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What's the Matter with White People?: Finding Our Way in the Next America by [Walsh, Joan]
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"...thrilling and moving family and political memoir that will help those who read it decipher the political spectacle that will unfold over the next two months." ( The San Francisco Chronicle , August 2012)

From the Inside Flap

The size and stability of the American middle class were once the envy of the world. But changes unleashed in the 1960s pitted Americans against one another politically in new and destructive ways. These battles continued to rage from that day to now, while everyone has fallen behind economically except the wealthy. Right-wing culture warriors blamed the decline on the moral shortcomings of "other" Americans—black people, feminists, gays, immigrants, union members—to court a fearful white working- and middle-class base with ever more bitter "us vs. them" politics. Liberals tried, but mostly failed, to make the case that we're all in this together. In What's the Matter with White People? , popular Salon columnist Joan Walsh argues that the biggest divide in America today is not about party or ideology, but about two competing narratives for why everything has fallen apart since the 1970s. One side sees an America that has spent the last forty years bankrupting the country providing benefits and advantages to the underachieving, the immoral, and the undeserving, no matter the cost to Middle America. The other sees an America that has spent the last forty years bankrupting the country providing benefits and advantages to the very rich, while allowing a measure of cultural progress for the different and the downtrodden. It matters which side is right, and how the other side got things so wrong. Walsh connects the dots of American decline through trends that began in the 1970s and continue today—including the demise of unions, the stagnation of middle-class wages, the extension of the right's "Southern Strategy" throughout the country, the victory of Reagan Republicanism, the increase in income inequality, and the drop in economic mobility. Citing her extended family as a case in point, Walsh shows how liberals unwittingly collaborated in the "us vs. them" narrative, rather than developing an inspiring, persuasive vision of a more fair, united America. She also explores how the GOP's renewed culture war now scapegoats even segments of its white base, as it blames the troubles of working-class whites on their own moral failings rather than on an unfair economy. What's the Matter with White People? is essential reading as the country struggles through political polarization and racial change to invent the next America in the years to come.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2119 KB
  • Print Length: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Reprint edition (16 April 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,019,936 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars 169 reviews
214 of 245 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant and Feeling Woman's Political Journey (I loved it except for the title) 19 Aug. 2012
By Phyllis S., NYC - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an extremely intelligent, engaging book on American politics that is also a memoir. It is written unabashedly from the perspective of a liberal Democrat who is an Irish-American, raised in a strongly Catholic home. Joan Walsh is an editor at Salon.com and a political analyst on MSNBC. I've watched her on TV and read some of her columns but I never guessed just how perceptive she is--or how tough in her appraisal of fellow Democrats. She gets to say a lot more in this book than she does as a talking head on television--and she has things to say that matter.

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.
104 of 131 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and very readable political memoir. 20 Aug. 2012
By Frances Langum - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This year has seen three books by MSNBC personalities: Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and now Joan Walsh. I've read all three -- and while Maddow and Hayes's books are fantastic, they're not memoirs -- I can't make books on political elites or the military industrial complex into bedtime reading! Walsh's book, on the other hand, is a deeply personal look at the US political landscape during the past five decades. I love how Walsh connects her own Irish Catholic, working class upbringing to the unhinging of the Democratic coalition in the late 60's and 70's. She speaks from a deeply personal and human perspective, and yet doesn't miss a beat in describing in great detail the economic and political events that brought us to the Tea Party and failures of the current Democratic administration to confront a recalcitrant Republican congress (elected by working class whites!) on behalf of those same working class citizens. A most enjoyable read.

Frances Langum
The Professional Left Podcast
24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bad Title Good Book 27 Sept. 2012
By Maxine McLister - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
The title of author Joan Walsh's book What's the Matter with White People: Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was is a bit misleading. As much memoir and history of Irish immigration to the United States as political polemic, she uses the example of her own working class Irish family to explain why so many from this group have moved to the right, a move which appears to be against their own self-interest.

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.
65 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crucial topic we should all be discussing 22 Aug. 2012
By nativenewyorker - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Even if you don't typically agree with the author's politics - and maybe especially if you don't! - you will consider this book relevant, insightful and thoroughly engaging. It's an honest, personal and extremely thoughtful discussion of race, class and politics in the context of contemporary American history and the author's own family. While you may not agree with all of the assertions, you're guaranteed to come away with a more compassionnate understanding of the conflicting emotions and voting habits of America's middle class today.
22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I wish Joan Walsh understood both sides 20 Jun. 2013
By R. Reviere - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
First, thanks to Joan Walsh for being relatively frank (for a TV type) about her political background and therefore baggage. I wish that she taken a moment to spell out what the various key leftist talk items mean to her... I mean I could say "class war" and "working class" and quite possibly mean something very different from her. There are many examples of fuzzy 'movement terms', and if you can't read Joan's mind, you are out of luck if you care what it 'precisely' means. Also, the historical sections on the Black Irish were new to me... I had not heard the story every told quite so concisely and personally. Read this book (at least the first several chapters) to get this story, which has been overlooked in many, many other books that discuss American History.

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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