Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

March 11, 2014

We the People: Old and grumpy

By Mary DeWolf
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — There’s a lot to like about old white men. Many are wonderful dads, uncles, grandpas, brothers, husbands, coaches, neighbors and friends. They advanced our cause in WWII, Korea and, yes, Vietnam. They worked in factories, government offices, and on family farms. They developed and sustained businesses to help our economy grow. Some are great thinkers in our universities, awesome writers, scientists, and artists.

It’s the grumpy ones that give old white men a bad name. Why are they so cantankerous? They want their “country back.” What does that mean? They really want to return to a time when they enjoyed unchallenged control in corporate offices, churches, schools, communities and homes. And what did that do for us?

Many of these grumpy guys were honored as war heroes, yet they denied their brothers-in-arms (those not "white" or not Christian) recognition for their bravery. Although WWII ended nearly 70 years ago,  Hispanic, Jewish and African-American veterans are just now receiving the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest commendation for combat valor.

These same grumpy folks tried to keep non-white children out of better, white public schools. They are still trying to control women’s choices in contraception. They rail against public programs, like the Social Security and Medicare entitlements that sustain them. They are appalled that we would provide affordable (sort of) healthcare to their children and grandchildren. They continue to deny assistance for our deserving veterans.

They oppose unionization that helped make their generation comfortable. They support tax breaks for the wealthy. In the mid 1950s when they were young, 35 percent of the working population was represented by unions. The tax rate on top earners was 94 percent. The economy and middle class grew. Now the tax rate for the top 1 percent is around 24 percent. Union membership is an abysmal 20 percent, thanks to efforts as we just witnessed at the VW plant in Chattanooga. How’s that working for the middle class?

Grumpy old men are mostly associated with the Republican Party. (FYI, GOP does not stand for Grumpy Old Party.) Maybe the problem is that those old men are actually too young to remember. The GOP can trace its proud history to Lincoln (as in preserving the union and freeing slaves) or Teddy Roosevelt (associated with monopoly busting and protecting public lands). Earlier Republicans included Wendell Willkie who promoted racial justice, unionization and a United Nations-like peaceful and respectful approach to foreign policy.

How about Eisenhower? It’s easy to like Ike’s call for caring for basic human needs, expanding Social Security and unemployment insurance. He promoted health insurance, unions and collective bargaining. He supported spending federal money to improve schools, hospitals and public housing, while warning against government alignment with “economic elites and industries.”

The grumpy old white males of today have, instead, allied with a more contemporary (albeit elderly) Republican, Ronald Reagan. Thanks to him the middle class has shrunken, the wealthy have amassed more power, public education has suffered and rampant deregulation has put us all at risk. Reagan helped government grow by leaps and bounds — a phenomenon that few of us, progressive or conservative, appreciate.

Rand Paul (who is white, perhaps grumpy, but not old) has admonished the GOP to be more inclusive and quit focusing on social issues. He might be on to something — more on that another time. But if inclusive means Michelle Bachman, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Ryan Paul, Ted Cruz, and Ralph Reed, forget it.

But, maybe the problem isn’t age, gender or ethnicity. Most likely it’s just a mean-spirited attitude.