It is time for the Democratic Party to make peace with the reality that many (not all, but many) of the white working-class voters who went for the Republicans in the midterm elections buy into the false idea that the Democrats are “Free money for urban layabouts!” party, and will likely take that mentality to the grave. If you can’t disabuse those voters of that mentality, then doesn’t it make more sense for Democrats to a) find new voters, b) turn those voters out and c) fight to protect the voting rights of those citizens?
Kevin Drum is correct beyond dispute when he notes:
[W]hy does the [white working class] 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.
So who does the [white working class] take out its anger on? Largely, the answer is the poor. In particular, the [supposedly] 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 [white working class] 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 [white working class], this is personal in a way it just isn’t for the kind of people who read this blog.
And who is it that’s responsible for this infuriating flow of government money to the shiftless? Democrats. We fight to save food stamps. We fight for WIC. We fight for Medicaid expansion. We fight for Obamacare. We fight to move poor families into nearby housing.
This is a big problem because these are all things that benefit the poor but barely touch the working class. Does it matter that the working class barely pays for most of these programs in the first place, since their federal income taxes tend to be pretty low? Nope. They’re still paying taxes, and it seems like they never get anything for it. It’s always someone else.
Of course, white working-class resentment of the Democratic Party goes beyond the perceived politics of welfare.
The Democratic Party’s defense of affirmative action and busing to achieve desegregation helped to fuel white working-class resentment towards the party, ultimately driving legions of working-class whites into the arms of Ronald Reagan. Many of these voters–the ones still alive, that is–still regard the Democratic Party as the “do-gooder” party of “politically correct” “urban planners” who want to control people’s lives. This mentality is devoid of intellectual merit, but it remains as strong as it did when working-class whites hurled invective at pro-racial-justice politicians such as Senator Edward Kennedy.
The Democrats cannot serve two masters. They cannot be both a party that purports to stand for social justice and a party that tries to woo voters who think social justice is a code word for “Free jobs and money for the inner city.” It’s illogical and impossible.
If working-class whites want to vote for the party of the one percent, then, frankly, let those voters suffer the economic consequences. If those voters fail to understand what the GOP has degenerated into, that’s their problem. The Democratic Party does not need reactionary working-class whites. What it needs is to fight aggressively for progressive principles. That’s the only path to future political–and moral–victories.