The Fear-filled White Working Class Men

What do these men have in common: Mitt Romney and a blue collar worker living in Toledo?  For that matter, what does that worker have in common with Rush Limbaugh? Or any other talking head on right-wing radio?

My inquiry is based on this question:  Why do so many of the white, working-class support the Republican Party? I often hear that question by new volunteers with whom I chat at the Obama office. The best-selling book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? addressed that question some years ago. In the book, author Thomas Frank describes the take-over of the Kansas legislature by conservative Christians who turned a fairly progressive state into a solid red one.  The upshot of that is that white, working-class of that state continually vote against their own economic interests and vote for the GOP platform.

For the past several Saturdays, I have  been canvassing door-to-door in middle-class neighborhoods, asking the homeowner who they would be supporting for President in the 2012 election. While my walk list is skewed to those who have shown some preference for the Democratic Party philosophy, not everyone who answers the door espouses the same. Especially the men. Often [and yesterday afternoon] I hear the voice of a male in the background if a woman opens the door to me. On this recent occasion, the woman [wife] was chatting with me about possible support of Obama when her husband in the adjoining room said to her, ‘We’re not interested!’ The woman looked perplexed and quickly grabbed the brochure and closed the door. This same scenario occurred last Saturday when the husband answered the door I was not ‘permitted’ to talk to his wife.  Again yesterday, a few blocks away, I had the door slammed in my face by the husband when he saw my Obama button; I was asking to speak to his wife. “Not interested!” he said. “Slam!”

Actually, I am able to detect within a few seconds whether I will be welcomed or slammed by the person at the door.  Maybe it is my intuitive nature, but I am often correct. There is something about the demeanor- the look of suspicion on the face- that lets me know whether this will be a conversational visit or antagonistic dismissal. A few weeks back an angry man told me, as I was asking to leave the Obama brochure for his wife, “I don’t want any of that junk in my house!” Why the anger? What are they afraid of?

They may be afraid of the truth: many have enveloped themselves in a bubble universe, configured to a place where they wish to exist.  An artificial reality [oxymoronical!] that has been constructed for them by paid, professional propagandists. This leads me to repeat an earlier question: what does a working-class, blue collar worker have in common with Rush Limbaugh? While the people whose doorbell I ring may have a Chevy Malibu or a Dodge Nitro in their driveway, Limbaugh drives a Maybach 57S.  Well, that’s one of his toys that he has in his 5-car garage. And then there is his Gulfstream G550 which he flies. Limbaugh is paid $38 million/year.  How’s that for a comparable wage?

Do these workers believe that Rush is on their side? That Rush has their best interest in mind during his 3-hour daily babble? Seriously. Do they? Or that Mitt Romney’s economic agenda is tailored for the working stiff? And that Paul Ryan is going to look out for their best interest?

Apparently they do.  After all, they support the GOP and disdain President Obama. Disdain is a kind word.

Why the anger? Why the fear? Or is it the fear itself. Is fear the message being delivered to these workers by right-wing media? Quite naturally, they have much to fear because most concluded their education at their high school graduation. Their skill set is no greater than any other coworker; their chance for advancement is equally unrealistic. Their value to the company/corporation is minuscule; there are thousands of others out there waiting for their job. Yet, they vote as if they are the president of the company or the CEO of the corporation. Go figure!

What’s up with that?

How about a daily dose of propaganda?  What else can explain this contradiction? If one lends one’s head to a daily dose of propaganda, there has to be an outcome  favorable to the propagandist. Fear is a powerful  principle in the hands of the propagandist. After all, both mouthwash and deodorant are promoted by fear.

Fear of what?

The ‘other.’

You know, that ‘other’ person who is just as unqualified as you for the job you do.


…and it works.


8 thoughts on “The Fear-filled White Working Class Men

  1. Frank’s newest book: Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right

    Heard on All Things Considered

    January 6, 2012 – ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

    From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I’m Robert Siegel.


    And I’m Melissa Block. How did the economic collapse of 2008 and 2009 give birth to the conservative populist revolt of the Tea Party and their triumphs in the 2010 elections? Writer Thomas Frank calls that revival of the right extraordinary. He says, as extraordinary as if the public had demanded dozens of new nuclear power plants in the days after the Three Mile Island disaster.

    Thomas Frank’s new book is titled “Pity the Billionaire: The Hard Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right.” It’s a sharp-tongued liberal polemic from the writer who asked, “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” in an earlier book as he tried to account for the shift toward populist conservatism in his home state.

    Thomas Frank joins me here in the studio. Thanks for coming in.

    THOMAS FRANK: My pleasure, Melissa.

    BLOCK: And Thomas, what’s the hard times swindle that you’re referring to there in your title? Who do you think is being swindled and who’s doing the swindling?

    FRANK: I think all of us are being swindled. I wouldn’t put a single name on who’s doing the swindling, but I wouldn’t say it’s organic, either. It’s not an organic, naturally occurring swindle. I mean, it’s something that we have been slowly talking ourselves into for many, many, many years, but of course, the main culprits are the sort of stars of the conservative movement.

    BLOCK: The conservative revival that you’re talking about is in part of this swindle. You say this is unique and confounding and I want you to describe what you’re seeing as the paradox. You write about this on page three of your book. And why don’t you read that section for us?

    FRANK: You got it. Before the present economic slump, I had never heard of a recession’s victims developing a wholesale taste for neoclassical economics or a spontaneous hostility to the works of Franklin Roosevelt. Before this recession, people who had been cheated by bankers almost never took that occasion to demand that bankers be freed from red tape and the scrutiny of the law. Before 2009, the man in the bread line did not ordinarily weep for the man lounging on his yacht.

    BLOCK: Let me ask you about that, Thomas Frank, because do you think the Tea Party was really weeping for the man on his yacht? I mean, one of the main points of outrage for the Tea Party was they were opposed to the bailout. They were opposed to the government going in and helping the big fat cats and the banks.

    FRANK: Right. That’s right. But they’re also very much in favor of this kind of utopian free market world that they think we need to push towards.

    Let me take a step back here. The central paradox of our time is that we’ve just come through this extraordinary financial collapse. We know that this was almost directly the result of 30 years of bank deregulation and of all the sort of financial experimentation that our government encouraged. This disaster was caused by this ideology.

    And what the Tea Party movement and what the conservative revival generally is telling us to do is, instead of reversing course, instead of going back and saying, OK, maybe we should have a well funded Securities Exchange Commission. Maybe we should go back and break up the too-big-to-fail banks.

    What they’re saying is, no, no. Get government out of the picture altogether. We need not to reverse course. We need to double down on that ideology that we’ve been following all these years. Only when we get to that sort of pure state of complete free markets, then our problems will be solved. And until that day, none of this stuff matters.

    BLOCK: And in a sense, isn’t one of the messages from the Tea Party, look, the government failed us in a calamitous way here and the last thing we need is more government. What we need is…

    FRANK: Right.

    BLOCK: …is less. Get them off our backs.

    FRANK: You know, and that’s a very appealing line. On the surface, the Tea Party line and the new revived radicalized conservatism sounds pretty good. They’re asking questions that need to be answered. Why did the regulators fail? I mean, that’s a really good question. Their theory is that, you know, it’s government. Government always fails. Right?

    The important thing is what’s the answer coming from the other side? What is, say, the administration of Barack Obama? What’s their answer to the question? You know what it is? Nothing. They don’t ever talk about it.

    BLOCK: Well, I wanted to ask you about that because you do make that point in your book that, as contemptible as you find the economic message of the conservatives or the right, it’s better than nothing. And by nothing, you’re talking about Democrats and, in particular, the Obama administration.

    FRANK: That’s exactly what…

    BLOCK: Explain what you mean.

    FRANK: I call that chapter “The Silence of the Technocrats” because the tendency among the Democratic Party – their great idea is that the Democratic Party is becoming the party of the professional class, who were a big Republican constituencies, say, 50 years ago. But now, they’re becoming Democrats and the theme that just runs throughout everything that they do in the Obama administration and going back many, many years, is to respect expertise. Experts will solve things for us.

    Take, for example, the stimulus package. Massive deficit spending. Now, how do they go about justifying it? They’re saying, well, the experts tell us to do it. You know, the Tea Party is saying, what the hell happened with the bank regulators? How did they happen to be asleep at the switch? Why do we have failure after failure after failure? From the liberal side, you hear nothing.

    BLOCK: Your point, as you described in the book, is that the Democrats have been co-opted by the power of the market and, specifically, the power of Wall Street.

    FRANK: Well, I’m not trying to be that blunt about it. I don’t think that’s exactly right. I think what it is with the Democrats is that their failure is that they trust expertise and you look at who Obama, you know, appointed on his economics team. Some of them are very good, by the way, but the ones that really mattered are all from this sort of consensus economics school and they regard markets not with exactly the same reverence, not with the same kind of utopian idealism that you find on the right. But they regard markets pretty highly and they also regard Wall Street pretty highly and a lot of them – look, a lot of them came from Wall Street. I mean, the bluntest critique is also very true.

    BLOCK: When you think about the fact that white blue collar workers have abandoned the Democratic Party in droves and overwhelmingly vote Republican. What does that say to you?

    FRANK: Two things. First of all, the conservative movement talks an extremely good populist game. They were out there less than a month after Barack Obama was sworn into office, waving signs in Lafayette Park out in front of the White House with bullhorns, screaming, let the failures fail. It was really appealing.

    One of their favorite books of 2010 was called “The Ruling Class.” It’s this fire-breathing denunciation of the class of people that’s supposed to be secretly – semi-secretly running this country. These people are waging a really terrific class war against what they believe to be the ruling class and it is no surprise to me at all that it appeals to working class voters.

    The other side of the coin is why have Democrats, you know, this is traditionally the party of working class people. Working class people elected Franklin Roosevelt president four times. How have they dropped the ball so dramatically? That was the great mystery of our times and that’s the other mystery that I’ve always sort of tried to explain. The Democrats have real problems speaking that populist language.

    BLOCK: Thomas Frank. His new book is “Pity the Billionaire: The Hard Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right.” Thomas Frank, thanks for coming in.

    FRANK: It was my pleasure, Melissa.

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  2. “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” is available on Netflix and is a very interesting watch.

    Not sure where I read the comment, but somebody proffered that (consciously or unconsciously) those less well off think they’ll get better off by hanging with rich people.

  3. “What do these men have in common: Mitt Romney and a blue collar worker living in Toledo?””My inquiry is based on this question: Why do so many of the white, working-class support the Republican Party?”

    Probably very little, my friend.

    HOwever, if by using the term “other” or “them”, you mean to suggest racism, it is to simplie to suggest that is solely racism. To be sure, there is some of that.

    We may be in that state that FDR warned the country about in March, 1933:
    “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” People today fear most of our
    institutions that are there to protect us. They fear the police, so they won’t
    inform the police on who did what or to whom. So criminals get away with
    violence and theft. They are afraid to complain to Fair Housing if there
    is a problem for either they are ignored or suddenly out on the street. It goes right on to food stamps, mortgages, obtaining a loan, legal tax evasion, whatever. What has happened is that this “Great Recession” has made the
    middleclass vulnerable, you see. People in a once secure social class
    position are now aware to the plight of the under classes. The can’t trust
    no one, or no institution of government, whether on the federal , state, or
    local level. Well, there is one institution that they trust, and, my friend,
    it is the most dangerous. They trust the Pentagon, yes, the military. In poll after poll the most trusted institution is the military and next comes the police. The two institutions with a license to kill with armed weapons!
    The authoritarian threat is here and real. People are being drawn more and more because of their fear to an authoritarian solution. Don’t you see that?
    We have a non-trusting population, and it is getting worse. The Right continues to blast this over the radio, the television, and in the churches.
    Government, universities, science, and the media are heaped with scorn, and the people are told they are the source of our problems…Therefore, you can’t trust them. Global warming is a myth of the scientists and the environmentalists, economic inequality is the fault of government because of high taxes and burdensome reguluations, and universities stress reason and made up facts which confuse or traditions. That is your Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity, and O”reilly, and the other ilk of that persuasion.
    So, it’s more than racism…….

    1. Yes, of course it is more than racism and I did not imply that racism was ‘the other.’ There are the Latinos and Hispanics and the Asians, too. Anyone who is non-white.

  4. Why are capitalists considered hard working and labors considered lazy? Most capitalists couldn’t handle the work of the laborer. Maybe also the other way around, but still it is not about working hard, but owning rights to resources and abusing privilege. The “working harder gets more rewards story” is propaganda and rhetoric which those on the top of society are happy to propagate (even though they know it a fallacy) because it keeps you in your place. Their program is to crush all competition, not reward it, and keep control of all resources.

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