Every election begets postmortems and Monday morning quarterbacking. When an election has results as stunning at that of 2014, many navels are examined… some of them from the rear. At the New Republic, Noam Schreiber makes his contribution in The Big Question Democrats Need to Ask Themselves Before They Nominate Hillary:
So Democrats need to find a way to appeal to an older, whiter electorate as well. Specifically, they need to find a better way to appeal to the white working class, which is where they’re getting clobbered. In last week’s midterms, whites without a college degree accounted for 36 percent of voters; Democrats lost them by a 30-point margin. In 2012, the margin was 26 points.
At first blush, the white working class would appear to pose a real dilemma. The set of issues on which the Democratic Party is most coherent these days is social progressivism. It’s very difficult to find a Democratic politician that doesn’t support immigration reform, LGBT rights, women’s reproductive rights, affirmative action, steps to reduce climate change, etc. (It’s even more difficult after last Tuesday’s election.) But while these issues unite college-educated voters and working-class minority voters, they’ve historically alienated the white working class.
If you’ve been around for a while you’ve heard different permutations of this. Reagan Democrats were white working class voters who had historically voted with the New Deal politicians of the Democrat party but felt so alienated by the post-McGovern Democrat party that they bolted. They resurfaced again in 1994, this time they were Angry White Males who, allegedly, voted for the GOP because they were angry about their whole white patriarchy racket being ruined by women and minorities. This is not new. It was well documented in 2012.
It was the subject of the book, probably on every liberal’s bookshelf right beside Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-first Century,” called “What’s the Matter With Kansas.” What Schreiber is reacting to is the fact that the 30 point blowout in favor of the GOP has migrated from areas that the Democrats have written off to areas that are critical if they are to elect a president.
At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum, posits an answer to the problem of why white working class voters have abandoned the Democrats:
I’d like to offer a different interpretation. I don’t have a bunch of poll data readily at hand to back this up, so it’s possible I’m way off base. But I don’t think so, and at the very least I welcome pushback since it might clarify some things that need clarifying.
Here it is: I agree that social liberalism isn’t quite the deal killer it used to be. Scheiber and Teixera are right about that. It’s still an issue—especially gun control, which remains more potent than a lot of liberals like to acknowledge—but it’s fading somewhat in areas like abortion and gay marriage. There are still plenty of Fox-watching members of the WWC who are as socially conservative as ever, but I think it’s safe to say that at the margins social issues are becoming a little less divisive among the WWC than they have been over the past few decades.
But if that’s the case, why does the WWC continue to loathe Democrats so badly? I think the answer is as old as the discussion itself: They hate welfare. There was a hope among some Democrats that Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform would remove this millstone from around Democrats’ necks, and for a few years during the dotcom boom it probably did. The combination of tougher work rules and a booming economy made it a less contentious topic.
But when the economy stagnates and life gets harder, people get meaner. That’s just human nature. And the economy has been stagnating for the working class for well over a decade—and then practically collapsing ever since 2008.
Drum gets some of this right, I think. Outside of those communities where government subsidies are a way of life (unfortunately, we on the right often conflate these communities as being minority communities, if you think that is the case keep in mind that most recipients of what we would term welfare benefits are white and while you are at it, take a trip through Eastern Kentucky), most people who work are somewhat resentful of a government that seems to encourage social pathologies by paying people to exhibit them. So this isn’t a case of, as Drum puts it so insultingly, “people get[ting] meaner” but rather people are exasperated that this is allowed to happen.
So who does the WWC take out its anger on? Largely, the answer is the poor. In particular, the undeserving poor. Liberals may hate this distinction, but it doesn’t matter if we hate it. Lots of ordinary people make this distinction as a matter of simple common sense, and the WWC makes it more than any. That’s because they’re closer to it. For them, the poor aren’t merely a set of statistics or a cause to be championed. They’re the folks next door who don’t do a lick of work but somehow keep getting government checks paid for by their tax dollars. For a lot of members of the WWC, this is personal in a way it just isn’t for the kind of people who read this blog.
This is not correct. No one rioted and burned out their shiftless neighbors on November 4, they voted enabling politicians out of office. The sense of injustice is not directed at the poor, these people are the ones most likely to contribute money to their church for the poor and participate in food drives. But they are noticing that the Democrats, carrying out Obama’s agenda, have encouraged people to stop work and rely upon government handouts. Drum continues:
Helping the poor is one of the great causes of liberalism, and we forfeit our souls if we give up on it. And yet, as a whole bunch of people have acknowledged lately, the Democratic Party simply doesn’t do much for either the working or middle classes these days.
But the working class understands something that Drum can’t quite grasp. The working class understands that the policies championed by the Democrats not only damage them but they work against the interests of the poor. People on Medicaid have worse health than people with the same income and no insurance. Public housing is not a way station on the way to self sufficiency, it is ticket to multi-generational poverty. Paying women for children but taking the money away if they are married does nothing to improve the lot of the child or the mother. Just because you are not wealthy and don’t live in New York City or Los Angeles does not make you stupid. Working class Hispanics are no more likely to support a liberalized immigration regime than working class whites.
Finally, both Schreiber and Drum misinterpret “social liberalism.” While it is true that homosexual activity is less repulsive, at least in polling data, to younger working class people than to older ones what the authors are missing is that “live and let live” does not readily equate to “celebrate.” This demographic is going to be the mother lode of church goers and outside a small number of liberal churches in liberal areas homosexuality is not something that one aspires to participate in.
What is actually afoot is a grassroots revolt against an overweening government that seeks to manage your life and looks upon wage earners as milch cows to fund their schemes.