Monday, March 10, 2014

Democrats are abandoning the Middle Class

I found this Kevin Drum post, where Drum responds to this American Prospect story by Sean McElwee, on why the American voters vote against their self-interests, and whether the Democrats can use the environment as a centrist issue.  First, the American Prospect story:
For decades, thinkers on the left have wondered why the working class regularly votes against its own interests, upending what Marx believed would be an inevitable march from democracy to socialism. In his book, What’s the Matter with Kansas?, Thomas Frank argued that social issues obscure economic motives, and indeed the most salient non-economic one has always been race, at least in this country. In America, conservative politicians have exploited racism to their own benefit, first to disempower blacks with Jim Crow, then to undermine the union movement, and more recently to undercut support for welfare programs, as Ian Haney Lopez recently documented in Dog-Whistle Politics. Nixon’s “law and order campaign” played on racial fears, as did Reagan’s denunciation of “welfare queens.” Republicans played at race to win solid majorities for decades while actively working against the interests of the majority of Americans. The left has much to learn about this strategy. It needs to fundamentally re-align Americans around an issue with a deep and latent importance: the environment.

When asked about the most important global issue, 25 percent of Americans cite environmental degradation, while only 10 percent cite the economy. "Everyone studying American politics has been waiting for a new realignment because the last few decades have been marked by political apathy and the rise of a new voting bloc that is not strongly tied to either party,” says Dr. Benjamin Radcliff, professor of politics at Notre Dame and author of The Political Economy of Human Happiness: How Voters' Choices Determine the Quality of Life. “What is needed is some spark, either an event, like the Great Depression—or just a party capable of mobilizing this latent potential."

What I'm especially interested here is that Kevin Drum gets "peevish" at McElwee's story:
 Why is it that the working class often votes against its own economic interests? Well, let's compare the sales pitches of the Republican and Democratic parties when it comes to pocketbook issues:
  • Republicans: We will lower your taxes.
  • Democrats: We, um, support policies that encourage a fairer distribution of growth and....and....working of
There are two problems with the Democratic approach. First, it's too abstract to appeal to anyone. Second, it's not true anyway. Democrats simply don't consistently support concrete policies that help the middle class. Half of them voted for the bankruptcy bill of 2005. They've done virtually nothing to stem the growth of monopolies and next to nothing to improve consumer protection in visible ways. They don't do anything for labor. They're soft on protecting Social Security. They bailed out the banks but refused to bail out underwater homeowners. Hell, they can't even agree to kill the carried interest loophole, a populist favorite if ever there was one. 
And then Democrats will wonder yet again why a big chunk of the working class votes for Republicans. It's a stumper all right.
Apologies for being peevish. But honestly, Democrats have done virtually nothing for the middle class for three decades now. They're nearly as reliant on the business community for campaign funding as Republicans. Can we all stop pretending that there's some deep mystery about why lots of working and middle class voters figure there are no real economic differences between the parties, so they might as well vote on social issues instead?
If you want to know why the Democrats can't seem to win elections like the Republicans, this is it.  The Democratic Party no longer believes in policies to help the Middle Class, and barely advocates policies to help the poor and working class--Cat Food Commission anyone?  The Democrats will not "support concrete policies" in a no-compromising way that Republicans have done for three decades.  Instead, the Democrats cave and compromise to Republican demands on everything.  The Republicans know it, so they push their demands even further rightward into Crazyland, with the Democrats continuing to cave and shift rightward away from their core values.  Democratic congress critters are never primaried for compromising on their values the way that Tea Party voters primary their Republican congress critters.  And finally, both political parties have been purchased by corporations, Wall Street, and the ubber-rich.  Middle class policies and values will always be rejected for the interests of those who purchased their Democratic congressmen.

You can't expect voters to continue voting for you, if you don't give them something in return.  So far, the Democrats are not giving the Middle Class any policies to help them--not helping them with the lost jobs, improving education, bankruptcy, housing, crushing student debt, TBTF Banks, protecting Social Security, spiraling health care costs and single-payer insurance.  Social issues don't matter worth a damn--Not if people can't keep a roof over their heads and place food on their table.   And the "Vote-For-Us-We're-Not-As-Bad-As-The-Other-Guy" can only go so far--if you keep caving in and not standing for anything, then you're actually worst than "The Other Guy."  While I may know that the Republican policies are bad for the country, I also know that the Republicans are pretty consistent with their policies.  The Democrats?  They have no consistency. 

That is what's wrong with the Democratic Party.  I doubt that the Democratic Party can ever change--not with the way things are now.

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