Page 1 of 2 What a woman wants
By Julian Delasantellis
"What do women want?" Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud asked, as if the
population being inquired about was an enigma shrouded in a conundrum, when an
answer was there just by asking one. These days, American politics is obsessed
by a similar question, "What does the white, less-educated, lower income,
middle class want?"
In 1975, a friend of mine going to college in Boston, Massachusetts, tried to
find out. At the time, the notoriously gentrified Boston was presenting a new
and unexpected image of itself to the world thanks to resistance, frequently
violent, to a
federal judge's order to racially desegregate the city's schools.
Instead of sophisticated, cultured Brahmins sipping tea on Beacon Hill, reading
poems by Longfellow and discussing the progress of their sons at Harvard, TV
news broadcasts featured almost nightly graphic footage of the protests, in
reality near riots, that followed the judge's order. The mechanics of the
desegregation process was that white kids would be taken by bus from their
segregated white neighborhoods to schools in segregated black neighborhoods,
and vice versa. The events taught the world that much of Boston was demarcated
into sharp sectarian divisions as mordacious as any strife-torn city in
The loci of the white resistance was found in South Boston, an almost
exclusively white, Irish Catholic, and very poor, neighborhood - but one where
residents were proud of their (albeit underperforming) schools. If you ever see
documentary footage of yellow school buses rolling into a white neighborhood,
phalanxes of jackbooted State Police officers separating them from hordes of
protesters screaming obscenities and throwing rocks, you're most likely looking
at events in South Boston.
My friend was earning his college tuition by working as a deliveryman for two
brothers, Holocaust survivors, whose business provided supplies to nursing and
convalescent homes. One of his stops was a retirement home in South Boston.
Behind the front desk at this establishment was a blond, cute, curvaceous young
receptionist, with deep blue eyes and a flashing smile. My friend, who had to
sign in at her desk to gain admittance, was always too tongue-tied to strike up
a conversation until one night he noticed that playing on the girl's AM radio
was the song Black and White, by the rock group Three Dog Night.
The song, meant as a paean to school desegregation, had these lyrics:
The ink is black, the page is white
Together we learn to read and write
A child is black, a child is white
The whole world looks upon the sight
A beautiful sight.
And now a child can understand
That this is the law of all the land
All the land.
The world is black, the world is white
It turns by day, and then by night
A child is black, a child is white
Together they grow to see the light
To see the light.
My friend crossed the Rubicon; he went for
the gusto. "So," he smiled at the girl. "I guess this song isnít that popular
around here these days."
The girl flashed her pretty eyes, answered back.
"Eat [expletive for excrement]," she suggested to my friend. "You [extremely
derogatory obscenity referring to African-Americans, generally referred to as
the 'n word'] loving [derogatory insult to persons of the Jewish faith rhyming
with bike] [present participle of the obscene verb referring to one who has
conjugal relations with a maternal parent] [obscenity for the exit terminus of
the human alimentary canal]."
Well, Barack Obama isn't having a lot of luck connecting with this population,
American politics, particularly American presidential politics, wasn't always
as complicated as it is now. For about 75 years following Republican William
McKinley's 1896 election victory over populist firebrand Democrat William
Jennings Bryan, American politics settled into a fairly comfortable and
predictable pattern - business and the economic elite voting for the
Republicans, more middle and lower income, "popular" interests going for the
It was McKinley's political guru, Mark Hanna, the Karl Rove of his day, who
engineered this significant political "realignment". He was the one who made
the now obvious political tautology that if you represented the interests of
the economic elite, the elite would reciprocate with loads of campaign
contributions, and, as California political boss Jesse Unruh once said, "money
is the mother's milk of politics".
Once the Republicans got by their anti-corporate, trust-busting president
Theodore Roosevelt from 1900 to 1908, this pattern held until very recently.
Americans were happy and content with the prosperity delivered to them by the
free market in the Roaring Twenties, so in that decade they elected as
president three Republicans in a row - Warren Harding in 1920, Calvin Coolidge
in 1924, and Herbert Hoover in 1928.
However, following the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great
Depression, the seeming salvation of the country from both the economic
calamity and the threats of the fascist Axis ushered in one of the longest
periods of one-party dominance of the presidency in American history. The
Democrats won seven of the nine presidential elections between 1932 and 1964.
The only victories the Republicans could manage during this period were in 1952
and 1956, when they had as their standard bearer the non-ideological,
essentially centrist American hero-conqueror of Europe, Dwight D Eisenhower.
The 1964 presidential election, held less than a year after the assassination
of president John F Kennedy, was particularly brutal for the Republicans.
Running Arizona conservative Senator Barry Goldwater against now president
Lyndon Johnson, the Republicans were thoroughly thumped; Johnson won 61% of the
popular vote. The only states that Goldwater won were his home state of
Arizona, and, it was thought interesting at the time, the previously hard-core
Democratic Deep South states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi
In the immediate aftermath of the 1964 election, the prospects of conservatism
in general, and the Republican Party specifically, seemed bleak. Their defeat
was so thorough and substantial that it was thought that it would be many years
before they would once more be a force in the political system. A new "liberal
consensus" would rule the day, leading to a beneficent dominion of
government-employed technocrats using the latest advances in quantitative
social science to solve societyís problems.
As for the conservatives, it was now thought that their ideology was past its
time and that, in the 1954 words of Columbia University sociologist historian
Richard Hofstadler that essentially accused the entire conservative movement of
sociopathy, "Their political reactions express rather a profound if largely
unconscious hatred of our society and its ways - a hatred which one would
hesitate to impute to them if one did not have suggestive clinical evidence."
But rather than being the first crest of a crashing liberal wave, 1964 would,
in reality, be liberalism's high-water mark - a mark that the movement would
not even come close to in the following 40 plus years.
The counter-attack was launched from the redoubt of those five Deep South
states carried by Goldwater in 1964. Most political observers attributed this
phenomenon to Johnson's advocacy of political and civil rights for
African-Americans; Johnson himself admitted that his signing of the 1964 Civil
Rights Act, and the attendant rebellion against the Democratic Party that would
soon arise among white Southerners, meant that the South would be lost to the
Democrats for the next 20 years. Currently, that prediction is off by 24 years,
and still counting.
The America that chose a new president in 1968 was a far different place than
in 1964. The anti-Vietnam war and civil rights protests of the intervening four
years had generated the worst civil unrest in the country since the Civil War,
and, as the cities of the North burned in the aftermath of the assassination of
the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King, it was seen that racism was not just a
disease of the backward, non-progressive South.
For the conservatives in the Republican Party, America's electoral doormat for
over the past three decades, this was the way out of the darkness. Advised by
28-year-old television wunderkind Roger Ailes (more lately the creator and
still head of Fox News), candidate Richard Nixon hit on a strategy to finally
reach down and peel off some of the middle- and working-class whites that had
been at the core of the Democratic party consensus since Franklin Roosevelt.
As chronicled by journalist Joe McGinnis in his groundbreaking 1969 book, The
Selling of The President 1968, Ailes steered Nixon towards the
relatively new political tool of the television advertisement to bypass the
considered-to-be hostile printed press, to re-introduce to the American public
a "new Nixon", supposedly more trustworthy and honest than the shifty eyes and
questionable morals of the old Nixon of the 1950s.
In a series of one-minute (far longer than the 15- or 20-second spots now aimed
at today's short attention span younger voters), television advertisements,
Nixon appealed to an American middle class that had seemingly grown frightened
and apprehensive about the rapid pace of social change cascading about before
One spot had still photos of the riotous 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention
that had nominated his opponent, vice president Hubert Humphrey, interspersed
with a frightening collage of burning buildings, presumably from the civil
rights and antiwar riots, and the war in Vietnam. Another spot, "Youth" , mixed
stills of degenerate, ill-kempt hippies (who by then were being painted by
social critics as nothing but spoiled upper middle-class cowards and crybabies)
in what the spot called the "fringes", with scenes of good, wholesome American
youth, doing good, wholesome American youth activities such as studying science
(none of that degenerate social science stuff with these good kids!) working,
playing baseball, standing under American flags - all clean cut, short haired,
and dressed as if they were happy to wear what their parents had just purchased
for them at Sears.
One of the most ominous shots, "The First Civil Right", crystallized what would
be the Republican's main campaign plank for the next 40 years. With ominous,
jarring music, and while showing dark pictures of bloodied protesters facing
off against determined riot cops, Nixon told America that, if elected, social
change would stop.
"It is time for an honest look at the problem of order in the United States.
Dissent is a necessary ingredient of change, but in a system of government that
provides for peaceful change, there is no cause that justifies resort to
violence. Let us recognize that the first right of every American is to be free
from domestic violence. So I pledge to you, we shall have order in the United
Running against Humphrey on the left, and anti-civil rights activist George
Wallace on the right, Nixon won the election by the relatively small margin of
500,000 votes, but that margin hid some remarkable partisan turnarounds from
Nixon won Ohio by 91,000 votes, Goldwater had lost it by over a million. Nixon
won New Jersey by 60,000 votes; Goldwater had lost it by over 900,000. Johnson
had won Florida by 40,000 votes; Nixon won the Sunshine State by 210,000.
Perhaps most telling of how elections would be decided here on in, Nixon won
Virginia, lost by Goldwater by almost 80,000 votes, by 150,000 votes.
The Deep South states won by Goldwater (except South Carolina) in 1964, along
with Arkansas, voted for Wallace, and his vice presidential nominee US Air
Force General Curtis LeMay, who attracted support from those sick of both the
antiwar protests and the war itself through his 1965 suggestion of, should
communist aggression in Vietnam not stop, "we're going to bomb them back into
the Stone Age".
Here is seen the birth of the slayer of the progressive movement in the United
States-the "values voter".
Democrats and liberals were perplexed by the victory of their long-hated
nemesis, the once aggressive red-baiter Nixon. Why had the working class,
represented by the industrial states Nixon won back from them in 1964, turned
against them and against their own economic interests? Didn't these voters know
that it was the Democrats, through such initiatives as support for unions, the
minimum wage, public education, Social Security and the new medical insurance
program for the elderly Medicare, that were their only true friends? What
secret had Nixon, Ailes, and the high-priced pollsters they had recruited from
commercial marketing firms, discovered?
In 1978, Universal Studios released director Michael Cimino's groundbreaking
film, The Deer Hunter, to significant public acclaim - it was awarded
Best Picture, along with four other Oscars for that year.
In brief, the movie tells the story of a small, gritty Western Pennsylvania
steel town, the kind that reliably voted Democrat up until 1968, populated by
super-patriotic Russian immigrants, that sends its sons off to the Vietnam War.
One comes back a paraplegic, another, "Nick", played by Oscar-winner
Christopher Walken, due to the psychic scars suffered in the war, never comes
home at all.
After Nick's funeral, town members gather at a bar to watch scenes of the
frenzied American withdrawal from South Vietnam in the spring of 1975. They are
silenced; it seems that they have finally realized that Nick's, and their
town's, sacrifices were all in vain. Suddenly, "Linda" (Meryl Streep), Nick's
widow, begins to quietly sing God Bless America. The others around the
table softly followed suit as the movie ends.
Liberals loved the movie for its graphic depiction of the brutality of the
Vietnam War, but many were puzzled by the ending. Why the patriotism, just what
were the townspeople celebrating? After all, they had just given one of their
boys, Nick, to the government, which had squandered his life away. The town was
far from prosperous; life, along with the backbreaking work in the steel mills,
was tough and arduous. Working there, and living in the town in general, aged
all those within it well beyond their years.
Wouldn't the townspeople be better off canvassing and voting
for their local Democratic party liberal candidate for Congress, with his
platform of, among other things, improved enforcement of health and safety
regulations for the plant, easier access to public education so their kids might
have a better future than their parents, most importantly, no more wasteful
wars like Vietnam that their sons would be sent away to die in?