We live in the wake of two revolutions, one social, the other economic. Thirty years ago, who would have imagined homosexuals could marry, or that a Black man would be President of the United States or that all of Britain would cheer a Somali born runner as their own? Thirty years ago who would have imagined that unions would be so bereft of power, that corporations in glamorous industries could require entry level employees to work for no money, or that the median American male worker’s real wages would be lower than they were in 1973.
The left won the social revolution, the right won the economic revolution, but working class heterosexual White males lost both, and there we have the only explanation why Mitt Romney has any chance of winning the upcoming American presidential election. If only white men had the vote, Mitt Romney would be a shoo-in. And in that demographic, President Obama does considerably worse among those who have never been to college. Romney’s lead with college educated white males is 13%, but with those who have never attended university it is a whopping 29%. This is not a one-off, but part of a long-range pattern. Bill Clinton managed to capture the white working class in 1996, but since then their votes have gone ever more solidly Republican.
The white working class, of course, was the foundation of the Democratic New Deal coalition. During the glory years of the American Empire, a man with little education but a willingness to work could get a job that paid more than his father had ever dreamed of earning. By his late twenties he could afford a down payment on a house and from only his earnings support a family in middle class splendor while his wife stayed at home and raised their children. Unless he had exceptional moral or intellectual failings, he could pretty much expect to hold his job until he chose to retire.
Meanwhile, at the home and in the culture, the male breadwinner ruled the roost. Women knew their place, as did black people, and homosexuals lived in some secret world beyond the pale. After a day at the factory, sipping Pabst Blue Ribbon beer while reclining in his Barcalouger, the white man could enjoy his unspoken superiority. Today, those ancient verities are gone. Often the wife earns more than the husband, and concomitantly power has shifted within the home. Jobs once reserved for white men are his no longer and anyway the common worker has little of the security his father expected as his due.
Romney is not an attractive candidate. He is stiff, unnatural, and uncharismatic. He oozes hypocrisy. His business experience was as a job destroyer, stripping assets from companies and appropriating their wealth for the benefit of himself and Bain Capital’s investors. He was born to luxury, has no common touch, and the policies he seems to care about most are those that benefit the super rich.
The interesting question is why the economic revolution brought about by Ronald Reagan rallies less opposition amongst the white working class than the social revolution brought about by the civil rights, gay rights, and feminist movements. Mitt Romney’s election will not bring back the days of white male supremacy, but they may well make life even more precarious for the workingman. For some reason that does not motivate their vote. Perhaps Marx was wrong and the social superstructure is more vital to our self-conception than the economic realities that underpin it.