Bush's White Male Trump Card

A widely held belief is the white men that cheer President Bush the loudest are beer guzzling, blue-collar, poorly educated Archie Bunker bigots that live in grimy urban or rural areas. Many of Bush's devout white male cheerleaders fit that profile. But most don't.

The white males that give Bush and gave Republican presidents Bush Sr., Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon the decisive margin of victory over their Democrat opponents in past presidential races are middle- to upper-income, college educated, and live in a suburban neighborhood. Fewer than one in five label themselves liberal.

In an ABC/Washington Post Poll in December, Bush will bag more than 60 percent of the white male vote in a head-to-head contest with any Democrat in 2004. In the South, the number soars to 70 percent. Without the South's solid backing in 2000, Democratic Presidential contender Al Gore would have easily won the White House, and the Florida vote debacle would have been a meaningless sideshow.

Even Southern-born and-bred Bill Clinton's tilt-to-the right centrism couldn't shake the iron grip of Republicans on white males. Bush Sr. in 1992 and Republican challenger Bob Dole in 1996, got fewer white male votes than Reagan and Nixon. But those votes didn't go to Clinton. Insurgent presidential candidate Ross Perot with his anti-government assaults in 1992 and 1996 grabbed them. Pat Buchanan with his freewheeling shoot from the lip, hard right rants also appealed to many white males voters when he ran as an independent candidate in 2000.

Starting with Republican Presidential contender Barry Goldwater in 1964, Republicans have artfully stoked white male rage, with racially charged slogans like "law and order," "crime in the streets," "welfare cheats," and "absentee fathers." Bush's John Wayne frontier brashness, and get tough, bring em' on rhetoric in Iraq and the war against terrorism is calculatingly geared to appeal to supposed white male toughness.

While racial, gender, and economic tensions and fears, though unstated and much denied, are driving forces behind white male devotion to Bush, they're hardly the only reason for their love affair. Republicans have also played hard on the anger, frustration, and hatred that many white males harbor toward government.

Reagan masterfully crafted the "get government off your back" line into a solid Republican selling point. He targeted the remnants of the Great Society programs. He crippled funding and further eroded public enthusiasm for social spending. Conservatives took the cue and fixated many Americans on the government as pro-higher taxes, pro-bureaucracy, pro-immigrant and especially pro-welfare and pro-rights of criminals.

They painted government as a destructive, bloated, inefficient white elephant, weighting down the backs of white Americans. They claimed that government entitlement programs that benefited the poor were a crushing drain on the budget, and by extension their pocketbooks.

This was mostly myth. In the 1980s, the feds spent a far smaller percent of the budget on public welfare, education, job training and social service programs than on defense and Social Security, Medicare and retirement programs. The main beneficiaries were rich white defense contractors, middle-class technocrats and engineers, put-out-to-pasture military officials, failed corporations and elderly whites, and not the young, the poor or blacks.

Though the tax cuts that Bush demands that Congress make permanent benefit the wealthiest taxpayers, they are also the fulfillment of Reagan's promise to deliver mid-America from big government and big spending. A poll by the public interest group, Ideas for a New Century found that white males backed Bush's across the board tax cuts, and his plan to privatize Social Security by a far bigger margin than any other group.

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean's clumsy, off-the cuff quip that the Democrats must grab a bigger share of the Confederate flag-waving, pick-up truck, gun rack-displaying, white male vote brought howls of protest, and charges that Dean was a closet bigot from Al Sharpton and the other white Democratic presidential contenders. A contrite Dean backpeddled fast, did his racial mea culpa, and promised to zip his lip on the flag and kowtowing to Southern white guys.

But Dean was right. A solid white male vote in the South will again put whichever Democrat faces Bush in a deep hole before the first vote card is ever punched in November. Their rage at Dean also reinforced the deep suspicion of many white males that the Democratic Party is a hopeless captive of special interests, i.e. minorities, gays, and women, and that white men are persona non grata in the party.

In his State of the Union address, Bush hammered home that he's the go-to guy on Iraq, terrorism, taxes, and Christian morality. These are modern day code words designed to stir the political juices of white males. They are the political trump card that Bush again banks on to deal him another winning hand in November. And barring a political miracle, they will.

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