No man can serve two masters, and no party can serve two masters, either. So who will the Democrats serve?
I had all but given up on Bill Maher after he brought another Breitbart lackey on his show a few weeks back (to say nothing of the recent “house” controversy involving Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse), but a friend urged me to watch Maher’s June 30 interview with Dan Savage, in which Savage called upon the Democratic Party to stop chasing after culturally conservative working-class white voters and embrace its status as a cosmopolitan, diverse party (relevant remarks begin at about the 4:30 mark):
Frankly, I’m not sure there is a compelling case against Savage’s argument. Culturally conservative working-class white voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 before voting for Donald Trump in 2016 will likely never come back to the Democratic Party because they now associate the party with concepts they find objectionable, even immoral. If, for example, you’re the sort of person who voted for Obama in 2008, but who now buys into the absurd idea that Black Lives Matter is an anti-white, anti-cop hate group, you’re probably not planning to vote Democratic again any time soon, or later.
Savage’s comments are quite interesting in light of the debate, seen in recent weeks on MSNBC’s AM Joy, over the extent to which the Democratic Party values the support of African-American women. Is it too cynical to question whether the Democratic Party can simultaneously attract both African-American female support and culturally conservative working-class white support? Is it too cynical to conclude that a party that attempts to do both will ultimately wind up downplaying the concerns of African-American female voters due to the belief that there are “more” culturally conservative working-class white voters, thus alienating a key Democratic demographic?
Savage didn’t specifically mention this debate, but I can’t help wondering if this was the subtext of his comments. In 2017 and beyond, perhaps it is simply not possible for the Democratic Party to appeal to both “rural” and “urban” America, to have a message that can truly resonate beyond social boundaries. Yes, Obama did so, but can it not be argued that Obama’s achievement was, on some level, a fluke?
Remember when Ronald Reagan invoked the noxious racial and gender stereotype of the ”welfare queen” in his 1976 Presidential campaign? Reagan knew that the combination of racism and sexism was potent fuel, and he filled his tank in that campaign and for years afterward. Now, an entire right-wing media enterprise drives on that diesel: the conservative-entertainment complex’s war on such figures as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), former First Lady Michelle Obama and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch is borne of the same bigotry that drove Reagan’s rhetoric–the vile idea that black women are responsible for all of the country’s problems.
To the extent that culturally conservative working-class white voters are influenced, whether consciously or subconsciously, by right-wing media stereotypes of black women, the project of attracting these voters to a party where black women have significant influence is a doomed enterprise. To put it bluntly, culturally conservative working-class white voters are presumably reluctant to share economic and social power with a demographic right-wing media figures have taught them to view as “less than.” Any attempt by the Democratic Party to lure culturally conservative working-class white voters back into the fold will inevitably result in African-American women, and their political priorities and concerns, becoming a second-tier priority for the party.
Savage is correct beyond dispute. The Democratic Party’s only future lies in making it clear to the country that it stands foursquare behind the principles of equality and inclusion–and voters who have too much “cultural anxiety” to accept this are free to go elsewhere, even if it means going with the folks who will take away their health care and their chances to have as much or more than their parents had. Some culturally conservative working-class white voters will choose to accept the Democratic Party’s offer. Those who do not will just get trumped again.