America's Barbecue Vote: They Work Longer Hours Than Dad Did, Regret Not Having Wives Who Stay at Home, and Hate Seeing Those Minorities Getting Uppity. Meet the Angry White Men Bush Can Rely On

By Tinsley, Becky | New Statesman (1996), May 10, 2004 | Go to article overview

America's Barbecue Vote: They Work Longer Hours Than Dad Did, Regret Not Having Wives Who Stay at Home, and Hate Seeing Those Minorities Getting Uppity. Meet the Angry White Men Bush Can Rely On


Tinsley, Becky, New Statesman (1996)


By any rational measure the average white American male enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world. The United States is consistently near the top of the UN's Human Development Index measuring quality of life in 175 countries. Yet white men across America are mad as hell, and George W Bush's campaign strategists are counting on their anger to keep their candidate in the White House in November.

In 2000, the Democrats attracted the support of the majority (54 per cent) of women, while only 42 per cent of men voted for Al Gore. At its most extreme, in the race in Delaware, there was a 20 per cent gap between the sexes, with 64 per cent of women voting Democrat compared with 44 per cent of men. Just as Gore failed to carry the majority of white American males who bothered to vote at the last election, so John Kerry is unlikely to get their support this year.

Why are they so angry? They don't live in a war zone, or face the mass unemployment and hunger of the Depression. Their homes keep appreciating in value. Most of them were too young to be drafted to Vietnam. But white men feel angry and cheated because this isn't what they were expecting when they were growing up in Eisenhower's America. "Only my dad needed to go out to work," is the common refrain. It isn't simply that it now takes two incomes rather than one to keep the average American household afloat. The working hours and security are different, too. "My dad didn't work half as hard as I do and he was always back by six o'clock," says Terry, 49, an estate agent from New Jersey. "He spent his evenings watching TV or bowling with his pals. His job was to cut the lawn on the weekends, but otherwise he was the king of his castle. My parents did fine on one income, and my dad was secure in the knowledge he had his job for life."

Dave, 54, an architect from San Bernardino, California, is so angry, he has already had a stress-related heart attack. "I work long hours. The house is a mess when I get home because my wife goes out to work, too. I can't sit in front of the TV all evening, like my dad did, because I'm back at my computer screen after supper. My dad never brought work home."

What's more, Dave is from the "honey, I'm home" generation: "I want my wife to be there already when I get in from work, but the house is empty," he complains.

Even on two incomes, the middle-class American experience is no longer that holy suburban trinity of barbecues, baseball and Tupperware parties. In its place is career angst, not enough money for the goods they believe are essential, and scarce leisure time. In Kevin Phillips's recent study of George Bush's America, he notes that at no time since the Wall Street Crash has income distribution been so polarised. During the past two decades the richest 1 per cent has become astonishingly rich, owning 38 per cent of the nation's wealth, while the bottom 60 per cent have only 5 per cent. The angry white man (AWM) has been squeezed.

Given the sense of rage and betrayal among AWMs it is not surprising that advertisers reach out to them with expressions such as "comfort", "safety" and "making sense of your world". In a country where people learn their history from the movies, the Fifties and early Sixties have attained mythical status. Several successful cable channels are devoted to 24/7 retro reruns of Leave it to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show and I Love Lucy, all perpetuating positive, decent and innocent images of times gone by. Equally, comfort food is enjoying a huge comeback (with predictable results). And 46 per cent of Americans are taking some form of prescription drug at any given time: "just taking the edge off the 21st century", as they say.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Eisenhower generation emerged from the New Frontier with high expectations. In the golden age of Chryslers as big as whales, Betty Crocker cake mix and Perry Como, you knew tap water was safe to drink, your station wagon was made in America, the ethnic minorities were out of sight and in their place, and your wife talked about your needs, not hers.

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