Democrats and the working class

I posted about this phenomenon recently, though hardly anyone of you commentators understood my point.  Maybe Joan C. Williams, a  liberal Democrat, can state it more clearly than I did:

For two generations, the Democrats have failed to relate to white working-class voters. Black working-class voters never abandoned the party, but the percentage of working-class whites who identified as Democrats fell from 60 percent in the mid-1970s to 40 percent in the mid-1990s. George W. Bush won his two presidential elections with landslides among white working-class men, while Obama lost among white working-class voters by 18 percentage points in 2008, roughly the same margin by which Al Gore lost them in 2000.

Democrats need to understand why Republicans have been so successful at courting working-class whites — and why Democrats have been consistently unable to do so. . . .

While Republicans have made working-class resentments a powerful weapon for achieving the policy goals of the business elite, Democrats have inadvertently fueled those resentments. For more than a generation, a substantial class and cultural gap has tripped up progressive politicians.

Salad greens have been a big problem for Democrats. Michael Dukakis got into trouble over Belgian endive; Obama over arugula. Both Howard Dean and Obama have tried, and failed, to speak about working-class voters’ values without sounding condescending. During his campaign, for instance, Obama once noted that working-class families were distressed by their economic free fall — and then he stumbled straight into the culture gap as he talked about voters’ attitudes toward guns and religion.

Democratic leaders can’t seem to speak to working-class concerns in a way that doesn’t alienate the very people they’re trying to reach. Having ceded this cultural ground, they need to win it back.

via Obama and the Democrats must reconnect with working-class voters.

Prof. William’s recommended solution is for the Democrats to make more entitlement programs that apply to everyone–such as Social Security and Medicare–rather than targeting specific groups, such as poor people (the “have-nots”), that leave out working people who are just getting by (the “have-a-littles”).  I believe, though, that she is still missing what blue collar workers really want:  not government dependence, but government independence.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    I love the phrasing of this article. According to article, it is all about manipulation. The working class are coerced into following the business elite. I love the assumption that the working class can’t possibly actually agree with the policies of the GOP, instead are merely following the people who best play to their fears. I don’t know if the professor realizes it but she comes off as just as much an elitist jerk as Obama did with the “guns and religions” quote. This is merely more evidence they believe the average person can’t think for themselves.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    I love the phrasing of this article. According to article, it is all about manipulation. The working class are coerced into following the business elite. I love the assumption that the working class can’t possibly actually agree with the policies of the GOP, instead are merely following the people who best play to their fears. I don’t know if the professor realizes it but she comes off as just as much an elitist jerk as Obama did with the “guns and religions” quote. This is merely more evidence they believe the average person can’t think for themselves.

  • Porcell

    The working class knows well that in the long run their interests are better served through hard, disciplined work in the private economy than through dependence on the political class, unless you’re a member of an SEIU local enjoying steady work with a guaranteed salary and golden benefits.

    Actually, the term “working class” comes from Marx who corrupted the language with such terms.

  • Porcell

    The working class knows well that in the long run their interests are better served through hard, disciplined work in the private economy than through dependence on the political class, unless you’re a member of an SEIU local enjoying steady work with a guaranteed salary and golden benefits.

    Actually, the term “working class” comes from Marx who corrupted the language with such terms.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    “Government independence.”

    Well sure, that’s just the problem. The government has too much independence. From accountability and common sense, anyway.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    “Government independence.”

    Well sure, that’s just the problem. The government has too much independence. From accountability and common sense, anyway.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    The facts simply do not support the idea that people really want independence from government .

    facts

    1) cutting back on social security, medicare etc are non starters. Noone is electable if they suggest eliminating these programs or even scaling them back.

    2) everyone seems to favor being “tough on crime” and filling our prisons to overflowing using such things as 3 strikes law etc. that radically extend the power of government.

    3) no one, including democrats, questioned the radical overthrow of constitutional safegards with acts intended to protect us from terrorism. The conservative stance seemed to be in this case that we could trust the authorities to use near absolute power unchecked by anyone including an only tepidly independent judiciary. I find this sorta strange.

    4) The whole gay marriage thang makes me realize that most conservatives think that the govt and constitutions are about expressing the will of the people who are in the majority at the time. They are not.

    and they think that our constitutions are about conferring and granting rights. they are so not that. They are about frustration the will of the majority. They are about limiting the power of government specifically to preserve the right of the populace to pursue happiness as they see fit personally as long as it does not harm others. The concept of the “pursuit of happiness” may seem like some libertine , vague, odd, un-purpose-driven, and wierd part of our constitutional heritage. It is in fact that part of our legal heritage that most agrees with what the Lutheran Confessions call true and God-pleasing morality on earth.

    Then that people think that it is proper for a majority to decide what to do by a direct vote. If this is not the heavy hand of government dictat I don´t know what would be. It is just another form of dictatorship. one of the 51%. It is not the rule of Law.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    The facts simply do not support the idea that people really want independence from government .

    facts

    1) cutting back on social security, medicare etc are non starters. Noone is electable if they suggest eliminating these programs or even scaling them back.

    2) everyone seems to favor being “tough on crime” and filling our prisons to overflowing using such things as 3 strikes law etc. that radically extend the power of government.

    3) no one, including democrats, questioned the radical overthrow of constitutional safegards with acts intended to protect us from terrorism. The conservative stance seemed to be in this case that we could trust the authorities to use near absolute power unchecked by anyone including an only tepidly independent judiciary. I find this sorta strange.

    4) The whole gay marriage thang makes me realize that most conservatives think that the govt and constitutions are about expressing the will of the people who are in the majority at the time. They are not.

    and they think that our constitutions are about conferring and granting rights. they are so not that. They are about frustration the will of the majority. They are about limiting the power of government specifically to preserve the right of the populace to pursue happiness as they see fit personally as long as it does not harm others. The concept of the “pursuit of happiness” may seem like some libertine , vague, odd, un-purpose-driven, and wierd part of our constitutional heritage. It is in fact that part of our legal heritage that most agrees with what the Lutheran Confessions call true and God-pleasing morality on earth.

    Then that people think that it is proper for a majority to decide what to do by a direct vote. If this is not the heavy hand of government dictat I don´t know what would be. It is just another form of dictatorship. one of the 51%. It is not the rule of Law.

  • DonS

    As Dr. Luther said well @ 1, the article is just more class poppycock which fuels, in particular, Democratic politics today. There is good reason in political science to study the electorate demographically, as a means of understanding the voters. But, that data is utterly misused when it is seized upon to fashion a campaign or policy based on appeal to a particular demographic. This is crass pandering, and it thoroughly infects our politics. Although Dr. Williams properly understands, through the data, that white middle class voters have shifted from majority support of Democrats to majority support of Republicans, she completely misses the point as to how to address that.

    The right response, of course, is to fashion public policy that you genuinely believe is good for the country, not merely as a means of attracting votes. Then, you use the demographic data to relate that policy to different groups of voters, to help them understand the policy better. If your proposed policy is truly good for the nation, you should be able to develop a message that clearly explains to a spectrum of voters why that is so. In other words, demographic data should be used to message a policy, not to fashion one.

    Dr. Williams’ ridiculous proposal to create more entitlements so that everybody is happy because they all get something is toxic. It is irresponsible, panders to greed, and sticks our kids with a bill they already have no hope of paying.

  • DonS

    As Dr. Luther said well @ 1, the article is just more class poppycock which fuels, in particular, Democratic politics today. There is good reason in political science to study the electorate demographically, as a means of understanding the voters. But, that data is utterly misused when it is seized upon to fashion a campaign or policy based on appeal to a particular demographic. This is crass pandering, and it thoroughly infects our politics. Although Dr. Williams properly understands, through the data, that white middle class voters have shifted from majority support of Democrats to majority support of Republicans, she completely misses the point as to how to address that.

    The right response, of course, is to fashion public policy that you genuinely believe is good for the country, not merely as a means of attracting votes. Then, you use the demographic data to relate that policy to different groups of voters, to help them understand the policy better. If your proposed policy is truly good for the nation, you should be able to develop a message that clearly explains to a spectrum of voters why that is so. In other words, demographic data should be used to message a policy, not to fashion one.

    Dr. Williams’ ridiculous proposal to create more entitlements so that everybody is happy because they all get something is toxic. It is irresponsible, panders to greed, and sticks our kids with a bill they already have no hope of paying.

  • Louis

    fws – I think there is some truth in what you say. There is a lot of difference between rhetoric and practice, as has been shown many times before in history. Unfortunately, the nature of a democracy implies the will of the majority, so the idea is to pander to that will, in theory at least, and then do what you want to do, making sure that appearances will get you re-elected, not realities. Hence my scepticism of Porcell’s belief that the masses have awoken, so-to-speak.

    An aside: Can one of you please explain to me what the obsession with salad greens, or elitist food, or whatever is? I have trouble understanding the rationale…

  • Louis

    fws – I think there is some truth in what you say. There is a lot of difference between rhetoric and practice, as has been shown many times before in history. Unfortunately, the nature of a democracy implies the will of the majority, so the idea is to pander to that will, in theory at least, and then do what you want to do, making sure that appearances will get you re-elected, not realities. Hence my scepticism of Porcell’s belief that the masses have awoken, so-to-speak.

    An aside: Can one of you please explain to me what the obsession with salad greens, or elitist food, or whatever is? I have trouble understanding the rationale…

  • Daniel Gorman

    Neither party cares about the working class. They don’t make enough campaign donations. Until recently, the Republican Party was just as open borders as the Democrats. Cheap labor for the rich trumped jobs for the working class. The Republican Party only changed their policy when they began losing elections. The Party still favors outsourcing manufacturing to China in order to keep profits up and wages down.

    Of course, the Democratic Party also could care less about the working class. However, just like the Republicans, they may change their tune once they start losing elections.

  • Daniel Gorman

    Neither party cares about the working class. They don’t make enough campaign donations. Until recently, the Republican Party was just as open borders as the Democrats. Cheap labor for the rich trumped jobs for the working class. The Republican Party only changed their policy when they began losing elections. The Party still favors outsourcing manufacturing to China in order to keep profits up and wages down.

    Of course, the Democratic Party also could care less about the working class. However, just like the Republicans, they may change their tune once they start losing elections.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith, I’ve noticed you tend to lend more credence to an argument made by someone who, according to their labels, should not be making such an argument. So when you see “Joan C. Williams, a liberal Democrat”, criticizing the Democrats, you pay more attention. The only thing is, I can’t figure out on what basis you call her a “liberal Democrat”. It’s not in her byline. She uses no first-person pronouns in the article. I couldn’t find any obvious party affiliation for her on the Internet. Do you know her personally? Because, with her reliance on select old political chestnuts like “clinging to guns and religion” and pricing “arugula”, she certainly reads like a normal conservative Republican!

    Anyhow, if Ms. Williams’ article is yet another example of “this phenomenon” that you already blogged about earlier, something is wrong. Because your earlier post concerned itself with, in your words, “the people”, “ordinary Americans”, “the American populace”. But Ms. Williams is only talking about white, working-class Americans. And that is a substantially smaller subset of “the American populace”. I’m curious to hear how you view the relationship of these two groups (the white working class vs. all of us).

    I’m also a bit mystified why the problem identified here is a problem. Did 2006 and 2008 not happen? Sure, the pendulum is going to swing back in 2010 — did anyone think it wouldn’t? — but that doesn’t mean 2006 and 2008 are rendered meaningless. I’d like to see more analysis that takes the long view, and not merely what’s happened since 2008.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith, I’ve noticed you tend to lend more credence to an argument made by someone who, according to their labels, should not be making such an argument. So when you see “Joan C. Williams, a liberal Democrat”, criticizing the Democrats, you pay more attention. The only thing is, I can’t figure out on what basis you call her a “liberal Democrat”. It’s not in her byline. She uses no first-person pronouns in the article. I couldn’t find any obvious party affiliation for her on the Internet. Do you know her personally? Because, with her reliance on select old political chestnuts like “clinging to guns and religion” and pricing “arugula”, she certainly reads like a normal conservative Republican!

    Anyhow, if Ms. Williams’ article is yet another example of “this phenomenon” that you already blogged about earlier, something is wrong. Because your earlier post concerned itself with, in your words, “the people”, “ordinary Americans”, “the American populace”. But Ms. Williams is only talking about white, working-class Americans. And that is a substantially smaller subset of “the American populace”. I’m curious to hear how you view the relationship of these two groups (the white working class vs. all of us).

    I’m also a bit mystified why the problem identified here is a problem. Did 2006 and 2008 not happen? Sure, the pendulum is going to swing back in 2010 — did anyone think it wouldn’t? — but that doesn’t mean 2006 and 2008 are rendered meaningless. I’d like to see more analysis that takes the long view, and not merely what’s happened since 2008.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    fws has some good points. Americans want freedom from government when our govt. interferes with our pocketbooks. Most of the time, though, the Fed is just a really big club to bash our neighbor with.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    fws has some good points. Americans want freedom from government when our govt. interferes with our pocketbooks. Most of the time, though, the Fed is just a really big club to bash our neighbor with.


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