The Political Decline of the White Male?

Illustration for article titled The Political Decline of the White Male?

It must be pretty disconcerting to be part of the white male political class these days.


Nancy Pelosi is the first woman speaker of the House; Michael Steele is the African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee. Bobby Jindal, an Indian-American governor, “delivered” the official Republican response to the first congressional address by the first black president of the United States. Eric Cantor, a Jewish American, is the new face of the congressional Republicans, and the early front-runner for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination is none other than Alaska governor and populist über-GILF, Sarah Palin.

Missing from their powerful ranks is the benevolent, yet stern retrosexual white guy prototype, someone at home in a country club locker room, but with enough self-confidence to get out and ask for directions in the ‘hood. He enjoys nigiri sushi, but he’s still comfortable with his own chest hair. By day, he feels his way through an Eastern bazaar like Simon LeBon, and by night he takes a nightcap with the ladies like a randy Bruce Campbell.

George W. Bush, the last HHIC, buried his own particular model for good—the glad-handing, born-again preppy is over. Not only did he fracture the Reagan coalition of fiscal and social conservatives, Bush single-handedly wiped away the veneer of inevitability that white men have enjoyed going all the way back to George Washington. All of a sudden, there’s a built-in discount to consider when voting for a white guy—you’re hoping you’ll get Ward Cleaver, but you’re worried you’ll get Barney Fife instead.

To a lesser extent, Democrats share the problem: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s poor early reviews suggest that it’s no longer going to be good enough for a white guy to just show up for a gig with a fresh haircut from Fantastic Sam’s and expect to be taken seriously. But for now, the Democrats have decided that they’re getting down with the brown via President Barack Obama, leaving some tough choices for Republicans.

…And the pickings are slim:

Joe the Plumber

He’s gone from campaign surrogate to war correspondent, policy adviser for Republican congressional staffers and featured guest at last week’s Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) summit. In the same way that a self-appointed Louis Farrakhan for many years spoke as a minister-without-portfolio on behalf of the most oppositional sector of the black polity, Joe the Plumber now stands in for the demographic that has alternately been known as “Joe Six Packs,” “NASCAR dads” and “Angry White Males.”


Gov. Charlie Crist

He’s moderate, well-liked by his Florida constituents and really, really tan. But while Crist recently made news bucking fellow Republicans in backing Obama’s economic recovery legislation, his strongest political skill is his ability to blend in with the scenery.


Mitt Romney

He won the CPAC straw poll, has deep pockets, the right hair and a corresponding sense of entitlement, but also that whiff of a dude who’s a total buzz kill back at the frat house.


Mike Huckabee

He has a certain zeal appeal and his own talk show, but he’s missing that Sully Sullenberger “we’re gonna be in the Hudson” resolve that leaders need in perilous times.


Newt Gingrich

He’s the right’s most intelligent spokesperson, but reverting back to Bill Clinton’s old nemesis feels a little bit like bringing 90210 back to TV. Well, anyway…


Back when we had white male presidents, Republican administrations frequently busied themselves by trying to lower the capital gains tax or invading Grenada. But if there’s going to be another white male president, he has to be able to deal effectively with a multimedia, multi-hued and multi-threat world. And he’ll have to understand that women have more ideas to offer than just Laura Bush’s generic “reading is fundamental” rap.

White guys, heretofore known to be good with money and bad on the dance floor, are now under real scrutiny. Just being able to handle Twitter won’t get it done. A future white male president should have a little Cap’n Morgan in him, but also has to understand the basics of naked short selling and be able to summarize, without notes, the beef between Shia and Sunni.


We’re not at the point when House “Minority” Leader John Boehner can lead off a press conference with “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” But stay tuned. White men know they still have a role to play in politics—they just don’t quite have it figured out yet.

David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter