Squashed! Being A WASP Is Just Bad Politics

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Tomorrow is the Iowa caucases and one thing’s for sure: Jeb Bush is going to get squashed.

That means his father, pictured above in uber-WASPy squash-themed necktie (albeit not during his presidency) may be destined to be the last WASP president.

In a Friday editorial for USA Today, Windsor Mann entitled his column “Trump, Jeb and the death of WASPy power.” Here are some soundbytes:

The era of “WASP rule,” according to the New York Times, “is fast fading.” For proof, look no further than Jeb Bush, whose campaign travails, sayeth the Times, “can be seen as perhaps the last, wheezing gasp of the WASP power structure.”

Second only to his surname, Bush’s propriety is his biggest liability as a candidate. Voters don’t want gentlemanliness. They want manliness.

If this campaign has taught us anything, it’s that good manners are bad politics. Which is to say, being a WASP is bad politics.

Consider George H.W. Bush, our last WASP president. Rather than bragging about his days in Greenwich or at Phillips Academy Andover, he talked about how much he loved pork rinds and the Oak Ridge Boys. He won the 1988 election by concealing his Waspishness.

Head over here for the full read.

And speaking of squash, a couple weeks ago Tad Friend had a piece in the New Yorker about his life in squash. Friend is the author of “Cheerful Money,” about life in the twilight of the WASP establishment. I reviewed the book back in 2010 here, and head right this way to find his New Yorker piece. — CC

47 Comments on "Squashed! Being A WASP Is Just Bad Politics"

  1. John Bracken | January 31, 2016 at 2:11 pm |

    We are definitely becoming a country of slobs and underachievers. It is very disheartening to someone like myself but I will never cave in to my roots!!!

  2. Drew Richard | January 31, 2016 at 2:36 pm |

    Thought Bill Clinton and George W Bush were WASPS?

  3. When happened the sad change?
    70s,80s,90s?

  4. obama has impeccable manners compared to his ill-bred, ill mannered detractors. And has maintained decorum in the face of ignorant provocation. But he is no wasp!

  5. Ward Wickers | January 31, 2016 at 2:46 pm |

    Not sure I agree with Mr. Mann. I think it has little to do with being WASP. I also don’t find Mr. Mann to be particularly credible. For instance, he states, “Consider George H.W. Bush, our last WASP president.” Didn’t Gerorge H. W. have a son, Dubbya, who was also president? If my recollection is correct, Dubbya was the last WASP president. And, therein lies Jeb’s problem.

    I don’t think Jeb is doing poorly in the polls because he’s a WASP and too polite to sling mud at Trump. He just isn’t seen as someone who would be effective. I think this is partly due to his personality and partly due to the woeful incompetence of his brother. What also runs against Jeb is the desire for something different than politics as usual. Both Trump and Sanders reflect this, and so does Cruz, albeit to a lesser extent. Jeb represents choosing politics as usual perhaps more than any other candidate.

  6. Technically Jebby isn’t a WASP. Pedantic yes, but it’s hard to be a WASP when you’re an avowed Catholic. I agree that the WASP tradition in this cycle is embodied by Jeb. I found his view on Soteriology rather atypical of the Catholic tradition (extra ecclesiam nulla salus). Jeb stated recently in an interview about Trump’s faith, “…ultimately to be a believer is accepting Christ as your savior,” Pope Innocent III & Boniface VIII et.al. were rather clear that outside the “Church” there is no salvation.

    Richard Brookhiser wrote “Way of the Wasp: How It Made America and How Is Can Save It, So to Speak.” I recommend it to anyone who believes (or needs convincing) that our country was founded upon WASP values. I didn’t care for “Cheerful Money.” Too much navel gazing and self-loathing.

  7. @WFBjr

    I always find your commits interesting and insightful. A book that helped explain the history of the subject to me is E. Digby Baltzell’s “The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy & Caste in America.”

    I was frustrated by a manager’s message to us at a meeting 20 years ago. He announced that any of us in the room who didn’t grasp and accept that, “the only thing in our industry that’s constant is change,” would soon be left behind.

    Seems to be the case with political “leadership” too – change is constant and happening rapidly. Americans might as well accept the cultural shifts which are occurring rapidly, or be frustrated. It is what it is… and no going back now.

  8. @BC, Thank you and I also enjoy Baltzell. I’m currently reading “Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia” by him. I recommend it to anyone interested in the juxtaposition of religion and public leadership in America.

    It’s ironic that Corp America gave you that speech 20 years ago because nothing changes; I just gave that same speech to my managers last week.

  9. Ward Wickers | January 31, 2016 at 3:53 pm |

    WFBjr

    I read Brookhiser’s book back in the early 90’s, just after it had been published. A very good read. I remember Brookhiser argued that George H.W. Bush won his presidential bid because America wanted to return to WASP values. Today, it’s a bit different.

    What is also interesting is the gulf between the father’s campaign tactics and Jeb’s, which, again Mr. Mann, has little to do with being WASP. George H.W. went after Dukakis like a heat-seeking missile. George branded him as a Massachusetts liberal and used the video (actually shot by Dukakis) of Dukakis riding around in a tank wearing an apparently oversized helmet against him in a very effective attack ad. It’s a mystery to me how Jeb didn’t learn from his father.

  10. @WFBjr.

    I read that one years ago. I’m a native of Pennsylvania and lived for a number of years during my youth in a Main Line suburb of Philadelphia. Also, I’m distantly related to a former turn of the 20th century Pennsylvania Governor and Philadelphian, Samuel Pennypacker (Seems perhaps like a Waspish name, but actually of German ancestry.). It was a bit difficult to read Baltzell’s less than praising description of him. Good book though…

  11. @ WW

    GHWB had Lee Atwater and ‘W’ had Karl Rove to do their dirty work while the Bushes themselves ostensibly kept their hands clean. Not sure if Jeb has a hatchet man in the shadows also or if he’s just ineffective. Whichever, that’s the lesson that wasn’t learned.

  12. Thank you WFBJr for citing Batzell’s “Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia”. He also wrote “Philadelphia Gentlemen: The Making of a National Upper Class” (1958) parts of which were serialized in ‘The Sunday Inquirer’s Society News and Fashions Section’ beginning on December 15, 1957.

    The Introduction to the Translation Edition begins:

    “Philadelphia Gentlememen, begun as a Ph.D. dissertation at Columbia University in 1946, was published as a book in 1958. It covered the Protestant era in the history of American Leadership that was coming to an end in 1940, on the eve of the Second World War. The second paperback edition, published in 1971, included an Afterword…. In this new Preface, I show how “Philadelphia Gentlemen” marked the beginning of a theoretical orientation toward class authority and leadership in America that has informed my work ever since; and secondly, I point out some important changes in Philadelphia’s leadership structure in the almost half-century since 1940.”

  13. I’d also recommend “The Best Families: The Town & Country Social Directory, 1846-1996” edited by Jerry E. Patterson. Ivy Style readers will enjoy the ever-changing cars and wardrobes. The dogs and horses don’t change.

  14. @ BC, I am finding it a bit more onerous to finish than I did “The Protestant Establishment.” “TPE” took me a few weeks while “PB&QP” has taken me the last 2 months to dog ear the midway point. I’ve picked it up and put it down quite a bit. I enjoy visiting the Main Line, particularly Merion. I recall driving by a public elementary school on Bowman Ave. that’s more regal looking than the private school I went to.

    @Charles I have that on the shelf as well but have not gotten around to it yet. Thanks for sharing the preface. I’ll be sure to break in the binding on that one next.

  15. @WFBjr, @Charles, @Ward, and @BC

    Thank you for all of the book recommendations and your thoughts on them. I have added a few to my list.

  16. I want to put a question to the readers of Ivy Style (I do not know the answer). Is there a current politician on the national or international stage that wears a 3/2 sack? If not, who was the last?

    I will throw out an uninformed guess to get the ball rolling. John Bolton as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005-2006.

  17. The acronym “WASP” is constantly confusing because, taken at face value, its redundancy (“White” and “Anglo-Saxon”) would seem to include people like Bill Clinton, who was certainly white, protestant, and of British extraction. However, he grew up poor. The better and, I think, original meaning of the acronym is “Wealthy Anglo-Saxon Protestant”, which excludes someone like Clinton but includes GHW Bush.

    Jeb! ran away from his WASP background long ago, and to an even greater extent than his brother “W” did – “W” remained Protestant, switching to Methodist from Episcopalian, married an American and cannot really speak Spanish. Jeb! attended UT-Austin (unlike his brother “W” who went to Yale), and reinvented himself as a Roman Catholic quasi-Latino, with a Mexican wife and a good accent in Spanish. Jeb!’s lack of success so far does not seem linked to his long-abandoned WASP background.

    One candidate this cycle who embraced, or at least didn’t flee, his WASP background was Lincoln Chaffee. The other is, at least arguably, Hillary Clinton, who grew up upper middle class Methodist and attended Wellesley and then Yale.

  18. MInimalist Trad | February 1, 2016 at 1:29 am |

    @ OCBD
    There are quite a few politicians who dress in a Trad manner but have divested themselves of 3/2 sacks, replacing them with unobtrusive two-button jackets.

  19. Chafee wears this one quite a bit as well. Too bad he didn’t go further in the Dem primary.
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2015/08/12/lincoln-chafee-lessons-shoeing-horses/31524323/

    Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) sports on ever so often. I recently sat next to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and while not in a 3/2, he certainly ascribed to the trad code, down to the well worn blue OCBD.

    Then there’s always former Rep. Bryan Holloway…

  20. I am no WASP, in ethnicity, location and education, but do like the style associated with such a demographic!

  21. Thanks for reminding us of ‘Richard’ in his glory days, WFBjr.

  22. The WASP-Ivy League clothing connection is flimsy, I think. At least in the modern context. A lot of rich Americans are drawn to all things cosmopolitan–food, vacation spots, cars. Think Town & Country magazine. “The more French and/or Italian something is, the better,” to quote a friend. There you go. How does a boxy, slope-shouldered jacket made of tweed (fit for the Highlands of Scotland) compete with skinny jackets made of precious Italian fabric? Savile Row and Italian tailoring will always seem less pedestrian (“so common”) than anything off the rack. The barely upper middle class seem to pride themselves on differentiating themselves from those who occupy the rung just below, hence the (somewhat pathetic) obsession with Barbour, riding boots, and Range Rovers. (How many of them have even seen a horse farm?)

    I am rethinking the Everyman Ivy thing. I wonder: during the Ivy heyday, how many men (of any age) had access to the sort of kit J. Press, The Andover Shop, Chipp and Brooks made and sold? A safe guess: very few. 5%? 3%? It may be the going look was a trim, too short, narrow shouldered jacket, but I am guessing a lot it was crap (poly-this, poly-that and poorly manufactured). Compare/contrast a ’65 Sewanee yearbook with a 1965 yearbook of a suburban high school in Ohio. My guess is the differences are profound.

    It makes no sense to affiliate Chipp and Langrock with the “Ivy” stuff one saw in the Sears catalog circa the early 60s. The really good natural shoulder clothing worn by tastemakers at Yale, UVA, Princeton–it was expensive. We can rightly add to the mix all the Norman Hilton clothing bought and worn by gents of a certain class way back when.

    It was expensive and hard to find back then. Just as it is today.

  23. S.E.: Only for Hicks in the Stix.

  24. Ward Wickers | February 1, 2016 at 11:11 am |

    It’s an interesting point S.E. is making. Richard, would you say that most men living in Orange, East Haven, North Haven, and other surrounding towns were coming to JPress and A Rosenberg for their clothes in the late 1950s & 60s? They may have worked in downtown New Haven, say at SNET, but were they more likely to be outfitted by Sears or by York Street?

  25. Big townie biz also surrounding suburbs + bridge & tunnel crowd at all the Squeeze emporiums.

  26. I guess I’d have to ask what “brands” weren’t sold in every college town and major city in the 60s?

  27. “The better and, I think, original meaning of the acronym is “Wealthy Anglo-Saxon Protestant”

    Hmm..I don’y know.
    Even in “old good times” in USA out of the east coast were a lot of wealthy anglo-saxon that were not “Wasp”.

    “A lot of rich Americans are drawn to all things cosmopolitan–food, vacation spots, cars. Think Town & Country magazine. “The more French and/or Italian something is, the better”

    But if you read a “Vanity Fair” Issue from 20s, or a “Esquire Magazine” from 30s yoy can see that is the same.
    Wealthy Americans have ever look to London,Paris and Rome for clothes and a lot of other things.

  28. NaturalShoulder | February 1, 2016 at 1:21 pm |

    @OCBD. I saw Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, getting fitted in Press for a suit on a visit to Washington a few years back.

  29. By something resembling an accident, I came across an Austin College yearbook. Early 60s, best I recall. It might be deemed criminal to lump A.C. in with the likes of Williams and Amherst–even W&L and Sewanee. Still, a better than decent liberal arts college in Texas. Smart strivers. Good middle class folk.

    Interesting. Scant evidence of Ivy influence, if we permit Brooks and the New Haven stylists to paint the official portrait. A handful of repp stripes and natural shoulder jackets, but nobody’s swimming in a sea of shetland. If anything, the mid-to-late fifties vibe prevails–shoulder width, worsted tex, and all.

    Which prompts to suppose there were far more “hicks in the sticks” than lads with access to the shop owners who retailed tweed, worsted, and woolens aplenty. Did a multitude of young men miss out on the Ivy thing altogether?

  30. “The barely upper middle class seem to pride themselves on differentiating themselves from those who occupy the rung just below, hence the (somewhat pathetic) obsession with Barbour, riding boots, and Range Rovers. (How many of them have even seen a horse farm?)”

    Now concerning the horse farm — I have! You just travel about 1.5 hours where I live and there are horse farms every 30 minutes to the West and Northwest.

  31. Henry Contestwinner | February 1, 2016 at 2:49 pm |

    Interesting thoughts on WASP, Taliesin. While all Anglo-Saxons are white, not all whites are Anglo-Saxon, so why the seemingly-redundant W? It seems the term is attested by 1955, so perhaps an examination of the social milieu of the time can give us leads to answer that question. Also, perhaps wasps (the insect) are more familiar and less threatening than asps, the serpentine association one would get from ASP. Worth noting are phrases like snake in the grass, as well as the negative connotations that asps have, for example, in Shakespeare, as well as in the Bible (the Hebrew and Greek words for these snakes are translated either as asp or viper, depending on the version).

    So my first guess is that the “redundant” white was added to avoid the negative baggage associated with deadly venomous snakes.

  32. Ward Wickers | February 1, 2016 at 4:03 pm |

    Richard — Thanks.

    GRA

    I grew up around horses (neighbors had them) and even rode them frequently, though never was especially fond of them. In any event, I guess that makes it okay for me to wear my Barbours, though frankly, I never thought of them being associated with horses as much as fly fishing and the outdoors. Now, the Range Rover is another matter.

    I once knew a mechanic who lived in Maine and worked exclusively on Range Rovers. Over beers once, he told me that in his opinion, people who owned Range Rovers must have a genetic deficiency (he believed it was in-breeding). He thought no one in their right mind should own a Range Rover.

  33. Charlottesville | February 1, 2016 at 4:40 pm |

    Dear me. I’m having trouble keeping up with the rules. Do I have to stop wearing my Barbour coat? I suppose it wouldn’t be a great loss since I bought it in England 25+ years ago and it’s looking kind of ratty at this point. In my defense, I note that when I look out of my rear windows at home I see 4-board fences, rolling pasture and (as of this morning) 11 horses. However, they belong to a neighbor, so I’m not sure whether that counts. And what about my Maine Hunting Shoes of roughly the same vintage? Can I wear them even though I live in Virginia rather than Down East and haven’t shot much beyond the occasional groundhog in years? For that matter, I didn’t attend an Ivy League school, although I have had drinks at the Yale Club a few times. Thanks for the “even W&L” recognition though. Does that count or must I pack up my OCBDs and J. Press suits for Goodwill? No Range Rover, thank God, so at least I won’t need to sell the car. Sorry, S.E., but I couldn’t resist poking a little fun at a fellow Southern boy. Despite the horsey views outside my windows, I fully admit to being common as an old shoe, and your observations about pretentious would-be WASPs in Wellies are all too often borne out around these parts.

  34. Well, as far as I’m concerned the whole world has gone to Hell and I’m ignoring what’s going on in the Republican party because my worrying about it won’t change a thing. Never trusted the Bushes when they were in office because they were liars and pretended to be Texans when they were Connecticut through and through. I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton and that’s that. At teast she doesn’t lie about who she isn’t. And yes, she’s a WASP, not that I care. As far as the WASP leadership class goes, that wheezed its last breath with my father’s generation and he was a gentleman and a public servant, and a WASP, too. Brought down by drink moire than anything else (the hidden back story to much of the decline and fall I suspect). As for clothes, I was brought up in Brooks and also Sears and the Nearly New Shoppe at the Junior League where my mother volunteered. Transitioned to Press and Levis when I went to prep school and then Yale. I bought a Harris Tweed jacket at the New Haven Press store(what a tired embarrassment their “temporary” establishment is) just a few months ago when I was back in New Haven, recruiting for the Investment Bank where I’m employed. The tweed is like iron, but the jacket’s cut was horrible and misshapen, and after sitting, unworn, in my closet I (finally) took it to a tailor who I hope is working magic on it because that’s what it’s going to take to get it to fit me properly. And yes, I also buy expensive Italian suits, too, from time to time because they’re gorgeous and fit me beautifully. I’m wearing one now, from Cesare Attolini bought on Madison Avenue for an eye-popping price. I love it. As for Barbour jackets and a Range Rover goes I’m guilty as charged, and I loves ’em both. I can’t find a jacket as useful on a country weekend than a quilted Barbour. So what if my Rover doesn’t see stable time? I haven’t been on a horse since I was a teenager, and glad of it. I hated riding. And yes, it was English style with the proper clothes albeit hand me down. My mother was a thrifty WASP, and a bit of a tight wad when it came to dressing me and my siblings. As one of these commenters said the really good clothes back in the day were expensive then, and they’re expensive today. It’s pretty much like anything (except electronics), you have to pay up to get the really good stuff. That’s always been the case, as far as I can figure out. Nice work, Christian, you got a lot of traffic on this one.

  35. @Charlottesville – I’ll make the drive down from D.C. to pick up those Press suits. No need for Goodwill!

  36. Ward Wickers | February 1, 2016 at 5:42 pm |

    Charlottesville

    For 35 bucks, Barbour will re-wax your coat and make it look like new. Alternatively, you can send it to Muffy.

    Reggie,

    Stable time isn’t so important with Range Rovers. It’s the garage time. BTW, were you ever able to get it to climb up a 45-degree incline like the old RR commercials? Only the Brits (and maybe WASPs) would think that a crucial criterion.

  37. Greetings, Reggie. Was on your site just today! Write something for here please! We need some new voices.

  38. An inside joke: Why did the WASP check himself into the hospital? For the food.

    One need not necessarily be from substantial wealth to be a WASP. Intellect, influence & leadership capacity are always the raison d’etre. Manors come and go but manners last forever. Baltzell actually highlights the exacerbated erosion of our influence once pecuniary pursuits replaced the traditional noblesse oblige of public service. Oliver Wendell Holmes died without substantial wealth, but he rejected the desultory pursuit of lucre in exchange for a lifetime of service. My family stressed compounded interest and frugality. I’ll never forget how ashamed I felt when my parents found out that I bought a couple of Cadillacs. Such sybaritic behavior and poor stewardship was the antipodes of our values. I could almost hear my father thinking, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” On the other hand, cousins of ours came into a windfall during the previous 2 generations as a result of business pursuits and they used money very differently than we did: Rolls Royce, Bentley, ocean front property, guest cottage etc. although they continued clothing their children from the Salvation Army; I guess some habits never say die.

  39. Christian:
    Oxford Cloth Button Down and others seem to think that only 3-button jackets are properly Trad/Ivy:

    Unless I’m terribly mistaken, those bastions of Traditional clothing, Ben Silver, The Andover Shop, and O’Connell’s only sell two button jackets.

  40. Charlottesville | February 2, 2016 at 10:48 am |

    Philly Trad – Correct as to Silver and Andover, but not O’Connell’s which has a number of 3/2 sacks available (or did very recently; hope they haven’t thrown in the towel). J. Press also carries a 2-button model, and has since at least the 70’s – Dick Cavett wore them on television. Like OCBD, I still prefer the 3/2 sack coat, but have a number with 2 buttons and some darted suits and sport coats as well, both custom made and off the rack from Press, Brooks and Polo. Christian can also be spotted in 2-button darted coats from time to time, and who could have more Trad Cred than he?

    Ward – Thanks for the advice. I know about the waxing service and keep meaning to drop my coat off at the local Orvis shop for a tune-up, but never seem to follow through. Perhaps your reminder will stiffen my spine and help me to screw my resolve to the sticking place. (Sorry to sue “stiffen” and “screw” in the same sentence on a wholesome, family website such as this.)

    Mr. McDermott – After sleeping on it, I have decided to hold onto the Press sack coats and OCBDs for a bit longer. As an Episcopalian, at least I get to rub shoulders with WASPs once a week, so I am banking on that to make up for any lack of pedigree. Please give Chris Dunn at J. Press greetings from his erstwhile Charlottesville customer.

  41. Ward Wickers | February 2, 2016 at 4:40 pm |

    WFBjr

    Cadillacs!? You can’t be serious (borrowed from John McEnroe and perfectly apt)! Well, at least they weren’t Range Rovers.

    Charlottesville

    Not only did you use “stiffen” and “screw” in the same sentence, you also used “sticking.” I think we need to send you to the ‘Clean Speech School of the Pure and Scared Heart,’ or something. Crikey, you could raise Jerry Falwell from the dead with that one.

  42. Charlottesville | February 2, 2016 at 4:59 pm |

    Quite correct, Ward. I am so ashamed. Not of my battered Barbour, though. I hope to get it ship shape shortly. Not sure where the alliteration is coming from. It just came out that way.

  43. @Ward I know, I know; I’ve forfeited my birthright for a mess of pottage.

  44. @ Philly Trad
    Charlottesville is right about O’Connell’s. Perhaps one day they will have an epiphany and like the Andover Shop and Ben Silver only stock two-button jackets. Less is more.

  45. Charlottesville | February 3, 2016 at 12:02 pm |

    labrafor — Not sure whether it was epiphanic or not, but Eljo’s, my local historically trad men’s shop, switched some years ago from center-vented Southwick 3/2 sacks to Southwick 2-button sacks with double vents. The 3/2 version is still available by special order, at least, but I see an awful lot of the 2-button model worn locally. O’Connell’s and Press are among the last holdouts for 3-button sack coats with lapels rolled to the center. If darts don’t bother you too much, Polo generally offers some very nice 3/2 sport coats and suits. Fortunately, the old stuff from Brooks wears incredibly well. The 3/2 gray chalk stripe sack suit I have on today is, I am pretty sure, 29 years old and I still get compliments on it. I wish I had bought a dozen more in 1987.

  46. S.E., I think it’s important to remember that polyester was not seen in the same way during the Boom Years that it is today. It still had that feeling of being a miracle fiber — the best equivalent I can think of is how synthetics are described in outdoor and technical clothes.

    For accessibility, I’d point to the fact that natural shoulder clothes were available from Sears: http://www.ivy-style.com/main-street-ivy-the-sears-catalog-1964.html

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