Rush Limbaugh just declared psychological war on the working white males of America, although most of them probably didn't realize it. This week Limbaugh rolled out a "funny" faux advertisement for the "Hillary Clinton Testicle Lock Box" that now any woman can use to clamp down on men's testicles just like Hillary does.
This wasn't just a whim of Limbaugh's, or a response to his recent rehab. It's part of a sophisticated psychological operations program by conservatives that explicitly targets working men in America, and dates back to research first done for Richard Nixon.
Ask most men, "Who are you?" or, "What do you do?" and you won't hear, "I'm my wife's husband," or, "I'm my son's dad." Instead, men typically answer by describing what they do for a living. Men do this because they're so conditioned to think of themselves as breadwinners, and generally derive most of their social status from their occupation.
That's why, in this day and age, men who work for a living are a troubled bunch. Jobs are moving overseas in record numbers, conservatives have declared war on organized labor, and insecurity in the workplace is at peak not seen since the Great Depression. Add to this the simple fact that most men feel their masculinity is defined in part by their ability to be successful breadwinners, and you have a potent formula for psychological manipulation.
Today's working poor and middle-class men, living with job insecurity and a declining standard of living, feel emasculated. Their ability to earn a living is eroding, and, with it, their sense of their own potency, their ability to project themselves onto the world and "conquer" it in a way that meets the needs of their family.
The result is becoming conspicuous: working men are getting angry or falling into despair.
The despair is reflected in suicide statistics. As the BBC reported on 29 July 2003, "Suicide is the single biggest cause of accidental or violent death among men in England and Wales," even exceeding deaths in car accidents, traditionally the largest killer of men. Suicide among men in England, BBC noted, "accounted for more than one third
(34%) of the total number of male accidental or violent deaths during
the year." It's a particular problem, another BBC report noted, for
men in areas of high unemployment, such as Britain's suicide capitol, Manchester. In that community, the suicide rate among working-age men has doubled over what it was 20 years ago when jobs were more secure and pay relatively higher.
The problem has spread throughout the developed world, where good jobs are being lost in droves. In Japan, for example, Japan Update news service reports that in the working-class prefecture of Okinawa, "The male suicide rate per 100,000 people has increased 1.5 times compared to 20 years ago." They added bluntly, "The suicide rate in the 50-60 age group is especially high and the reason for the dramatic increase is thought to be a combination of low income and high unemployment."
The majority of unemployed or under-employed men don't kill themselves, however. Instead, they get angry, and look for the sources of their anger. And this is where the conservatives are working hard to perform an elegant smoke-and-mirrors switch of attention.
Conservatives have figured out how crucial it is to make sure that the working-class "NASCAR Dad" demographic - so important to conservatives that NASCAR drivers were invited to place their cars on the White House lawn for a Bush photo op - don't connect their sense of lost masculinity with this conservative administration's anti-worker policies.
Thus the Hillary Clinton Testicle Lock Box. And the Phallic Projection Force War In Iraq. And the Big Bulge Strut On The Aircraft Carried Deck.
This is psychological warfare of the first order, and will be successful if the Democratic Party fails to respond properly.
As Arlie Hothschild points out in her brilliant essay Let Them Eat War, George W. Bush and Karl Rove have effectively used 9/11 as a substitute for job anxiety, and Bush's war on Iraq as a symbolic way for men to vicariously feel personal power via their stand-in, the macho-acting man in the White House.
At the same time, Limbaugh and the vast conservative talk machine are working overtime to assure the under-employed and threatened men of America that the target of their rage should not be conservative policies but, instead, castrating women. Hillary is behind the campaign to put men's testicles in a lock box, and it's those damn liberals who are responsible for all the ills that have befallen the working class.
Some of the Democratic presidential candidates think the best way to respond is to out-testosterone Bush, but Joe Lieberman is failing miserably at his rather wimpish attempt, and John Kerry's proclamations of his war hero past seem strained.
Other candidates think the best response is no response, and deplore Dean's attempt to reach out to southern white male voters.
But the best response is to help working men focus their fear and anger on its appropriate
target: conservative pro-corporate anti-labor policies. Best positioned to pull this off are Howard Dean, who has already reached out to "white guys in pickup trucks" and held their votes for a decade as governor of Vermont, and Richard Gephardt with his longstanding relationship with organized labor. Dennis Kucinich's pro-labor stances are less well known among the general populace, but he's seen as a truth-teller and could also help unspin the conservative lies.
The most effective ways to do this will be to take a loud and principled stand with organized labor in the many ongoing battles around the nation, fiercely battle Bush's attempts to gut overtime rules, stand up for fair trade that protects domestic industries (instead of free-for-multinational corporations-trade), and, as did Teddy Roosevelt, declare all-out war against Big Business on behalf of working people and a living wage.
If Democrats can help NASCAR Dads realize that conservative trade and fiscal policies are at the root of their problems, they may wake America up from the web of deceit being spun by Bush and Rove. If not, prepare for another four years of the rich getting richer while the middle class slides into the abyss, perhaps taking American democracy with it.
Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com) is an author and nationally syndicated talk show host. www.thomhartmann.com
Copyright 2003 by Thom Hartmann.