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|Print List Price:||£12.35|
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What's the Matter with White People?: Finding Our Way in the Next America Kindle Edition
|Length: 354 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The book has a somewhat unfortunate, even deceptive title. First of all, Walsh doesn't find much wrong with white people except that the white working class and the labor movement have been largely abandoned by the Democratic party--or let us say the arugula wing of the Democratic party. Second, one would expect a snarky sociopolitical treatise from that title, but this book is not snide or condescending in tone. It is a much more personal book than you might expect. Walsh writes about her steadfast liberal father (who was educated by the Christian Brothers and was in many ways a traditional Catholic) and her mother, who was frightened by the chaos of the 60's and wound up voting for Nixon. The portraits of members of her family are vivid and often quite touching, and we see how these relationships impacted Walsh personally and politically. The image of her going to the ruins of the World Trade Center with her cousin, a member of the NYPD who tried to save survivors of 9/11, stays in my mind. Again and again, Walsh emphasizes her ties to her "people"--she sees herself as what she is, a daughter of the Irish Catholic working class. (The material on the historical journey of the Irish in America is fascinating.)
Walsh's description of how we got into the political straits we are in--how race and identity politics divided the Democratic party--is a shrewd summing up of 50 or so years of American politics. From a liberal point of view, it is often an account of mistakes and lost opportunities. Walsh may be overly kind of the Clintons, particularly Bill--never really noting how his personal failings played into his opponents' hands. But this is basically a balanced account. I could not help comparing her critical take on one prominent Democratic senator--by no means the worst of the lot--with a puff piece in the Times I happened to read around the same time. While supporting Obama, Walsh does not (thank heaven) idolize him. (A little known detail sticks in my mind. Have you noticed that credit card interest rates often now amount to usury--or what would have once been considered usury? Not too important, unless you are a struggling person who has to rely on this source of credit. Hillary as a senator voted to rein credit card interest in. Obama did not.) As Walsh sees it, Obama has a way to go before he can be regarded as a tribune of the working masses.
A strong central theme of the book is this: how do we get white working class--people like Joan Walsh's Irish Catholic relatives--back into the Democratic fold? (Hint: Maybe we should offer them some real, serious, bread-and-butter economic help?)
If you are a Republican you are probably not going to love this book. But I hope the president reads it, even if just to be reminded of what he of all people hopefully already knows. (Please, Mr. President. It's an enjoyable read.) I personally could not put it down. Highly recommended.
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Surprisingly, given the attitude of most liberals towards the white male working class, Walsh, who is an editor at Salon.com and very much a liberal, gives an extremely empathetic and enlightening explanation of the causes of the rightward shift. She doesn't completely let the white workers off the hook - she points out, for example, that much of their opposition to Affirmative Action programs lies in their desire to be able to keep the better paying union jobs such as police and firefighters for their own kids. However, she blames most of the shift on missed opportunities by the Democratic party and misinformation from the Republicans.
As a working class woman also of Irish descent (albeit Canadian), I found myself nodding frequently at much of what she had to say. She speaks with great love and sympathy for her own Republican relatives. Her story of how she became a liberal Democrat thanks to her father, who was able to live the American Dream only due to being given to the Catholic Brothers when he was thirteen, is both sad and poignant. Her explanation of the sometimes shared, sometimes hostile history between the Irish immigrants and black people of NY is fascinating. Her story of her own journey to understand both her conservative family and her liberal friends and to live within both groups is insightful.
Too often, the white male working class is dismissed as 'racist' or 'stupid white men' by liberals while the Conservatives play into their fears (most unfounded) as they quietly dismantle the institutions, like unions, that actually try to protect the working class. Finally, in Ms Walsh's book, someone is actually speaking out for this much maligned group in an honest and sympathetic manner and, if the Democrats ever want to win them back, they better pay attention.
The book has convinced me that Joan still, after all these years and no doubt endless pummeling by conservative commentators who she evidently did not listen to, cannot come up with a convincing list of why on earth anyone (other than the rich elites) would even consider voting Republican. Her go-tos are the obvious 'have vs. have not', various racial divides, etc. And none of these are convincing for Joan to believe that the motivation for voting Republican is anything other than fear... of having to give up one's social privilege ... etc. Hmmm. On this point, the book seems profoundly poorly researched, somewhat like the people who pontificate about the motivations of Al Queda (destroy our freedom?) without ever studying their rhetoric to get at what is really motivating them (preservation of the traditional family?).
At many points during this book and was scratching my head at her seeming life long failure to understand Republican motivations and intentions. If it really were a face value matter of voting to further enrich rich elites, then the Republicans would get about 1% of the vote and that would be the last we heard from them. There just has to be much more to the story beyond the politics of fear, which is equally applicable as a motivator on the Democrat side. What about "Makers vs. Takers"? How about the basic story of what motivates humans to do something useful vs. do something fun vs. do something harmful? What about 'a competitive world is better than a monopoly world' angle? (This latter view motivates both de-regulation and anti-statism) Don't look for anything like this in this book.
Joan thinks that it is high justice for coalition builders to string together a bunch of narrow interest groups to vote in the democrats, somehow missing that this is cynical and Machiavellian at best, given that the whole point is to advantage one group (of groups) vs. others. She seems to never have considered that "social justice" in practice means a mechanism for power to deliver individual injustice. Check into Nazi social justice regarding Jews, Gypsies, etc. Thinking and talking about social groups create dog-eat-dog dynamics with a huge burden of name-calling. Justice is a singular thing, and it exists only in context and that context is created only by individuals, choices and relationships.
Not that I am a Republican! I have worked hard to understand Rs and Ds, and the Rs have their severe blind spots, often revolving around property and money. Math (real rates of return) eventually drives all wealth into the pockets of those with assets attracting real rates of return, so the 'redistribution problem' is not only real but a consequence of the 'physics of money'. So concentration of wealth and power is a chronic problem in human history, and at the root of much conflict. The Democrats at least seem to get this.
But what about Joan? She's confused. And somewhat clueless beyond the old labels, categories and politics. And the reader? Annoyed that they spent so much time with someone who is not really that good of an analyst. Maybe Joan is good enough for Salon and TV, a depressing thought. Too bad this level of political discussion is so typical on all sides... lots of stuff being decried but not much of the hard project specifics that get everyone excited and on board.
This books three stars because of the Black-Irish story and the fact that it adds value to typical talking head commentary, which I suppose it is all of our fates to get stuck watching every now and then.
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