Frank Rich has an op-ed in the New York Times which begins by comparing the rage against health care reform to the the tumult over major social reform legislature through history — but comes to the conclusion that it’s not health care per se that is the issue, nor is it any specific legislation — it is the “march of demographics” that so threaten the white male ruling class that has turned the Republican party into what Jon Stewart (or was it Stephen Colbert) has called “the party of angry old white men.” Rich writes:
“The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.”
The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.
I wonder if Rich is right? There are clearly “angry white men” (with Sarah Palin an honorary member of the club) who look at the lineup that includes Obama as head of the Executive, Pelosi as the House Majority leader, and Sotomayor as the newest member of the Supreme Court, and feel disenfranchised. There is nothing that Obama can do to assuage these types — whatever he does, or if he does nothing, the anger will be the same. Responsible commentators across the political spectrum acknowledge that Obamacare is essentially a middle of the road program that is modeled more on Mitt Romney’s healthcare program in Connecticut than anything else. Yet the anger is at a white-hot level. It truly doesn’t make sense on a policy-political debate level.
I also wonder whether Rich’s point serves as some sort of basic litmus test of psycho-political orientation. How does the idea that white births are already in the minority make you feel? I’m a white male ‘of a certain age’ but I confess to feeling a certain psychological thrill at the idea that whites are en route to becoming a majority in America. And I definitely feel a thrill of possibility at the the lineup that Rich cites in his piece. I think it’s intriguing and positive that white culture is becoming less dominant in America. Even my mother — 82 years old, born and raised in Alabama and living in a Republican stronghold county in the Florida panhandle — seems to feel this way. In her case she has come to take pride that our extended family has evolved into a bit of a rainbow coalition — all white until my generation came along, now filled with mixed race and gay grandchildren and nieces and nephews. I’m proud of the way she’s rolled with the punch and evolved, and continues to evolve, toward something that is radically different from the model that she grew up under in Alabama in the 30’s and 40’s. I wonder if the “angry white men” will ever evolve, or is that expecting too much? I guess the Republican Party and the country will have an opportunity to see whether and to what degree the righteous anger is resonating with the broader voting populace in the November mid-term elections.