The ‘Angry White Man’ Meets Healthcare Reform

August 13, 2009

The ‘Angry White Man’ Meets Healthcare Reform

“The Democratic message on the Republicans has gone from ‘the party of no’ to ‘the party of angry white men.'”
— Peggy Noonan in the June 12 Wall Street Journal

by Craig Ladwig

If you happen to be male, if you happen to be white and if you’ve allowed yourself to get angry over recent shifts in public policy, then, like it or not, you are the last permissible stereotype — an Angry White Man.

You may be glad to know, however, that a pony-tailed, formerly pot-smoking, ear-ringed Swede of the X generation is on your side. But that is for later.

The Angry White Man was first defined by Michael Douglas in the 1994 film, “Falling Down.” The stereotype reemerged most recently on the network news shouting questions at congressmen about healthcare policy. Some believe they saw him earlier this month skulking in the bushes at the handcuffing of a racially aggrieved Harvard archivist. And last month he served as the perfect foil for a female Hispanic nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But who, really, is the Angry White Man — and is he alone?

Douglas’s movie character offers no clue. The man just snaps one day and takes off on a rampage across Los Angeles selecting targets in a politically incorrect manner. One reviewer, applying Hollywood’s version of Root Cause Analysis, suggested that he was not given the right books in school, that he never had the chance to develop the social conscience of, say, a Sen. Arlen Specter, a Rep. John Dingell or a Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Let’s go with that. I have a friend who is white, male and particularly angry about the political manipulation of the medical, pharmaceutical and insurance industries. And his bookshelf holds information that a White House communication director might judge “fishy”:

• Regina Herzlinger’s “Who Killed Healthcare?” is on the shelf. Professor Herzlinger, the first woman to be tenured and chaired at the Harvard Business School, predicted the unraveling of managed care and the rise of “consumer-driven healthcare” and “healthcare focused factories,” two terms that she explained to an Indianapolis audience last week.

• The sociologist Charles Murray is there. He wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal entitled, “A Plan to Replace the Welfare State.” A onetime knee-jerk liberal who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King and served in Thailand for the Peace Corps, Murray worked out a subsidized health insurance plan that begins at age 21 costing about $3,000 per person. The trick, he said, is that the money doesn’t flow through the federal government system.

• Thomas Sowell is there. He worked his way from the slums of Harlem to the University of Chicago to write an essay, “Healthcare Policy in Wonderland.” His larger work identifies two historical personalities, indistinguishable by skin color, gender or even economic background. The first is made up of those who recognize the inherent relationship between freedom and responsibility. The second seeks only the narcissistic glow from an unconstrained vision such as universal health care.

New on the shelf is the work of a pony-tailed, ear-ringed, former pot smoker, and now, finance minister of Sweden — Anders Borg. The 41-year-old Borg got into politics because he was angry — bummed out, perhaps — that laws governing marijuana (medicinal or otherwise) were stringent. Today he is the intellectual leader of the ruling Moderate Party, guiding a reform movement that intends to dismantle his nation’s system of socialized medicine.

So, let’s make sure we have all this straight: a glass ceiling breaking Harvard professor, a civil-rights marching Peace Corp volunteer, a black academic raised in poverty, and a formerly pot-smoking long-hair from Sweden . . . these are the heroes of our Angry White Man?

Yes, and that won’t make any sense to you — not unless you can discard the stereotype to entertain the possibility that our friend’s anger may not stem from race or gender. It may stem from his assessment that in this Congress equality of opportunity is being sacrificed in a reckless and futile pursuit of equality of results.

From his view, his determination to preserve his own freedom will benefit his fellow citizens — benefit them more, even, than the deferential treatment, sense of entitlement and redistributed wealth promoted in their name.

It is enough to make all sorts of people angry.

T. Craig Ladwig is editor of The Indiana Policy Review. Contact him at


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