In her controversially titled new book, “What’s the Matter with White People? Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was,” Salon.com editor and MSNBC analyst Joan Walsh writes about more than race. Walsh, who speaks at Politics and Prose on Friday, explores how liberals and conservatives have perpetuated an “us vs. them” narrative that obscures the real American experience.
This is your first book on politics. Are these ideas you’ve had for a while?
I have always been interested in why the white working class, once the bedrock of the Democratic base, became the bedrock of the Republican base. So I set out to tell the story of how people in my own family fell away from the Democratic Party.
How does your family fit into that larger narrative?
There was a divide in my family. The three brothers [Walsh’s uncles] who went to religious orders had college educations, and they became liberals. The two brothers and a sister who did not go to college became conservative. I’ve had conversations where it sounds like I was saying liberalism is the smart choice and conservatism the uneducated choice. I truly don’t believe that. I know my family [members] are all smart, and they have reasons to believe what they believe.
That family story gives the book more heft than your typical election-year title.
I use my family because most of us are not as close to the immigrant experience as prior generations. It’s important to share stories.