Op-Eds by Jim

In Defense of Joe Six-Pack

June 5, 1995
by James Webb, The Wall Street Journal

Those who debate the impact of affirmative action and other social programs are fond of making distinctions among white Americans along professional and geographic lines while avoiding the tinderbox of ethnic distinctions among whites. But differences among white ethnic groups are huge, fed by cultural tradition, the time and geography of migrations to the country, and not insignificantly the tendency of white Americans to discriminate against other whites in favor of their own class and culture. In 1974, when affirmative action was in its infancy, the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center published a landmark study, dividing American whites into 17 ethnic and religious backgrounds and scoring them by educational attainment and family income. Contrary to prevailing mythology, the vaunted White Anglo-Saxon Protestants were even then not at the top.

A Greater Variation

The highest WASP group – the Episcopalians – ranked only sixth, behind American Jews, then Irish, Italian, German and Polish Catholics. WASPS – principally the descendants of those who had settled the Midwest and the South – constituted the bottom eight groups, and 10 of the bottom twelve. Educational attainment and income levels did not vary geographically, as for instance among white Baptists (who scored the lowest overall) living in Arkansas or California, a further indication that these differences are culturally rather than geographically based.

Family income among white cultures in the NORC study varied by almost $5,000 dollars, from the Jewish high of $13,340 to the Baptist low of $8,693. By comparison, in the 1970 census the variance in family income between whites taken as a whole and blacks was only $3,600. In addition, white Baptists averaged only 10.7 years of education, which was almost four years less than American Jews and at the same level of black Americans in 1970. This means that, even prior to the major affirmative action programs, there was a greater variation within “white America” than there was between “white America” and black America, and the whites at the bottom were in approximately the same situation as blacks.

These same less-advantaged white cultures by and large did the most to lay out the infrastructure of this country, quite often suffering educational and professional regression as they tamed the wilderness, built the towns, roads and schools, and initiated a democratic way of life that later white cultures were able to take advantage of without paying the price of pioneering. Today they have the least, socio-economically, to show for these contributions. And if one would care to check a map, they are from the areas now evincing the greatest resistance to government practices.

It would be folly to assume that affirmative action has done anything but exacerbate these disparities. The increased stratification and economic polarization in American life since 1974 is well-documented. In the technological age, with the shrinking of the industrial base, the decrease in quality of public education, and the tendency of those who “have” to protect their own and to utilize greater assets to prepare them for the future, the divergence in both expectation and reward among our citizens has grown rather than disappeared. The middle class has shrunk from 65% of the population in 1970 to less than 50% today. Its share of aggregate household income declined by 5% from 1968 to 1993, while the top five million households increased their incomes by up to 10% a year. A similar rift has occurred in the black culture, with dramatic declines at the bottom and significant gains among the top 5%.

Because America’s current elites are somewhat heterogeneous and in part the product of an academically based meritocracy, they have increasingly deluded themselves regarding both the depth of this schism and the validity of their own advantages. The prevailing attitude has been to ridicule whites who have the audacity to complain about their reduced status, and to sneer at every aspect of the “redneck” way of life. In addition to rationalizing policies that hold the working class male back from advancement in the name of an amorphous past wrong from which he himself did not benefit, the elites take great sport in debasing the man they love to call “Joe Six-Pack.”

And what does “Joe Six Pack” make of this?

He sees a president and a slew of other key luminaries who excused themselves from the dirty work of society when they were younger, feeling not remorse but “vindication” for having left him or perhaps his father to fight a war while they went on to graduate school and solidifies careers.

He sees a governmental system that seems bent on belittling the basis of his existence, and has established a set of laws and regulations that often keep him from competing. His ever-more-isolated leaders have mandated an “equal opportunity” bureaucracy in the military, government and even industry that closely resembles the Soviet “political cadre” structure, whose sole function is to report “political incorrectness” and to encourage the promotion of literally everyone but him and his kind.

He sees the meaning of words like “fairness” cynically inverted in the name of “diversity,” while groups who claim to have been disadvantaged by old practices, and even those who have only recently arrived in the country, are immediately moved ahead of him for no reason other than his race. In one of the bitterest ironies, he is required to pay tax dollars to finance the special training for recent immigrants even as he himself is held back from fair competition and the “equal opportunity” bureaucracies keep him from receiving similar training, gaining employment or securing a promotion.

He sees cultural rites buttressed by centuries of tradition – particularly the right to use firearms and pass that skill to future generations – attacked because many who make the laws do not understand the difference between his way of life and that of criminals who are blowing people away on the streets of urban America.

He watched the Democratic Party, once a champion of the worker-producer, abandon him in favor of special interests who define their advancement mostly through the extent of his own demise. To him “diversity” is a code word used to exclude him – but seldom better-situated whites no matter the extent of his qualifications and no matter the obstacles he has had to overcome, The Republican Party, to which he swung in the last election, has embraced him on certain social issues, but has yet to support policies that would override the tendency of elites to simply protect their own rather than reverse the travails of affirmative action and the collapse of public education.

Out of the Casualty Radius

Finally, he sees the people who erected and continue to enforce such injustices blatantly wheedling and maneuvering themselves and their children out of the casualty radius of their own policies. A smaller percentage of whites in academia and the professions is acceptable, so long as their children make it. The public school system is self-destructing, but their children go to private schools and receive special preparatory classes to elevate college board scores. International peacekeeping is a lofty goal, so long as their children are not on the firing line. Continuous scrutiny is given to minority percentages in employment, but little or none is applied to how or why one white applicant was chosen over another.

Faced as he is with such barriers, it is difficult to fault him for deciding that those who make their living running the government or commenting on it are at minimum guilty of ignorance, arrogance and self-interest. And it is not hyperbole to say that the prospect of a class war is genuine among the very people who traditionally have been the strongest supporters of the American system.