Wedged Apart

What’s the Matter with White People?
Joan Walsh
Wiley, $25.95, 288 pp.

In 2008, Barack Obama won the largest share of the electorate of any Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Democrats added seats in the House and knocked off five Republican incumbents in the Senate on their way to achieving a fifty-seven-seat majority. Two years later, the Democrats endured a crushing defeat at the hands of a “Tea Party” insurgency, losing the House majority  they had held since 2006 and dropping to a razor-thin fifty-one-seat majority in the Senate.

What happened? Part of the answer was a collapse in support for the Democrats among white voters, who supported Republican House candidates by more than twenty points. Much of this decline was driven by disaffection among working-class whites. Among white voters without college degrees, more than two-thirds who voted in 2010 disapproved of President Obama’s performance.

To a casual observer, the weakness of the Democrats among the latter group might seem curious. Haven’t the Democrats always been the tribunes of the working class in American politics? African-American, Asian, and Hispanic working-class voters vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. What’s the matter with white people?

Answering that question is the objective of Salon editor Joan Walsh’s new book,...

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About the Author

J. Peter Nixon is a senior director at Kaiser Permanente, an integrated health-care delivery system based in Oakland, California. His views are his own.