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What's the Matter with White People: Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was Hardcover – August 1, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (August 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1118141067
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118141069
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (154 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #326,506 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


* ""...thrilling and moving family and political memoir that will help those who read it decipher the political spectacle that will unfold over the next two months."" (The San Francisco Chronicle, August 2012)

From the Inside Flap

The size and stability of the American middle class were once the envy of the world. But changes unleashed in the 1960s pitted Americans against one another politically in new and destructive ways. These battles continued to rage from that day to now, while everyone has fallen behind economically except the wealthy. Right-wing culture warriors blamed the decline on the moral shortcomings of "other" Americans—black people, feminists, gays, immigrants, union members—to court a fearful white working- and middle-class base with ever more bitter "us vs. them" politics. Liberals tried, but mostly failed, to make the case that we're all in this together.

In What's the Matter with White People?, popular Salon columnist Joan Walsh argues that the biggest divide in America today is not about party or ideology, but about two competing narratives for why everything has fallen apart since the 1970s. One side sees an America that has spent the last forty years bankrupting the country providing benefits and advantages to the underachieving, the immoral, and the undeserving, no matter the cost to Middle America. The other sees an America that has spent the last forty years bankrupting the country providing benefits and advantages to the very rich, while allowing a measure of cultural progress for the different and the downtrodden. It matters which side is right, and how the other side got things so wrong.

Walsh connects the dots of American decline through trends that began in the 1970s and continue today—including the demise of unions, the stagnation of middle-class wages, the extension of the right's "Southern Strategy" throughout the country, the victory of Reagan Republicanism, the increase in income inequality, and the drop in economic mobility.

Citing her extended family as a case in point, Walsh shows how liberals unwittingly collaborated in the "us vs. them" narrative, rather than developing an inspiring, persuasive vision of a more fair, united America. She also explores how the GOP's renewed culture war now scapegoats even segments of its white base, as it blames the troubles of working-class whites on their own moral failings rather than on an unfair economy.

What's the Matter with White People? is essential reading as the country struggles through political polarization and racial change to invent the next America in the years to come.

More About the Author

I'm editor-at-large for Salon.com, and an MSNBC political analyst. I was Salon's editor in chief for six years, and before that, its first fulltime news editor, going back to the days of the Clinton impeachment. I'm a regular on "Hardball with Chris Matthews," "The Ed Show" and "Politics Nation," and I'm on a range of other MSNBC shows, too. You know me from jousting with Pat Buchanan, Bill O'Reilly, Dick Armey, John Kasich, Liz Cheney and other conservatives. I've also enjoyed a couple of go-rounds on "Real Time with Bill Maher."

I've written for publications ranging from Vogue to the Nation, and for newspapers including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. Before joining Salon in 1998, I worked as a consultant on education and poverty issue for community groups and foundations, including the Rockefeller Foundation and Annie E. Casey Foundation. I wrote the Rockefeller monograph "Stories of Renewal: Community Building and the Future of America." (You'll recognize some of this work in "What's the Matter with White People?")

I love baseball and before this my only venture into the book world was being co-author of "Splash Hit: The Pacific Bell Park Story," about the building of the San Francisco Giants legendary waterfront stadium. I live in San Francisco with my dog Sadie and occasionally my daughter Nora comes to visit from New York.

Customer Reviews

Joan Walsh does a masterful job of it in this book.
Mark B. Hazelbaker
If you desire well written and insightful information, this book is excellent.
Louis Hudson
Walsh does both political parties a very important service.
V. M. Ricks

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an extremely intelligent, engaging book on American politics that is also a memoir. It is written unabashedly from the perspective of a liberal Democrat who is an Irish-American, raised in a strongly Catholic home. Joan Walsh is an editor at Salon.com and a political analyst on MSNBC. I've watched her on TV and read some of her columns but I never guessed just how perceptive she is--or how tough in her appraisal of fellow Democrats. She gets to say a lot more in this book than she does as a talking head on television--and she has things to say that matter.

The book has a somewhat unfortunate, even deceptive title. First of all, Walsh doesn't find much wrong with white people except that the white working class and the labor movement have been largely abandoned by the Democratic party--or let us say the arugula wing of the Democratic party. Second, one would expect a snarky sociopolitical treatise from that title, but this book is not snide or condescending in tone. It is a much more personal book than you might expect. Walsh writes about her steadfast liberal father (who was educated by the Christian Brothers and was in many ways a traditional Catholic) and her mother, who was frightened by the chaos of the 60's and wound up voting for Nixon. The portraits of members of her family are vivid and often quite touching, and we see how these relationships impacted Walsh personally and politically. The image of her going to the ruins of the World Trade Center with her cousin, a member of the NYPD who tried to save survivors of 9/11, stays in my mind. Again and again, Walsh emphasizes her ties to her "people"--she sees herself as what she is, a daughter of the Irish Catholic working class. (The material on the historical journey of the Irish in America is fascinating.
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99 of 124 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This year has seen three books by MSNBC personalities: Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and now Joan Walsh. I've read all three -- and while Maddow and Hayes's books are fantastic, they're not memoirs -- I can't make books on political elites or the military industrial complex into bedtime reading! Walsh's book, on the other hand, is a deeply personal look at the US political landscape during the past five decades. I love how Walsh connects her own Irish Catholic, working class upbringing to the unhinging of the Democratic coalition in the late 60's and 70's. She speaks from a deeply personal and human perspective, and yet doesn't miss a beat in describing in great detail the economic and political events that brought us to the Tea Party and failures of the current Democratic administration to confront a recalcitrant Republican congress (elected by working class whites!) on behalf of those same working class citizens. A most enjoyable read.

Frances Langum
The Professional Left Podcast
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62 of 79 people found the following review helpful By nativenewyorker on August 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Even if you don't typically agree with the author's politics - and maybe especially if you don't! - you will consider this book relevant, insightful and thoroughly engaging. It's an honest, personal and extremely thoughtful discussion of race, class and politics in the context of contemporary American history and the author's own family. While you may not agree with all of the assertions, you're guaranteed to come away with a more compassionnate understanding of the conflicting emotions and voting habits of America's middle class today.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Maxine McLister on September 26, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
The title of author Joan Walsh's book What's the Matter with White People: Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was is a bit misleading. As much memoir and history of Irish immigration to the United States as political polemic, she uses the example of her own working class Irish family to explain why so many from this group have moved to the right, a move which appears to be against their own self-interest.

Surprisingly, given the attitude of most liberals towards the white male working class, Walsh, who is an editor at Salon.com and very much a liberal, gives an extremely empathetic and enlightening explanation of the causes of the rightward shift. She doesn't completely let the white workers off the hook - she points out, for example, that much of their opposition to Affirmative Action programs lies in their desire to be able to keep the better paying union jobs such as police and firefighters for their own kids. However, she blames most of the shift on missed opportunities by the Democratic party and misinformation from the Republicans.

As a working class woman also of Irish descent (albeit Canadian), I found myself nodding frequently at much of what she had to say. She speaks with great love and sympathy for her own Republican relatives. Her story of how she became a liberal Democrat thanks to her father, who was able to live the American Dream only due to being given to the Catholic Brothers when he was thirteen, is both sad and poignant. Her explanation of the sometimes shared, sometimes hostile history between the Irish immigrants and black people of NY is fascinating. Her story of her own journey to understand both her conservative family and her liberal friends and to live within both groups is insightful.
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