Katz: Sure. Well, the first thing I think that I look at in my work, and I think it’s really fundamental and basic, is that there is a persistent gender gap in voting patterns in the United States. And among white men in particular, white men have been voting radically disproportionately for the Republican nominee for president for the last 40 years. And working class white men, and there’s different ways of defining working class, but with a high school education, men with a high school education, voted in 2000 for George Bush by something like 27 points over Al Gore, and Kerry, about 25% voted for Bush over Kerry in 2004. Barack Obama cut into that pretty significantly in 2008, although he still lost the white men’s vote.
David: That’s right.
Katz: But he lost it by like about 16 percentage points, so he made some significant inroads into the white men’s vote. But if you look at white male voting patterns, the only way a Democrat can win at the national level, in the presidency, is if they win so… such a dramatic percentage of the women’s vote that it offsets their deficit among the white male vote.
David: That’s right.
Katz: And so how can we not talk about gender? Why are white men so dramatically voting for the Republican candidate for president? Now, some people, of course, for the last… since the Civil Rights Act have been talking about race as one of the central forces subtextually at work in presidential politics.
David: And it’s being talked about looking forward also because of the increasing Hispanic population and how that will play a factor.
Katz: That’s right. And of course, Obama being an African American, that brought to the surface a lot of discussions about race and politics and such that had always been there, but they were talked about even more explicitly, would white people vote for an African American for president, etc.
My thinking is that it’s not just that white men are voting as a racialized block for the Republican candidate, although that’s a big part of it, they’re also voting in a gender sense as men because since, especially since the late 60s and early 70s, and then increasingly after the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, the way that the two-party system has been sort of shaken out, if you will, in the gender binary is the Republican Party is the party of real men…
Katz: And the Democratic Party is the party of women and feminized men, and that has heterosexist implications as well.
Katz: Because the party is seen as, the Democratic Party is seen as the party of gay rights, if you will, in addition to the men in the Democratic Party feminized in the national discourse. And I think this is a cultural/political analysis, right? I think that this is an incredibly important reason why lots of white men, including working and middle-class white men, vote against their economic interests, at least as some of us understand those economic interests.
David: No question about it.
Katz: Right. So this complicates the analysis of, say, Thomas Frank and others who have been trying to figure out why so many Americans, especially white Americans, have voted against their economic interests for the past generation.
David: You mentioned the issue of gay rights, and we saw that really incredibly directly and just at the forefront in the discussion of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I mean, I interviewed people who said the reason we shouldn’t have homosexuals serving openly in the military is because the American military is manly. And implicit in that, even though it’s not discussed, is that there’s something bad about, you know, femininity and women in the military. And when I challenged some of those people directly, it was made very clear that that is involved in that subtext, just barely underneath the surface. But other than that particular issue, what else is it that has driven this white male voting block towards the Republican candidate?
Katz: Well, in my book that I’m working on and just about to complete, I look at three issues. There’s so many issues, and so you have to really narrow it. But…
David: Yeah. Well, the major ones maybe are…
Katz: Yes. Yeah, sure. I looked at three issues that all involve violence, and they all involve important political issues over the past 40, 50 years. The first one is the cold war, the second one is the rise of street crime as a domestic political issue in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, and the discussion about, you know, violent crime, street crime, has a definitely racialized undertone to it, and then the rise of terrorism as a political issue in the late 20th century and into the 21st century.
All three of those issues, cold war, domestic crime, and terrorism, have to do with violence, and the president is a stand-in, in a certain sense, the symbolic leader of the country. He embodies, if you will, the national masculinity in a very important sense. People talk about the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the mourner-in-chief when national tragedy happens, the first family, the… I mean, he’s the one who everybody salutes to and everybody stands when he enters the room. He really does, in a certain sense, represent the country.