Why don’t all white working-class men recognize where their economic interests lie? Why do they vote so Republican?
That is a question that I have both asked, and often heard among my largely liberal Democrat social group here in Metro Boston.
Why have working class white men switched en masse to the GOP, when the Democrats, traditionally the “Champions of the Downtrodden”, should be where they feel most comfortable?
Thomas Edsall recently wrote a terrific opinion column in the Times that asked that same question, and then provided some compelling answers:
A better question would be: What has the Democratic Party done for these voters lately?
At work and at home, their lives are worse than they were a generation ago. Their real incomes have fallen, their employment opportunities have diminished, their families have crumbled and their ties to society are fraying.
He makes the point that the Dems have ignored or dismissed the problems of the non-union, non-college grad, straight white working class male for a generation, while the party went on laudable crusades for certain select groups:
Over the last half-century, the Democratic Party has taken up the task of providing new life chances – an emancipation, really — for those whose situations were once seen as hopeless. Those initiatives, which expanded rights across many fronts, have had costs as well as benefits. Too often the party has failed to address tensions that grew out of the good that the party and the progressive movement in general have done.
The linked problems of eroding social cohesion, the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage, deteriorating communal ties and weakened social norms, appear to have led to a degree of chaos and disintegration that those accustomed to a secure – and, indeed, a fixed — social order bitterly resent. The central task that the center-left coalition and its political representative, the Democratic Party, now faces is how to make progress in resolving the conflicting needs and values of the vastly different types of people who populate the bottom ranks of the income distribution.
This all rings true to me. If you have doubts, try bringing up the travails of the poor white male voter in any progressive group. Looking at a married, hard working, high school educated, working class white man sitting on the porch of his modest rental home, the core of the Dem Party sees only “male-privilege” and “white-privilege” and dismisses any legitimate complaint he might have as reactionary, racist or sexist.
The working class white male has learned that he is not a priority in the Democratic Party. The very invocation of the term “white male” brings a torrent of derision.
And then some GOP operative shows up and says, “Vote for Big Oil and we will at least cut your taxes.” Using social and religious wedge issues and tax promises, it’s pretty easy and cheap to pry these votes away from the seemingly uncaring Democrats. And we chalk it up to racism (Obama presidency) or sexism (Hillary candidacy) or primitive religiosity (gay rights) or just inbred yahoo stupidity.
And then we ask again why these poor folks don’t see the Progressive light and flock to our banner?
A great Op-Ed that deserves to be widely read by those, like myself, who just can’t understand why the Progressive Movement doesn’t appeal to the disadvantaged of all stripes.