters" have become a part of America's public discourse in almost every recent national election.

In the Age of Obama, conversations about the meaning of whiteness in this "new" America have become increasingly common as well. To wit: there are a number of articles on a variety of news sites, blogs, and in other media, that are trying to figure out "the white problem" and its relationship to Romney's defeat last night.

Does Whiteness--or at least some of its owners--like being discussed in such a public manner?

I have always felt that macro level discussions of aggregate social identities, like "blackness" and "whiteness" for example, obscure as much as they reveal. Consequently, I am very curious about how white men, as individuals, across divides of party and ideology, feel about last night's election.

Do conservative white men (or white men more generally) really feel imperiled and obsolete in the Age of Obama? Is the world really against them? Do white men who are liberal, Left leaning, progressive, independent, or otherwise aligned feel unfairly lumped in with how whites (men in particular) as a group that are being presented as obsolescent holdovers who doomed Mitt Romney and the Republican Party to defeat?

Alternatively, do white men who left their "natural" home in the Republican Party, and were not lured in by the Right's identity politics, feel good about themselves as outliers that saw a way forward and are embracing a more diverse and inclusive America?

White men are the object and not the subject in these conversations. Of course, white men are able to control the master narrative because they control the country's mass media and are the single more powerful group of people in the United States (if not the world). But, the elite white men who can act as proxies and stand-ins for "how white men feel" on the news, and among the pundit classes, are by definition not a representative group. 

White folks, and white men in particular, please teach me something about these matters.

19 comments:

BobbyV said...

Yes Bill, people want things .... things like health care, good schools, a secure retirement after years of hard work, and financial reform to protect their savings from the predators on Wall Street. President Obama, not Mitt, is the only one who'll represent all Americans.

Bill worded his comments very carefully but you could still sense his belief that people of color are nothing but freeloading parasites riding on the backs of hard-working [white] stiffs. Bill, and thousands of men like him, will not accept that the changing ethnic composition of 21st Century America will continue to diminish their unearned advantage of being born white. BTW, I'm a white male.

John Kurman said...

In the Venn diagram which is the D-K effect. Within "Clueless", you got "Self-deception", and in that is "Denial". Bill O'Reilly gets himself a whole new circle which would be, I don't know, how about "Dangerously Fucked in the Head"?

No, here's what's going on. Bill is attempting to tar with his taint. White guys like him have had their libertarian utopia for six hundred years, and now, they have to share all their "stuff" (as Bill likes to put it - but the "stuff" can also be all of the intangibles as well). Sharing, as we all know, is communism. And now the joy ride is over, and Bill is just so bummed by this, and knows his audience is so bummed by this (though they can't quite formulate it), that the only thing he can do is come up with a lie about as lame as "they hate us for our freedomes".

cesium62 said...

As a white male liberal, I'd say i'm confused by the Republican party narrative and its large following. The white males I know are liberal. I do known a Chinese (by ancestry, Orange County white male by upbringing), an Indian, and a Thai woman who are conservative.

Warren Buffet, Larry Page, Eric Schmidt... these white males know that the "makers" don't build anything by themselves from scratch. They depend on a highly educated, highly productive middle class to do the grunt work.

The Reagan, Bush, Bush, and wannabe-Romney policies have weakened the middle class. Short term spending increases on the armed forces, drove down the growth rate of our country, and decreased our long term military might.

Safety nets don't exist to give people a free ride, they exist to help those unlucky enough to be scratched by the hard edges of Capitalism. Capitalism and Small Business is best served by allowing workers to move quickly from a dying industry to a newly growing industry while maintaining productivity. This requires high education and good safety nets to ease the transition of workers from one industry to the next.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

As a bona fide white man, I'll try to take a stab at this. I think a very large number of white men do indeed feel imperiled, and the tendency of conservatives to play on that anxiety has been a major weapon in their favor at least since Nixon. I don't get it, but then again, I was always picked last in gym and endured plenty of schoolyard taunts for not being masculine enough. I never fit their norms, and I grew to be proud of my defiance of them.

I can't speak for others, but I can say that I feel very good about being an "outlier," as you say. The more I think about it, however, the more I wonder how much regionalism plays into all of this. I would love to see the exit polling on race broken down by state, and by rural versus suburban versus urban counties. I grew up in an almost all-white town in rural Nebraska, and out there being a Republican is just an assumed facet of one's cultural identity as a middle-class white person. Once my parents graduated out of the working class, they shed their parents' Democratic affiliation. A lot of people in my family vote and identify as Republicans, but deep down their economic politics don't match those of the GOP; they've just never taken the time to figure that out, since their party affiliation is the only one acceptable in their social circle. People from my background who reject its politics like myself are few and far between, but we are indeed a proud bunch for having struck out on our own.

The Sanity Inspector said...

I'm a conservative middle-aged white male and, while I prefer not to disclose which way I voted, I will say that I voted unenthusiastically. I chose between the two real choices presented to me, not between one choice and the choice I wish I had.

As for the question of creeping obsolescence, I'd say that hey! Permanence is the illusion of every age, as Mark Steyn once said. The last question that is asked of any civilization after it exits is, "What did you leave behind?" If not for the achievements and innovations of America as she was constituted up to the present day, the triumphant classes now on the rise would have never even been born. The Edwardians sneered at their immediate predecessors the Victorians, but now the Victorians command our respect in many areas. The same pattern will unfold in generations to come regarding the formerly ascendant class in America.

As for "whiteness", I have always tried to live as if "there is neither slave nor free, nor jew nor greek nor scythian", and I just hope that I have become better at it, with advancing years.

The Sanity Inspector said...

Anyway, at $16 trillion in debt, Dems only have a few more decades to other people's earnings out the back of the speeding train. Sixteen trillion...does that make a picture in your mind? Does anyone remember what a rich, powerful country the U.S. was in 1970? The Gross Domestic Product was one trillion. It would take the GDP of sixteen of 1970 America, to get back up to being only broke.

If something cannot continue, it will stop.

chaunceydevega said...

@Sanity. You were talking some sense until you started hitting your GOP talking point meth. Right-wing freebasing is bad for your health. What was Bush's role in the deficit and national debt? Has the national debt expanded faster and grown larger in adjusted terms under Republicans or Democrats?

We will get you well soon. You just need a bit of therapy.

The Sanity Inspector said...

Chauncey: "Everybody does it" is a teenager's argument. No one in power in my adult lifetime has been serious about reducing the debt. Plenty of blame to go around--but usually Republicans at least pretend to be concerned about it.

chaunceydevega said...

@Sanity. That pipe is a hell of a drug. The glass dick is a killer...especially the Fox News Limbaugh mix.

You wrote: Anyway, at $16 trillion in debt, Dems only have a few more decades to other people's earnings out the back of the speeding train.

You dishonestly misrepresented the reality of the matter and singled out the Democrats. Moreover, you ignored the context and empirical reality of your claim. The Republicans are more responsible for the deficit--much more so--than the Democrats. No biggie just own the fact. My claim is not a "teenager's argument," it is one that is empirically grounded. Facts are your friend. You are right, the GOP does pretend to care about the issue all the while running up the tab. Seems pretty disingenuous to me.

Like I said, we will get your some therapy and you will come around.

Batocchio said...

Do conservative white men (or white men more generally) really feel imperiled and obsolete in the Age of Obama? Is the world really against them?

Yes. O'Reilly is an absolutely perfect example. In his mind, the natural order has been disrupted. His attitude epitomizes true conservatism (as defined by Corey Robin). I'm glad he came out and said it (even if he wasn't fully candid). Sadly, during this election, I've seen previously reachable (white) people lose it and regurgitate Fox News and the like uncritically.

Do white men who are liberal, Left leaning, progressive, independent, or otherwise aligned feel unfairly lumped in with how whites (men in particular) as a group that are being presented as obsolescent holdovers who doomed Mitt Romney and the Republican Party to defeat?

No. (Similarly, back in 2008, the footage of Jeremiah Wright's sermons that scandalized the right were neither shocking or disturbing.) Maybe some feel maligned on rare occasions, but simply living in a cosmopolitan, diverse area helps a great deal. I'd say most define themselves as "liberal" or independent ahead of race (but have that luxury). I think the rest has been covered pretty well upthread. (But I suspect you know most of this, or suspected it, already…)

The right-wing meltdowns have been both fun and slightly alarming to watch, and I'm sure we'll be returning to that first question quite a bit…

fred c said...

The whole idea of me speaking for White men is highly ridiculous, so I won't. But, speaking for myself:

1. We're not all the same, we're no more monolithic than any other group. Go ahead, say that we all share the blessings of Whiteness, it's true. But there's a world of difference between passively enjoying the benefits and actively exploiting the phenomenon. We accrue a debt either way, but the difference is real; and

2. Maybe in this Twenty-First Century White men should get used to being just another minority. I'm comfortable with that. President Obama's RE-election proves more than his mere election did that diversity is making headway in America.

oiojes said...

I am a 60 year old married white male who works in the defense industry. I tend to be fiscally conservative. I consider myself a true social conservative believing in the "mind your own business" philosophy.

I'm *exactly* the demographic that the Republican Party thinks should love them. Yet they insist on embracing ideas that are at best pre-FDR.

They don't like science. (See environment and climate change.) They don't like arithmetic. (See their approach to polling data.) They hold to economic ideas that would make Hoover blush and expect people like me to ignore the fact they've never worked except for their unvoiced goal: put more money in the pockets of the rich.

At some point "conservative" became divorced from its root ("to conserve") and became "embracing stupidity." I didn't vote for Romney because I'm not an idiot. I ended up voting for an old style moderate Republican. Somebody like Rockefeller or Eisenhower.

You know. Obama.

Thordaddy said...

Do 60 year old "true social conservative[s]" call themselves "white male" and then feign a belief in Romney as anything other than a liberal within the Republican party?

nomad said...

"I ended up voting for an old style moderate Republican. Somebody like Rockefeller or Eisenhower.

You know. Obama."

Now that's funny! Even if Obama is actually to the right of Ike.

@Shangodaddy
"a belief in Romney as anything other than a liberal within the Republican party?"

A liberal in a party that's batshit crazy is still far right.

Anonymous said...

Do Conservative white men feel imperiled? Yes. I believe they do. I live in a quite Conservative and lily white area of Eastern Washington and despite living in a bubble of whiteness I hear apocalyptic rhetoric like O'Reillys all the time. I genuinely think they feel as if they are becoming obsolete in this day and age. Which is made all the more interesting and confusing by the fact that they all still have white, (usually) straight, male privilege playing in their favor. Of course, they would deny any of that plays a factor because belief that we live in some "pure meritocracy" runs deep in these parts.

On a person level, do I feel I'm being unfairly lumped in with other white men? No. Although perhaps that's because as a gay man I know I don't "fit" with the traditional white male archetype in this country to begin with (even if I am very much aware of both my white and male privilege). But even if I wasn't, I don't think I'd feel that I was being unfairly lumped in because to be honest, whites have the luxury of living in a country where we've never been called to speak for our race or think in such terms. It all ties in to the history of white supremacy in this country. Point blank.

Anonymous said...

See also Joan Walsh's book, Whats the Matter With White People.

Anonymous said...

I'm white and I voted Obama, but I really don't attach my race to my vote. Never even really thought about it in those terms. It seems odd to me. I voted for Obama based on self-interest: he's been at the helm of a steady recovery after a total economic melt-down, and I figure slower growth is indicative of expansion that will have some staying power.

Also, I'm glad he managed to work with a very difficult congress to get PP/ACA passed (even if I don't like that it doesn't have a public payer option).

I should also add, that I voted for Obama because the option would have been a crew of Republicans that have clearly gone around the bend, and have doubled-down on crazy so resolutely that I wonder if they will ever come back to the table.

But I never put any of that in the context of my skin, and the idea of it seems really weird to me.

Jim Gordon said...

I am a 65 year-old white heterosexual male living in the Heart of Dixie, and when Obama was called the winner in 2008, my wife and I hugged each other and wept. For absolute joy. This time around, we were more amazed than anything, because it was inconceivable that the President would be re-elected after he hadn't fixed the mess that W handed him, what with the budget surplus left by Clinton having been turned on its ear. But the devolution of the Republican party has been disturbing to watch, and the prominence of right-wing gasbag hypocrites like Limbaugh, Beck, and O'Reilly being given ANY credence at all, with national-level "politicians" like Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum. The hate spewed by the media and the very candidates for national office boggles the mind, and points out the terrible transformation it's undergone has made the party of Eisenhower something that would turn his stomach. I hope they wake up so we'll really have (at least) two parties in this country.

Comrade Physioprof said...

I'm a white dude and I have benefited from a ton of white privilege in my life. The embrace of white supremacy by the republicans makes me sick. And seeing the embarrassing whiteness of the Romney sadde sackes in their election night party despair, and the great diversity and vibrancy of the Obama supporters at their joyous party, made me feel like there is hope for this country.