THIS BUSINESS ABOUT angry white men is a riot. All I see on the business pages are white men almost literally partying down to their underwear. William Farley, chairman of Fruit of the Loom T-shirts and boxer shorts, said he was happy the Republicans vaporized the Democrats in the midterm elections because that means health care reform is "clearly dead."
F. Kenneth Iverson, chairman of steelmaker Nucor, complained about the regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. "I've been frustrated for a long time about working in this environment," he said. "It's continual reporting on minuscule things."
Paul H. O'Neill, chairman of Alcoa, 54th in the Fortune 500 and with $11.6 billion of assets, said, "One effect of the election could be to reduce the pressures to increase [fuel efficiency standards] in cars."
Craig Fuller, senior vice president of Philip Morris, the pusher of death through cigarettes, said, "We are pleased. Upbeat would be an understatement. It is certainly clear that the new Congress FTC will be less enthusiastic about expanding regulatory authority and increasing taxes."
You get the picture. About-to-be House Speaker Newt Gingrich whips up hysteria about the welfare state for the poorest of individuals, but the super rich are lining up as if they were given 5 a.m. passes to beat the holiday stampede at Filene's. President Clinton has already sent signals to Mr. Gingrich and the Republicans that he can work with them on welfare, which takes up 1 or 2 percent of the federal budget. Meanwhile, not a peep is heard about the desire of many Republicans to beef up defense, which eats up 18 percent of the budget.
The real story of the election is that while many white Americans, and a solid majority of white males in particular, enjoyed the short-term jollies of voting against people of color via the issues of immigration, prison building and cutting social services, they voted for an agenda that will haunt them. Numerous white politicians, with no positive ideas to promote, played the race card so beautifully that it will probably be years before white voters wake up to what they have wrought.
The voters will get more prisons, but they killed any chance at meaningful health care. You need no more proof of that than the fact that right after the election the stocks of gouging drug companies zoomed up. Voters may put more people on death row, but they have also guaranteed that far more people will be executed by tobacco and put at more risk by a conservative agenda that would maintain our dependence on oil and curtail hazardous waste cleanups.
Voters may think, in the privacy of their voting booths, that they voted merely against affirmative action for African Americans in the workplace and gay and lesbian people in the military, but they also did themselves in on the minimum wage, which will probably see no increases under the watch of Mr. Gingrich and about-to-be Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. Voters have swept in a wave of politicians who say they want school prayer, but there has not been so much as a prayer out of the Republicans for better schools.
The poor get the shaft while Charles Quackenbush, the new insurance commissioner of California, won on the welfare of insurance companies. Eighty percent, or $2 million of his campaign funds, came from that industry. It may also be of interest that a proposition on the ballot for single-payer health care was crushed at the polls.
Many white voters may think they've given "tax-and-spend" liberals the bird with this election. They may truly believe that when they voted for "less" government and "deregulated" government, that had nothing to do with them. Crabs-in-the-barrel psychology often drives voters insane. Even African Americans and Asian Americans in California voted in the majority for Proposition 187, which would deprive undocumented immigrants, i.e., Mexicans, public education and social services.
What the angry white men in the middle and working class have done with this election is free up the white men at the top to depress wages, working conditions and wreck the environment for all of us. When big tobacco and the health care industry are jointly happy about midterm elections, you know there is a cancerous stench in the air. They will keep on partying until the white men below them realize all along they have been voting against themselves.
Derrick Z. Jackson is a columnist for the Boston Globe.