Edsall: the Democratic party has given up on the white working class, and thus on the hope of reviving the New Deal coalition

John Hayward at Human Events draws attention to a very significant article at the New York Times blog by Thomas Edsall. Edsall reports that the Democratic Party has abandoned any hope of winning back the white working class, and instead has become a party with two distinct constituencies: nonwhites dependent on government, and elite white leftists who demand life-style freedom and are driven by fear and loathing of conservatives. Hayward has his own angle on this development, including what he calls Edsall’s “unabashedly racialist overtones,” and you should read his article. Here I will just quote key passages from the Edsall piece:

For decades, Democrats have suffered continuous and increasingly severe losses among white voters. But preparations by Democratic operatives for the 2012 election make it clear for the first time that the party will explicitly abandon the white working class.

All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment—professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists—and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic.

It is instructive to trace the evolution of a political strategy based on securing this coalition in the writings and comments, over time, of such Democratic analysts as Stanley Greenberg and Ruy Teixeira. Both men were initially determined to win back the white working-class majority, but both currently advocate a revised Democratic alliance in which whites without college degrees are effectively replaced by well-educated socially liberal whites in alliance with the growing ranks of less affluent minority voters, especially Hispanics….

As a practical matter, the Obama campaign and, for the present, the Democratic Party, have laid to rest all consideration of reviving the coalition nurtured and cultivated by Franklin D. Roosevelt. The New Deal Coalition—which included unions, city machines, blue-collar workers, farmers, blacks, people on relief, and generally non-affluent progressive intellectuals—had the advantage of economic coherence. It received support across the board from voters of all races and religions in the bottom half of the income distribution, the very coherence the current Democratic coalition lacks.

A top priority of the less affluent wing of today’s left alliance is the strengthening of the safety net, including health care, food stamps, infant nutrition and unemployment compensation. These voters generally take the brunt of recessions and are most in need of government assistance to survive. According to recent data from the Department of Agriculture, 45.8 million people, nearly 15 percent of the population, depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to meet their needs for food.

The better-off wing, in contrast, puts at the top of its political agenda a cluster of rights related to self-expression, the environment, demilitarization, and, importantly, freedom from repressive norms—governing both sexual behavior and women’s role in society—that are promoted by the conservative movement.

While demographic trends suggest the continued growth of pro-Democratic constituencies and the continued decline of core Republican voters, particularly married white Christians, there is no guarantee that demography is destiny.

The political repercussions of gathering minority strength remain unknown. Calculations based on exit poll and Census data suggest that the Democratic Party will become “majority minority” shortly after 2020.

One outcome could be a stronger party of the left in national and local elections. An alternate outcome could be exacerbated intra-party conflict between whites, blacks and Hispanics—populations frequently marked by diverging material interests. Black versus brown struggles are already emerging in contests over the distribution of political power, especially during a current redistricting of city council, state legislative and congressional seats in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago.

Republican Party operatives are acutely sensitive to such tensions, hoping for opportunities to fracture the Democratic coalition, virtually assuring that neither party can safely rely on a secure path to victory over time.

- end of initial entry -

Jim C. sent the article, with this note:

Under Barry, the Democratic Party has transformed itself into two distinct coalitions: friends of parasites; and parasites.

Gintas writes:

Edsall writes:

Republican Party operatives are acutely sensitive to such tensions, hoping for opportunities to fracture the Democratic coalition, virtually assuring that neither party can safely rely on a secure path to victory over time.

So the New Deal Coalition is fractured and abandoned, and the white working class is leaving the Democrats, and the Democrats have given up on them. This is huge. Can you imagine Samuel Francis’s article about this? I imagine he’d be as giddy as Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning.

Not that the GOP did anything to take the white working class away from Democrats, it just fell into the GOP lap. Since the GOP wouldn’t know how to do that if they had wanted to try, it’s, “Huh, new voters!” with a shrug of the shoulders and back to what they really want to think about: how get the black and Hispanic vote.

James P. writes:

The author writes of a “center-left coalition” of white elitists and nonwhites. What is “centrist” about this coalition? It sounds like an extreme left coalition to me. The coalition was “center-left” when it had working class whites in it, but in losing the whites they lost the center.

Ken Hechtman writes:

How is any of this news?

The last Democrat to win a majority of the white working class was Jimmy Carter. The party went through a couple of decades of denial calling them “Reagan Democrats”, but that can only hold for so long. Thirty years later, it’s time to start calling them what they are—Republicans. I’d say Stan Greenberg figured out this formula in 1992. Bill Clinton didn’t need to win that demographic outright. He just needed to beat the spread, that is, to win just enough white working class votes out of a three-way split to win the swing states.

I’ve said this before. I do think some form of economic coalition is eventually going to supersede the current identity politics coalition, same way that the identity politics coalition superseded the New Deal coalition. But I think it’s going to happen over the next few election cycles, not the next few months.

LA replies:

Yes, the fact that the Democratic Party no longer wins the majority of the white working class is not news. But that leading Democratic strategists are stating this fact so plainly, and, further, that they are stating plainly that they have given up on the white working class, and that the Democrats’ constituency now consists of a coalition of Nanny State-dependent nonwhites and morally libertarian white elites, certainly is news. It’s like a new alignment of the stars. It’s an explicit announcement that the Democratic Party no longer represents anything normative, normal, and healthy in America, but only what is marginal and destructive in America.

December 2

LA writes:

James P. had written a second paragraph in his comment which I didn’t post because it didn’t make sense to me. Here it, plus our subsequent exchange which explains it.

James P. wrote:

I also think the author mischaracterizes the white elitists as “voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment.” The most salient characteristic of the white component of the Democratic coalition is dependence on the government, in one way or another, either directly as government employees or as people whose jobs only exist because the government is large and intrusive.

I replied:

I don’t get the point in your second para. How are white elites dependent on government?

James P. replied:

I grant you I live in the Washington DC area, but every professional / managerial class Democrat I know either works directly for the government (Federal, state, or county), or is a government contractor, or works for some sort of dot org that seeks to influence government policy, or is a lobbyist, or is a lawyer and the vast majority of their legal work seeks to solve problems that the government creates via laws and regulations. The elite Democrats who work in finance spend a lot of time trying to make money by tilting the government playing field in their favor. If the government was a lot smaller, most of these people would be out of a job.

I reply:

If what you are saying is correct, we need to deal honestly with the fact that if our reduce-government program were enacted, there would be a huge increase in unemployment greatly deepening the current recession or even amounting to a depression. What is your reply to this?

December 3

James R. writes:

In the Edsall thread, you wrote:

“If what you are saying is correct, we need to deal honestly with the fact that if our reduce-government program were enacted, there would be a huge increase in unemployment greatly deepening the current recession or even amounting to a depression. What is your reply to this?”

I’ll play the part of James P. a bit. First, he is correct: a system has been built up where much of the “professional class” is dependent upon government, namely the federal government. This is one reason why they rationalize its every growth and are so heated in their opposition to anything that might imply that its sway should be restricted, much less cut back. You’ve hosted discussions in the past on the distinctions between net tax payers and net tax recipients, and many of the well-off in this country fall into the later category. (This is not a plea for higher taxes. The current argument by well-to-do people for higher taxes “on people like them” are all for higher taxes on current net tax payers, their wealthy rivals in the actual productive class, while they will still reap the rewards they gain from their political access and influence).

As for what my reply is: This model is obviously unsustainable. It is coming to an end, one way or another. Government never acts to prevent a crisis, they only act to postpone it so they can get re-elected at least one more time, and to take advantage of it (thus, for example, all the blame that has been cast on “the free market” for what was really the product of corrupt government-private arrangements). The only question is whether we will have this recession/depression in a way that tries to preserve as much as possible of the productive economy, so we can rebuild, or we let the parasitic* class drain it till nothing is left but a desiccated husk. We’ve already gone far enough down that path. Much of the parasitic net-tax-recipient class is already, among themselves, taking steps to insure they come out ahead. The only people who will be left to the wolves are ourselves. Unless we take matters in hand and curb government, curb its spending and influence on their behalf, and let them make their way like the rest of us have to.

I know this is already long but allow me to close by quoting the words of a deeply flawed but still under-appreciated man, President Harding, during the forgotten depression of 1920:

“The economic mechanism is intricate and its parts interdependent, and has suffered the shocks and jars incident to abnormal demands, credit inflations, and price upheavals. The normal balances have been impaired, the channels of distribution have been clogged, the relations of labor and management have been strained. We must seek the readjustment with care and courage…. All the penalties will not be light, nor evenly distributed. There is no way of making them so. There is no instant step from disorder to order. We must face a condition of grim reality, charge off our losses and start afresh. It is the oldest lesson of civilization.”

If we do the right thing, there will be hardship, yes. But we will be able to recover, and relatively quickly. If we let this go on until it collapses of its own weight, we will still face this hardship, but it will be deeper and more prolonged—and those who benefit from the current system will remain empowered that much longer, to wreak the other sorts of havoc they are wreaking upon us, the ones that concern you more than economics. For who are those who are enriching themselves the most by being net tax recipients? Conservatives? Or progressives, and not just poor ones? (Indeed, while I consider it destructive of them, I mind the money given to the poor less than that the progressivel elites hand out to each other. Indeed I think we could wean the poor off of this dependency upon government largess if we were able to disempower the elites that promote it, by cutting off the funding they receive, which they use to promote this miserable agenda. But I’ve rambled on long enough).

*I hate to sound like a Randian here, but I can’t think of a pithier way of expressing this.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 29, 2011 03:23 PM | Send

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