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May 29, 2010

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"Angry Old White Men"

Posted: 29 May 2010 12:24 AM PDT

Claude Fischer is a sociologist at UC Berkeley:

Angry old white men, by Claude Fischer, Berkeley Blog: The April, 2010, New York Times survey of Tea Party supporters found that they skew toward male, white, and old. Journalists' reports on Tea Party events suggest that TPA activists skew even more those ways. The reports also suggest that TPA activists hold a wide set of grievances far beyond their objections to taxes and to Obama. They demand to have their "country back."
Dispossessed in the household
18th-Century America was a society of households each ruled by a property-owning white man. Just about everyone else – wives, children (including older boys awaiting their own households), servants, slaves, apprentices, farm hands, spinsters, widows, orphans of relatives, and the destitute whom the town officers had "bound out" – lived or were supposed to live under the legal, political, and moral authority of a patriarch. ... Occasionally, town officials would remind lax men to rule their households with a tighter fist, if, for example, their servants misbehaved or their wives were too proud.
Over the course of American history, these dependents – perhaps most importantly, the women – became increasingly independent. Generation after generation, the patriarchs lost more and more power over those dependents. (Historian Carole Shammas wrote a particularly nifty, short book on this topic.) Wives, for example, gained some control over their own property and a greater right to divorce; young men – and young women – grasped independence by leaving farms for emerging industrial jobs; journeymen moved out of the masters' houses to their own homes; and so on.
As with most social changes, the dispossession appeared first among the more affluent and educated classes. In the 19th century, couples in these groups "re-negotiated" the terms of households. Wives took on greater authority in the home by, for example, displacing fathers in the role of premier moral instructor to children. In the latter part of the century, observers applauded a new trend: More middle-class men were going straight home to their families after work, bypassing the bar or men's club, and there participating in the emerging sentimental, "feminized" family. (Margaret Marsh tells the homecoming story here and here.) Many historians describe this as the era when middle-class men were "domesticated." We could also say dispossessed.
Such trends spread slowly and for much of working-class, immigrant, and rural America, it took much longer. But by the end of the 20th century, women and youths were independent everywhere. Older men no longer could simply command and be obeyed.
Dispossessed in the community
Roughly in parallel, the power of older, property-holding, white men over the wider community also waned: Propertyless men gained the right to vote, grassroots religious movements (fueled if not led by women) challenged established church leadership, slaves were freed, immigrants flooded into politics, employees organized against their bosses, women voted, courts discovered more and more individual rights – including the rights of children against their parents, an emerging welfare state gave workers new options..., and minorities of all sorts who had once known "their place" stepped out, organized, spoke up, and successfully pressed their claims. Old white guys, especially affluent, Protestant ones, had to give ground. No wonder they're ticked.
It is a delicious irony that currently the lead spokesperson for angry old white men is a bodacious, young, entrepreneurial woman. But when Sarah Palin energizes claims to "take back" the country, she is pressing to give the country back to the angry old white men.

I've been thinking about the extent to which the tea party movement represents resistance to and resentment over waning power in rural America. Obama is a symbol of a shift toward urban interests. Rural America senses that he represents a major shift in the political landscape, one that will no longer put the white male farmer at the center of the American political landscape. Even though the majority of the population moved to cities long ago, the rural myth persisted in American politics. The "small town values" that politicians pay so much attention to is a reflection of this, and Obama is a signal that the special place rural America holds in American politics is coming to an end.

links for 2010-05-28

Posted: 28 May 2010 11:03 PM PDT

"Why Deficit Hawks are Killing the Recovery"

Posted: 28 May 2010 12:33 PM PDT

Making this point once again may be redundant and a bit tedious, but it's an important issue and, unfortunately, the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way, i.e. in favor of the deficit hawks (plus, about to hit the road for a few hours and this is all I have):

Why Deficit Hawks Are Killing the Recovery, by Robert Reich: Consumer spending is 70 percent of the American economy, so if consumers can't or won't spend we're back in the soup. Yet the government just reported that consumer spending stalled in April – the first month consumers didn't up their spending since last September. Instead, consumers boosted their savings, probably because they're worried about the slow pace of job growth..., as well as a lackluster "recovery." They're also still carrying enormous debt burdens. One in four home owners is still underwater. And median wages are going nowhere.

So what's Congress doing to stoke the economy as consumers pull back? In a word, nothing. Democratic House leaders yesterday shrank their jobs bill to a droplet. They jettisoned proposed subsidies to help the unemployed buy health insurance, as well as higher matching funds for state-run health programs such as Medicaid. And they trimmed extended unemployment insurance.

"Members who are from low unemployment areas are very concerned about the deficit," Nancy Pelosi explained. She might have added that so-called Blue Dog Democrats have the same warped view of fiscal policy as most Republicans. They fail to distinguish between short-term deficits (good) and long-term debt (bad).

Deficit-cutting fever has also struck the Senate – except when it comes to the military, of course. Last night the Senate okayed a $60 billion war-funding bill for Afghanistan. So far this year, the Afghan war has cost more than the war in Iraq... But spending on road-building in Afghanistan does little to boost the American economy.

Meanwhile, state and local governments continue to slash and burn. They're laying off even more teachers, fire fighters, social workers, and police; canceling more programs for the poor and working class; and raising sales taxes. The fiscal drag from all of this will be around $150 billion in 2010.

Without consumers opening their wallets, and without government making up the difference, we're careening toward a double-dip recession. The long-term deficit (i.e. Medicare as boomers become seniors) needs attention, but right now it's critical for government to spend. Otherwise we have no hope of getting free of the gravitational pull of this recession.

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