So it’s unanimous, then– Thomas Edsall was right: In the aftermath of Obama’s gay marriage flip, pundits seem to have concluded that Obama’s Democratic party has indeed given up on white working class voters. They’ve been dropped from the winning coalition, which is now composed of three main groups: “young people, college-educated whites (especially women), and minorities,” according to Ron Brownstein. Bill Galston agrees. Ruy Teixeira–who once wrote a book called America’s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters–agrees. Here’s Teixeira on how Obama can win Arizona:
First, the share of Hispanic voters must grow and their support level for Obama must increase …
Second, a projected 3 point decrease in the size of the total white vote should come entirely from white working class voters. Based on recent data, this is a highly plausible assumption. Eligible voter trends since 2008 are consistent with such an outcome and, in 2008, the decrease in the white vote (4 points) did in fact come entirely from working class voters, according to the exit polls.
Finally, Obama’s performance among white college graduates needs to improve …. Returning to [2000 and 2004] earlier levels of white college graduate support will be crucial for Obama. [E.A.]
Hmm. Are there any other Dems out there who think basing the party on this New
Coke Coalition is a really bad idea? Here’s alert kf reader Pollster Y
For now, it’s not even an argument. This is the direction the smart people are taking the Democratic Party. Wheeeee! …
A college-educated whites plus blacks and Hispanics coalition is not the cruise I signed up for—and for many blacks and Hispanics, the door they came in was marked “for low- to middle-income working folks of all races,” and they will understand immediately that the old working class door is closed now and they are just votes to support the ascendancy of a college-educated whites agenda. Steerage class. …
[W]hich holds greater promise in the Electoral College—winning more vote in Denver, Phoenix, Santa Fe, Columbus, OH and the suburbs of Washington DC with a college-whites+minorities focus, OR trying to win back the arc of votes Obama lost to Hillary and has not won back, stretching from WVA, VA south of the Northern Virginia suburbs, western NC, southwestern PA, southern OH, southern IL, MO, Arkansas? And in the long run, which Democratic Party is more likely to hold the loyalties of blacks and Hispanics for another generation—a working class Democratic Party, or a knowledge-worker Democratic Party?
Let me add a few other possible reasons to take Pollster Y’s doubts seriously:
1. Unskilled workers–men especially–are among those who’ve been most harmed by the big structural changes of the past four decades (i.e., global trade that forces them to compete against cheap foreign workers, technology that puts a premium on skills and smarts). Any political party that doesn’t attempt to improve the economic position of these people–who make up a lot of the “white working class”–simply isn’t addressing the problems of the times.
2. The increasing premium on skills and smarts promises to bring us an uglier society in the form of a meritocracy where those who are rich can think not only that they’re richer but that they’re better. That doesn’t simply threaten the incomes of the unskilled. It corrodes the traditional American idea of social equality–the idea that we’re “equal in the eyes of each other.” Cheering on young professionals–while urging the non-professionals to hurry up and do some learnin’–doesn’t make the problem better. It makes the problem worse. Even if it increases GDP.
3. Weren’t Democrats supposed to be the party of Everyman? If you went to work and obeyed the rules, Dems would “make work pay”–plus give you unemployment compensation and Social Security and medical care in old age. White male workers are sort of the indivisible denominator in American politics–they have no special economic leverage, and no race- or gender-based claim to special privileges. They’re naked as far as favoritism goes, and thus (not unlike Marx’s proleteriat) are the representatives of universal privileges (such as Social Security). The new Obama coalition threatens to abandon this universality, becoming instead the party of non-universal skills, ethnic and gender identities–of special pleaders, victims and causists. Not of citizens.
P.S.: But isn’t this just a question of strategy or political marketing? No. Different coalitions produce different policies–or, rather, the attempt to mobilize different coalitions produces different policies. (Sorry, Weigel.**) Gay marriage is a New Coalition policy: Young voters love it; white working class voters, not so much. “Comprehensive immigration reform”–e.g. legalization or amnesty– is a New Coalition policy: It is quite explicitly framed as an attempt to win over Latinos. But if it attracts additional unskilled illegal immigrants, from Mexico and elsewhere, unskilled working class Americans are the ones who will see their wages bid down even further. Screw ‘em–they vote Republican anyway!
Similarly, if you don’t care that much about ordinary white unskilled workers you might be perfectly willing to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, as Obama has apparently been willing to do. After all, it”s not such a big deal to retire two years later if you are an accountant. But what if you are a coal miner? The worst example of all would be Obama policies that push poorer workers out of Medicare into often-inferior Medicaid, as Scott Gottlieb has charged the Affordable Care Act will do. (I await Jonathan Cohn’s explanation of why Obamacare doesn’t actually do this).
You can’t blame Obama for trying to win, and if white working class voters don’t like him–well, he has to assemble a majority anyway he can.*** But if you’re not Obama you can hope this particular Emerging Democratic Majority un-emerges soon.
**–Back in November, Slate‘s Dave Weigel assured his readers that “Obama isn’t switching policies in or out of a playbook because whites won’t vote for him.” Tell it to opponents of gay marriage.
***–You can blame Obama for not doing things that might have made white working class voters dislike him a lot less–doing a better job of selling Obamacare, for example. A big initiative to get the fat out of the federal bureaucracy might have done for him what welfare reform did for Bill Clinton. (For that matter, welfare reform might have done for him what welfare reform did for Bill Clinton–specifically, backing up work requirements with Wisconsin-style last-resort “workfare” jobs.)