George Gilder was down on his luck. Sweating like a pig in a humid office with a broken air conditioner, he was working in 1972 for Ben Toledano, a failed candidate for mayor of New Orleans who believed he could become Louisiana’s next senator. Gilder—thirty-three, a graduate of Exeter and Harvard, and a speechwriter for Nelson Rockefeller and Richard Nixon—was toiling for beer money with a second-rate candidate who had no more chance of becoming senator than he had of becoming mayor. After all, Toledano had just joined the Republican Party three years before, right after he gave up his membership in the Louisiana States Rights Party, which advocated extreme right segregationist policies. Since Toledano would only pay Gilder for four hours a day, the younger man had his afternoons and evenings free to think about what a damn mess his life had become. In the midst of this stew of anger and self-pity he came to the conclusion that his plight was all the fault of the women’s movement. So he set out to write a book called Sexual Suicide, which would wake the country up to the poison in its midst. A review of the book in Kirkus Reviews states his theme:
Women’s Lib and its goals—abortion on demand, child-care centers, equal pay for equal work—will be the ruination of us all. Anything that takes the woman out of the home will add to the male sense of redundancy, impotence and rootlessness; take away his age-old role as protector and provider and he will turn to drugs, pornography, marauding, rape and killing.
To Gilder it was simple. Welfare and feminism had turned men into a subservient race, no longer the hunter-gatherer but the chump. As Gilder was to discover, making outrageous claims was just what he needed to get himself out of his obscure hole in New Orleans. The National Organization for Women named him Male Chauvinist Pig of the Year, and William F. Buckley invited him to appear on Firing Line. He decided he would make himself “America’s number one anti-feminist.”
But just being an anti-feminist was not enough for Gilder’s ambition, and he began to write for the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal about the supply-side economics theories that Jude Wanniski and Arthur Laffer were putting forward as a conservative response to Keynesian demand-side economics, which had become conventional wisdom.
The economy had been struggling through seven years of stagflation—a toxic mix of high inflation and stagnant growth. The notion that big government was the problem became the basis of Reagan’s campaign. Gilder’s book appealed to Reagan’s sense that what really ailed America was the fault of “welfare queens.” In a 1994 interview Gilder said, “The so-called ‘poor’ are ruined by the overflow of American prosperity. What they need is Christian teaching from the churches.… We have no poverty problem strictly speaking, we have a desperate problem of family breakdown and moral decay.”