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Monday, October 14, 2013
Politics ... Society ...

Once in a blue moon, I come across an article on current affairs that really cuts thru the fog, an article about today that sounds like it was written 25 years in the future, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight. There’s a lot of fog these days in the realm of national politics. How can anyone make sense of the current dysfunctional struggles in Washington DC between President Obama and the GOP / Tea Party alliance? What can be said about all the infighting and the corresponding failure of our collective leadership to address immigration problems, long-term debt and other financial dangers, global warming, slow economic growth and unemployment, heightening economic inequality, inadequate education systems, on and on? Even our national decision to expand access and fairness of the health care system thru the 2009 Affordable Care Act is now being re-visited in a rather unwholesome fashion. Why are our leaders fighting so much amidst themselves while the pillars fall and the barbarians approach in the distance?

One interpretation of the vehement efforts by Republicans to undermine President Obama’s leadership is based on racism, on racial prejudice against those of sub-Saharan African heritage; pure and simple, old-school bigotry. The Tea Party is seen by some as being driven and inspired by racist resentment of Obama’s political success.

I believe that there is some truth to that point of view. The uncooperative behavior on the part of Republicans goes beyond what I have seen over the years between a President and the opposing party; and I have been around long enough to remember the Lyndon Johnson administration! There has always been political in-fighting and low blows; but since 2009, national politics have reached new levels of viciousness.

But a recent article on by Paul Farrell, a behavioral economist, gives a new and unexpected perspective on key aspects of the social psychology which may well be driving the bitter political struggles of recent months. Mr. Farrell posits that Ted Cruz and the Tea Party are being supported and propelled largely on a wave of resentment from older white males against the more “feminine” policy moves and management style exhibited by Barack Obama and his supporters. This resentment, according to Mr. Farrell, is fueled by the declining economic opportunities and importance of men in the modern economy.

Making a good living in today’s economy is getting harder and harder for “classic men”. Muscle is being rapidly replaced by intelligent machines; ditto for “floor-level” supervision tasks, the areas that men always excelled at. Jobs in the internationalized, high-tech economy increasingly require high levels of education along with long-term collaborative approaches to doing things. Women are doing better than men today in terms of college placement and graduation, and they often have more of a touch for collaboration and long-term relationship-building. So the economy is increasingly becoming a woman’s world, and a lot of men are reacting badly to their corresponding loss of economic power and social prestige.

Here are some quotes from Mr. Farrell that hit the nail on the head:

Men are losing this war fast, and it’s changing everything. And it’s changing fast because women think very differently from the ancient ‘old-guys-rule’ politics that’s driven America for too long, but is rapidly disappearing. Today psychologists know women are more rational as investors, as corporate directors, as military thinkers, as CEOs and long-term strategic planners. So in modern economies, women not only think differently, they think better, often with a competitive edge over males . . . As a result, the male ego feels threatened, bruised. Yet can’t admit it, denies it, fights, sees women as the enemy [as women] keep demanding greater equality. Meanwhile, the workforce offers fewer and fewer jobs traditionally performed by men. The economy demands higher skills: When I was in law school we had just four women among more than 250 graduates. Today, a generation later, more than half of all law, medicine and business graduates are women. More women are elected to government.

The male response? Threatened, defensive, throwing [POLITICAL] temper tantrums . . . across the power spectrum of America, men are being constantly threatened, challenged, marginalized, nursing their bruised egos. Not Ted Cruz. But most feel put down, get defensive, feel forced to counterattack: Witness how obsessed old-men legislators are with controlling health-care rules for all women … how old-men rulers are doubling down efforts to deny the vote to perceived threats from minority males … the relentless efforts of old white male birthers to delegitimize our black president.

We even see it in NRA boss Wayne LaPierre’s raging tantrums attacking regulations banning 100-round magazines because that threatens the frail egos of the macho American males. That’s the same historic long wave Cruz’s tea party capitalists are riding. As a Marine veteran, we [i.e, Mr. Farrell] see how weak today’s male ego is when we consider the absurdity of their argument . . . Small wonder guys like Cruz expose themselves as arrogant, angry old men. Not as real leaders, but as narcissistic egomaniacs, with psychological parallels with Ayn Rand’s narcissistic capitalists . . . the Cruz tea party capitalism of today is a clear heir to Ayn Rand’s extreme individualism …

{Ah, Ayn Rand! It’s ironic that a woman had so well defined and defended the classic MALE-DRIVEN un-regulated ‘vulture capitalism’, based on pure survival of the fittest . I’ll never forget her saying in Atlas Shrugged that smoking is OK and should not be discouraged by the government, because unfettered capitalists would find a way to either prevent or quickly cure lung cancer . . . 50 years later, we’re still awaiting that capitalist solution!!}

So, the rise of the Tea Party and its on-going success has been fueled by a dying yet unspoken male resentment against the “feminization” of America, both in terms of the economy, the job market, and in Democratic politics. That seems to make sense — the Tea Party’s #1 goal is to defeat Obamacare, which in itself is a feminine gesture. I.e., Obamacare reflects the feminine emphasis on body wellness and social cooperation, as to assure that everyone (almost) can attain the medical attention needed to maintain the body. So do we give Mr. Farrell an all-events pass on his “men-acting-badly” political thesis?

Not so fast. A 2010 survey showed that Tea Party membership and support was split between men and women on a 60 / 40 percent basis. As expected, men are the majority of Tea Partiers, but 40% is still a significant number. Much Tea Party leadership has been provided by women; one immediately thinks of Michele Bachmann, Christine O’Donnel and Sarah Palin. It seems that the Tea Party initially attracted many independent, feisty women (recall Ms. Palin’s “mama grizzlies”). Another attractor was the Tea Party’s seeming sympathy with Christian traditionalism and fundamentalism; women in general are more involved with organized religion, and not all of them are “new church” liberals interested in social justice. And finally, some women simply admire or are attracted to those ruggedly-independent men who want to fight off government encroachment into their lives. What better way to support them than by promoting the modern Tea Party agenda. See the article “The Tea Party and Angry White Women“.

So the Tea Party gained significant female involvement on start up; it seemingly offered women a new avenue to gain national influence. The question is whether the Party can keep this support. A 2012 poll indicates that women may be losing interest in the Tea Party. For example, among women calling themselves politically independent, those who agreed that “the more I hear about Tea Party the MORE I like it” went from 41% in 2010 to 23% in 2012; by contrast, those who agreed that “the more I hear about the Tea Party the LESS I like it” rose from 32% in 2010 to 41% in 2012. Quite a bit of poll movement in only two years.

So perhaps the Tea Party’s current “take no prisoners, and damn the economic and social casualties” approach to political influence and national leadership indeed is playing mainly to male fears and resentment against the fact that women are taking a greater role in the economic world and are slowly eclipsing men in the jobs market (and maybe eventually in the political realm, with Hilary Clinton waiting in the wings). Perhaps this is really what the Ted Cruz / Wendy Davis dichotomy, from deep in the heart of Texas, is all about. The underlying social, economic and political trends are on the side of the more “feminized” politics of today’s Democratic party. Vulture capitalism did our country a lot of good despite its nasty side-effects in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Unrestrained capitalism creates an incredible cornucopia of new products and opportunities for wealth generation and economic growth. But in today’s hyper-connected interdependent world, where the earth’s resources are pressed to the limit and even the weather is threatening the long-run survival of civilization as we know it, the price of old-school / male-dominated politics and capitalism might be getting too high.

Unfortunately, as with the Democrats of the 1850s and 1860s, who gave on-going support to the ancient-order of slavery and white social / economic dominance (which helped trigger a bloody Civil War, a tumultuous reconstruction, and a century of civil rights struggles), a lot of casualties and angst may occur before the new “feminized” world order can be accepted and realized, at both the highest and lowest levels of society. It might be awhile before all guys realize and accept the fact that ‘real men’ can also cooperate and participate in networks of positive economic, social and political relationships; and that there is a better way to run the world than constant competition with a win-at-all-costs ethos.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:22 pm      

  1. Jim, Have to give you a big “thank you” for finding the article by Farrell. I agree with you that his article may have hit the nail on the head and gotten to the root of what’s going on in D.C. In fact, with you (I think) I find it seems to be the idea that makes the most sense.

    I might add that I doubt it is not only “white” men having difficulty with women gaining any kind of power. It may be men all over the world. Malala (or Mulala, depending on who is spelling her name and how they are pronouncing it, I presume) herself, shot in the head by the Taliban for wanting to go to school, is an example of, as you put it, “men behaving badly” when they become threatened by women gaining any kind of power (and education is power. Even the slaves in America were forbidden to learn how to read and write, lest they gain too much power and rebel.)

    The women in India also have been rebelling against rape and other forms of domestic and female abuse widely accepted socially in India, protesting loudly that they demand to be treated like human beings.

    On a tangent: I’ve been thinking recently about this fuss regarding Obamacare and Hillary Clinton (was it back in the 1990s?) who had to withdraw from being put in charge of a change in the insurance coverage for people in the U.S. I have been thinking lately of the fuss going on with Obama and this whole change in insurance coverage for everyone. Can you imagine what this would have been with Hillary in charge of the whole thing?

    As to the fact that there is still a good portion of women who favor the Tea Party side: When women in the U.S. were granted the right to vote in 1920, there were at that time still a lot of women who wondered what kind of world would be coming with such a change—and a lot of them tho’t of it as preposterous! Change itself threatens a *lot* of people. So such women are likely afraid of the change that they can foresee (if only unconsciously) looming in the future.

    I’ve often tho’t for a long time that asking men to forever and always be masculine, in charge, the whole “I’m a man and can protect the world” idea puts an unrealistic and unrealizable burden on men. The world as depicted in some movies (think Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis and others who have made such overly masculine movies), while emphasizing the maleness of men, simply puts a massive burden on men and requires of men unattainable goals no human can achieve (except in cartoon depictions). Such an approach to masculinity denies the very humanness of the male of the species; nobody can be like that all the time. Men are simply people too, it seems to me.

    It is true that history has shown that at times women have achieved a certain level of power only to be completely crushed at the end of the struggle. Yet, in the end when we think of the difference in how women were regarded at the beginning of the second millennium; it was towards the end of the second millennium that women began to more generally and realistically achieve status as human beings, the same as men. It was a long struggle. That struggle may not be over, but with any luck hopefully, the change in how women are regarded will in the end be a gift to men that they will be grateful to have. (And in my “off” moments I find myself wondering if the men will finally realize, “what a great idea we had”, giving women more power. Sorry for this last comment; couldn’t help myself.)

    I have to reiterate: Yes, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in two regards: First, a lot of what is going on in Washington is racist resentment. Second, I think your finding Farrell’s article could not be more on the mark. A big thank you is due to Farrell for writing it and to you for finding it and restating it here. MCS

    Comment by Mary — October 15, 2013 @ 6:25 pm

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