Green Room

Obama to abandon white working class?

posted at 3:39 pm on November 28, 2011 by

Not quite. Slate’s resident JournoLister, Dave Weigel, apparently thinks it’s raaaacist of FoxNation to highlight the most provocative part of an NYT post by Thomas Edsall making the claim. Weigel is particularly taken by a photo of “Obama gritting his teeth and waving ‘see ya,’ while flanked by his wife and an unidentified black guy. Others might figure the photo was selected for the first part, not the second, but others don’t have a history of secretly trying to shape media coverage of Obamacare while pretending to be covering the right from the inside. At least Weigel is imputing bad motive openly now.

The sad part is that Weigel kinda gets the real story right. Here’s Edsall’s hot-button lede:

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.

The blogosphere is mostly focused on the second sentence. Before casually flinging the race card, Weigel correctly emphasizes the first: “The funny thing here is that ‘abandoning’ the white working class means ‘continuing to lose voters who have been voting Republican since 1966.’ ” It’s not clear whether Weigel is implicitly flinging the race card again by selecting 1966 as his benchmark, but between 1960 and 2004, Democrats lost 12 percent of the non-Southern white men and 17 percent of white men in the South.

Nevertheless, it is fair to note the drop was particularly acute (.pdf) among the white working class during the period colloquially known as the Sixties — 55% of whites without a four year college degree voted for Dems in 1960-64, dropping to 35% in 1968-72. Some of this was racial, but arguably had more to do with the ascendancy of the New Left within the party, at the expense of organized labor. The hippie/Yippie-ization of the Democrats, which allowed the GOP to characterize the 1972 platform as “amnesty, abortion and acid” had as much to do with the migration of whites to the GOP as Selma or Watts.

Edsall’s column doesn’t really support his claim that Team Obama is “explicitly” abandoning that demographic now. Edsall is correct that the Obama campaign seems to be favoring:

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.

Edsall then accurately traces the history of the “Emerging Democratic Majority” theory, and even gets this much right:

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.

Edsall just cannot bring himself to explain why, beyond a vague reference to GOP efforts to fracture the Democrat coalition. The reason is the slow death of the progressive blue model under the weight of our expanding national debt. That’s why the first part of the coalition Edsall describes identifies with the Occupy mob. Tax reform that will likely be adopted to stave off the debt bomb will also hit the upper-middle class in Blue states harder than most. The collapse of big government (and public sector pensions) will hit middle-class minorities hard as well.

In short, the white working class has been abandoning the Democrats long before Obama came on the scene. They are just among the first off the sinking ship of progressivism. Obama could end up above water in 2012, but the longer-term trend remains bleak, as progressivism ends up with less and less to offer the remains of its coalition.

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Jazz Shaw on November 29, 2011 at 12:52 PM