The Fast-Growing Legend Of The Angry White Male

WASHINGTON - The Angry White Male, suitably capitalized to indicate that the menace has become a media-certified trend, stalks the land, or at least the land of the media. In the 10 years before the November election, there were 59 (Nexis) references to angry white men. There have been 1,400 since. A post-election front-page headline in USA Today was typical: "Angry White Men: Their votes turned the tide for the GOP."

By sheer numbing repetition, the legend grows. "The Republicans scraped together a majority," explains the genial Garrison Keillor, "by appealing to the sorehead vote, your brother-in-law and mine." By early April, the term receives its official presidential seal of approval when Bill Clinton confirms that "This is psychologically a difficult time for a lot of white males, the so-called angry white males."

Then comes Oklahoma City and the legend has its poster boy: khaki-clad, hopping-mad, armed and dangerous. "Have `angry white men' gone too far?" asks The Wall Street Journal in a front-page headline right after the bombing.

The Oklahoma bomber is now honorary class president of those conservative-leaning, Republican-voting agitated white males the media have been warning us about since November. First he gives Newt Gingrich the House. Then he blows up the federal building in Oklahoma City.

Where did this legend come from? Yes, white men shifted significantly toward Republicans in the November election. But where did the ubiquitous pejorative "angry" come from? Where is the evidence for the rage of this white male cohort? Anyone take their blood pressure in the voting booth?

USA Today's front-page "Angry White Men" story is again typical. It offered reams of polls, not one supporting the supposed "anger" of white men. Indeed, of the dozens of polls taken around Election Day, I could find only three that even raised the issue. Frank Luntz asked voters if they considered themselves "angry voters." Seven out of 10 white men did not.

The Voter News Service National Exit Poll asked respondents if they were angry "about the way the federal government works." Three out of four white males were not.

The Washington Post-ABC pre-election poll asked the same question. Four out of five white males were not. Moreover, the 21 percent who were exactly matches the average percentage of Americans overall who have identified themselves as angry in the last 10 such polls stretching back to early 1992. Where is the hormonally challenged, mad-as-hell, sexist, racist mob that ran the Democrats out of Congress in 1994?

The absence of facts must not be allowed to stand in the way of a good ad hominem charge. And the charge of male anger has a history that predates the 1994 election. It began its recent career as the ultimate put-down of those critical of the first ladyhood of Hillary Clinton.

Clinton pollster Stanley Greenberg echoes the theme when he writes about Republicans becoming a home "for every angry group," among them "those who resent . . . strong women."

Really? Let's look at Maryland. State Del. Ellen Sauerbrey, who last year lost the closest gubernatorial race in the country, is a Republican. She is a tough independent politician.

So here's a test of the Clinton-Keillor-Greenberg proposition. How did white males - so fearful and resentful of strong women - vote in Maryland? For Sauerbrey, by a 2-1 landslide.

The New York Times noted a national "lack of interest this year among women" voters compared to 1992 - the so-called "Year of the Woman" - when "the fracas between Clarence Thomas and Prof. Anita F. Hill energized women voters."

Women are "energized." Men are enraged. When women show electoral clout, it is The Year of the Woman. When men do, it is the Year of the Angry White Male

In fact, the Angry White Male is a myth, an invention of political partisans who wish to rationalize and ultimately delegitimize the election of 1994. It pointedly ascribes the current Republican ascendancy to a toxic constituency.

A rabble of dispossessed white men - threatened by women, resentful of minorities, enthralled by talk radio - has been stirred and that's why the Republicans won. The myth is not just useful but comforting too. Defeat becomes tolerable, indeed virtuous, when you've convinced yourself that you lost to a lynch mob.

(Copyright, 1995, Washington Post Writers Group)

Charles Krauthammer's column appears Monday on editorial pages of The Times.