Boston -- It's been nearly a month since the political artists sketched a new composite profile for the Great Hall of American Stereotypes. The Angry White Man has taken a place beside Susan Smith's rendering of the black carjacker.
Endless analysts and exit pollers have told us how white men fumed off to the polls this year and pushed the lethal levers. How they committed not-so-random acts of violence on Democrats.
This ubiquitous portrait has not only generated political fear. It's produced endless soul-searching about how best to appease and appeal to this mad man. The Democrats have begun to sound like battered family members telling each other not to get Daddy mad again.
Well, forgive me, but a lever is not a trigger. The post office is a more dangerous place to work than the polls. And voting is still a non-violent protest.
We all know the topography of the 1994 gender gap by now. We know that a majority of men voted Republican and a majority of women voted Democrat. We know that it was men who switched parties this year. And yes, they moved with something approaching vehemence.
L But the chief operative word here isn't anger. It's anxiety.
Before we frame the picture of the Angry White Man, we ought to study the pentimento, the deeper image shining through the paint. As Robert Reich said in a speech to the Democratic Leadership Council last week, ''the old middle class has become an anxious class.''
The biggest drop in Democratic support on Election Day was among men who lack college degrees. This group includes three out of four working men, and has suffered a 12 percent decline in average real incomes in the last 15 years.
But that doesn't explain why working men were more anxious or angry than working women who were earning still less. The answer is partly in their sense of direction.
By and large, women still see their lives as better than their mothers'. This is the generation that has traded depression for stress -- not a wholly bad bargain. They have more options and more power as well as more obligations.
On the other hand, working men, especially young, white,
non-college graduates, see themselves as doing worse than their fathers. Those fathers were heads of households. They aren't able to be. The gender gap in wages between men and women is closing -- because men's wages are going down. So are their prospects. Meanwhile they are expected to do the dishes.
At the risk of moving from the gender gap into the canyon, I would suggest that some men and some women sometimes have somewhat -- add your own qualification -- different senses of self and self-worth. Men have traditionally hinged more of their identity on their economic role as provider. Women have seen their economic worth as one piece of a larger life as juggler and caretaker.
In the old tension between the American values of self-reliance and those of interdependence, men are more likely to think they have to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps. Women are more likely to believe in a network of relationships.
So in a pinch, or in an anxious moment, men may be more attracted to the call of getting government off our backs. Women may be more hopeful about or less dismissive of government as a necessary source of connection and even help.
Then too, at every turn of the dial this year, there were the talk shows, which became what analyst Ann Lewis calls a ''national electronic consciousness-raising session for men.'' On these shows men (mostly) participated in a speak-out that said ''something is wrong with society.''
None of this is meant to replace political analysis with psychoanalysis. More men and women -- especially married ones -- voted alike than voted differently. Even down in the gender gap, many women shared dismay about government but didn't like the Republican answer. The same was true for African-Americans.
But the difference between anger and anxiety is more than a syllable or two. Anger looks for a target. Anxiety looks for reassurance. Anger can only yell. Anxiety can still listen.
Are there angry white men? Sure. I can name three -- Dole, Gingrich and Helms -- who were part of the elected, not the electorate. But the Angry White Man is much too pat a moniker for my taste. This was no drive-by shooting. Just an ordinary attack. An anxiety attack.
8, Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.