Twilight of the Pale Patriarchs

Being the party of white men no longer adds up to victory for the GOP.

January 13, 2013  |  

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There’s always a scene in the grittiest vampire movies where the old bloodsucker is sleeping peacefully in his coffin, looking as innocent as the undead can look, and the handsome hero plants a pointed stake in the vampire’s sternum and takes a big swing at it with his mallet. Whether or not the blow turns out to be accurate and fatal, the vampire always wakes up when he’s pierced. His eyes pop open, his mouth opens on those awful canines dripping blood and saliva, and with a savage snarl he tries to sit up, as the audience draws a deep common breath. It’s a crowd-pleaser, if you like this stuff. And if the thing climbs out of the coffin, 20 minutes of premium violence are guaranteed.

Excuse a rare display of optimism on my part, but I’m suggesting a useful metaphor for the presidential election of 2012. After Mitt Romney collected 75% of the white male vote and lost, I fancied that I could hear a strangled snarl and imagine that the bloodthirsty, near immortal thing with the stake in its chest was the white patriarchy – the high-testosterone, low-melanin monopoly that has misguided and misruled this country, and this violent Western civilization, throughout recorded history and long before.

I’m not claiming a clean kill. The monster’s heart is still beating, though the stake that was struck on Nov. 6 pierced its coat, its shirt, even its undershirt – a sleeveless “wife-beater” of course – and possibly enough skin to leave a bead of blood (someone else’s) on its deathly-pale breast. It may yet climb out of the coffin. But the damned thing felt this one. Forty-five percent of the votes that re-elected Barack Obama were cast by minorities. The president won 55% of the women’s vote – though the huge question is what the other 45% were thinking when they voted for Romney, chained as he was to a platform that ignored and insulted women as recklessly as it dismissed the non-Aryan and the poor.

But the point – that sharp, whittled point of the vampire-slayer’s stake – is that three out of four white men rejected the president and it didn’t matter. He didn’t need them. When the dust settled, there were an unprecedented 20 women in the Senate and 78 in the House of Representatives, far short of a fair gender distribution but edging closer to 20% of Congress. As recently as the early 1990s, the norm was a marginal 5 or 6 percent. The Democratic caucus in the new House of Representatives, a 200-strong minority, will include 61 women, 43 African-Americans, 27 Latinos and 10 Asians. Fewer than half – 94 – will be male Caucasians. Neither the president nor the secretary of state is a white man, nor are four of the nine Supreme Court justices, though what we might accurately label Clarence Thomas, besides an African-American, is always up for debate.

All this is causing acute chest pain for the patriarchy, as well as the Republican Party that incorporates its demographic and its agenda. Though Republicans subsist on militant denial, the future is there for them to see, too, and the future is not bright for what columnist Gail Collins of the Times (in a nod to New Yorkers’ favorite red-tailed hawk) likes to call “the pale male.” The demographics are fatal: By 2043, according to the Census Bureau, non-Hispanic whites will be a minority in America, and of course less than half of the Caucasian minority will be male. We can predict fairly confidently that each generation of aging white men will be a little less rigid and arrogant than its predecessor. Voters under 30 chose Obama decisively, 60 to 36 percent. Mean old men, the heart, soul and checkbook of 21st-century Republicanism, are not a renewable resource.