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“Does Bernie Sanders Really Have Working-Class Support?”: Premise Sanders Is The Tribune Of The Working Class Is Full Of Holes

The idea that he’s fighting for an oppressed and dispossessed working class is central to Bernie Sanders’s identity as an old-school New Dealer closely aligned throughout his career with the labor movement and prone to diagnosing all the country’s problems as a product of economic inequality. Class struggle is also central to his critique of the Democratic Party as an institution that has traded its New Deal heritage of working-class solidarity — especially by promoting trade agreements and financial liberalization — for a mess of Wall Street pottage.

Indeed, some political observers have suggested that Sanders and Donald Trump represent parallel wings of a working-class uprising against political and economic elites. And Trump himself is fond of arguing that, if Bernie is denied the Democratic presidential nomination, his working-class supporters might drift over into the Trump column.

This all represents a nice, dramatic “narrative.” But the premise that Sanders is the tribune of the working class is full of very large holes.

One problem is the punditocracy’s habit of conflating “working class” with “white working class.” No one believes Sanders is sweeping the African-American or Latino working class, which matters quite a bit because those are the elements of the working class that are tangibly part of the Democratic electoral base.

But even within the “white working class,” Sanders’s support levels have been exaggerated by a failure to look at some crosscutting variables, as explained at Vox by Jeff Stein:

Because young voters also tend to have lower incomes, the massive age gap between Sanders and Clinton has sometimes looked to observers like a gap in economic class, according to political scientists Matt Grossmann and Alan Abramowitz.

But the most salient divide in the primary is not between rich and poor. It’s between young and old — and between white and black.

I’d interject here that an income-based definition of “working class” has always been problematic because earnings vary so much with age; a young college grad destined for the upper class may temporarily make less than a seasoned union member engaged in manual labor. It’s one reason most analysts use an educational definition for working class as people who do not have a college education (there’s a whole separate argument about how to classify people with “some” as opposed to no college, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole). But even an educational standard is problematic to some extent because college students don’t have a degree any more than their proletarian cousins.

As Stein shows, however, by any definition, class quickly fades as a factor in likelihood to feel the Bern as opposed to age:

If Sanders’s “white working-class” voters aren’t just college students, you’d also expect him to be doing better among downscale middle-aged white voters than rich ones.

But this turned out not to be true: Low-income white people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s did not break for Sanders. There was little difference in support by income among older voters, with higher-income older white voters actually more likely to support Sanders, according to Grossmann’s Michigan data.

“My main concern is that the image of Bernie-supporting older poor people who’ve lost their factory jobs to trade is not supported,” Grossmann says. “I’m least supportive of the idea that there’s a population of white, older workers who lost their jobs and are now supporting Sanders. There’s very little evidence of that.”

Similarly, Abramowitz ran a multivariate analysis to help figure out this question. Abramowitz looked at a large survey data set and asked: What forms of identity actually predict support for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton?

“It was age, and beyond that nothing mattered. Maybe ideology mattered a little bit,” he said. Income was not a factor.

Now, maybe none of this matters and Sanders’s youth appeal indicates he’s winning the fight for the future of the party even if his claim to represent decades of working-class grievances against capitalism isn’t so clear. But at a minimum, a proper understanding of Bernie’s base should reduce fears that his following is transferable to Trump. To put it more sharply, the idea that the actual working-class voters Sanders claims to represent view Clinton as the devil isn’t borne out by the numbers. According to Andrew Levison, who’s conducted the most intensive analysis I’ve seen of the appeal of various candidates to the white working class, Sanders isn’t running that far ahead of Clinton in this demographic to begin with. And of course, if you add in the black and brown working class, any Sanders advantage disappears entirely.

Having said all this, there’s nothing wrong with a candidate’s appeal being based on age rather than class; best I can tell, no candidate has ever run up the kind of numbers among young voters in a competitive presidential nominating contest that Sanders is regularly achieving this year. It’s an impressive accomplishment with obviously large implications for the future Democratic Party. But it’s not a tale of workers rising together to shake off their chains.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 20, 2016

May 23, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, White Working Class, Working Class | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Every Group Has Its ‘Other'”: Here We Go Again, Trash-Talking The Working Class

Bear with me, please, as I start this column with a brief story about my two grandmothers who lived in trailer homes.

They lived in Ashtabula County, which is tucked into the northeast corner of Ohio, an hour east of Cleveland. If ever you’ve travelled a good distance along U.S. 90, you likely passed our county’s handful of exits on your way to somewhere else.

For all of my childhood, this was home, and I was seldom happier than when I had time alone with my maternal great-grandmother, Ada, who raised my mother from the age of 8. In the late ’60s, after her husband died, Ada sold her house and 20 acres to move into a trailer home a couple of miles down the road. It was closer to her church, her second home.

I spent weeks at a time in the summers with her, freed from the responsibilities of the oldest child always on duty. She taught me how to cook, garden and quilt. Every Sunday after church, rain or shine, we walked to the cemetery to tend my great-grandfather’s grave and say a prayer of gratitude for the time we’d had with him. We had our evening rituals, too. She believed a steaming cup of tea at sunset was a great way to settle the mind for the big thoughts that show up only under the night sky.

My maternal grandmother, Vivian, lost custody of my mother when she was 8 and spent the rest of her life trying to make it up to her and taking care of my uncle, who had a mental disability. His name was Francis, and she never spent a day away from him until he died from complications of diabetes in his late 50s.

Grandma Vivian was the first person I knew to buy an aluminum Christmas tree. What a sight for my siblings and me. My mother stood behind us and whispered orders to close our mouths and stop acting like we’d just seen a ghost.

This was the grandma with the trunk full of antique dresses and hats for us to play with whenever we visited. When my mother wasn’t around, Grandma often served me a cup of coffee loaded with milk and sugar — a grown-up reward for “being so responsible.” When her house in Ashtabula County became too run down to be safe, my grandmother closed it up and lived in a trailer on the back lot until Alzheimer’s robbed her of the ability to take care of herself.

I wanted you to know a little bit about my grandmothers so that you might better understand my outrage over a Cleveland Plain Dealer writer’s reaction to Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump for president:

“Thanks to Trump, the entire Palin clan is now back in the spotlight they so crave. Come July, Republican National Convention organizers should house the whole dysfunctional family at a trailer park in Ashtabula.”

This is surely not the first time a pundit has cast the Palins as “trailer park folks” — which is code, of course, for “white trash.” We are hearing these phrases more frequently as pundits try to make sense of Donald Trump’s soaring poll numbers.

In her book “Framing Class: Media Representations of Wealth and Poverty in America,” sociologist Diana Kendall describes how in 2008 then-“Late Show” host David Letterman “maintained a night-after-night monologue about Sarah Palin and why she is white trash.” He was joined, she writes, by “print media, television and Web blogs … full of descriptions of Sarah Palin’s trailer park lifestyle.”

Much closer to home, since Donald Trump’s charade of a candidacy caught fire, I have heard many fellow liberals freely toss around the terms “white trash” and “trailer trash.” These are people who would never dream of telling a racist joke, but they think nothing of ridiculing those of lesser economic means.

Every group has its “other.” For too many white intellectuals, it’s the working class.

Neither of my grandmothers had much money, ever, but they contributed so much to the lives of the people they loved. They were both storytellers who helped me understand the long-ago sacrifices of people I would never know but who live on in the blue of my eyes and the ambitions of my heart. They are why I’ve devoted a number of columns and stories over the years to people who live in trailer parks.

Just this week, I was remembering Marjie Scuvotti, a 24-year-old mother of four. I interviewed her in 2002, on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She talked to me in her home in a trailer park as she painted her 6-year-old son Issac’s face red, white and blue for a parade celebrating first responders.

“You’re my American-flag boy,” Marjie whispered in his ear. She couldn’t have been a prouder mother.

This campaign year has barely begun, and it promises to be a long one. Regardless of which partisan lens we look through, we will see some voters who confound us.

Mocking them will never bring us closer to understanding them, but it will surely reveal us, and we will not benefit from the exposure.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and Professional-in-Residence at Kent State University’s School of journalism; Featured Post, The National Memo, January 28, 2016

January 29, 2016 Posted by | America, Poverty, Working Class | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Richard Trumka Unloads On Trump”: ‘Racist’, ‘Dangerous’ And ‘Un-American’

The nation’s top labor leader Tuesday morning blasted GOP front-runner Donald Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants as “dangerous,” “racist” and “un-American.”

Speaking at a press breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was – no surprise – critical of the entire GOP field, but he used his harshest language for Trump, the real estate magnate/reality TV star who has stunningly risen to a dominant position in the GOP presidential field powered at least in part by his offensive rhetoric about immigrants in this country without legal status, asserting that Mexico is “sending people” who are criminals, drug mules and “rapists.”

“What Donald Trump started with immigration is dangerous,” Trumka said. “I think it’s un-American and I think it’s racist. It’s saying that one group of people is superior to another group of people. And look what it’s done to the other candidates.” He noted former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s ongoing use of the term “anchor babies,” that former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has referred to illegal immigrants as a “disease” and that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie suggested that immigrants into this country be tracked like FedEx packages. (Ummm, how would that work exactly? Would everyone coming into the country have RFID transponders implanted in them? Bar code tattoos – aka the “mark of the beast“?!?)

Trumka said that the danger of Trump lies in mainstreaming his toxic views. “When the leading candidate for one of the parties talks in an un-American, racist way it starts to become mainstream. Racism can never become mainstream. … All of them are talking about it in the same way now because in order to pander to the right they have to go so far to the right beyond what – probably – most of them genuinely believe, but if they intend to govern that way, that’s bad for this country.” He added: “Someone has to stand up and say, ‘Enough, knock it off.'”

It’s a strikingly tough denunciation given all of the talk of Trump’s nativist appeal specifically playing well among blue-collar workers.

Trumka was also unsparing in his criticism of the rest of the GOP field, calling Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker a “national disgrace” and saying that “one can only pray” that Walker or Perry is the GOP nominee. (Tough talk given the track record, but hey – maybe fourth time’s the charm?) He said that when Bush talks about income inequality he’s just “mouth[ing] words” and said that Ohio Gov. John Kasich – who loves talking about how his father was a mailman – abandoned his working class roots. “His dad’s sweat and his mom’s sweat put him in a position” where he could side with Main Street or Wall Street, Trumka said, and Kasich chose Wall Street.

On the Democratic side, Trumka warned that Hillary Clinton needs to stop avoid taking a stance on trade deals and trade promotion authority. “Candidates that try to skirt the issues, not talking about where you are on [the Trans-Pacific Partnership] hurts you when it comes to activating the membership and the general populace,” he said. “They want to know where you are, even when they disagree with you.” He added that if she can produce a credible pro-worker narrative, “she could catch fire too.” Speaking of how pundits view the former first lady, Trumka said, “Hillary Clinton needs to do A+ work in order to get a C. And do you know why? Because she’s a woman.”

Trumka said that Obama’s strong support of fast-track trade authority has hurt his standing among workers, though they still support him overall. Asked about a new Gallup poll showing a decline in Obama’s approval rating among union members to essentially its lowest point (the difference between his current 52 percent and his previous lows of 51 percent is statistically insignificant) Trumka replied that “what you’re seeing is the residuals” of Obama’s push for Trade Promotion Authority and a Pacific trade deal. “He supported it firmly, still does and we oppose it,” Trumka said.

And Trumka vowed a huge labor push over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal that’s still being negotiated: “You asked me if I intend to run a campaign against TPP? Yes. Is it going to be intense? Yes. Is it going to roll out everything we have? Yes.” He noted that the union is still working on specific issues involved in the agreement, such as procurement rules and rule of origin details that labor is still working to influence. He also said that China’s recent devaluation of its currency had raised old issues about currency manipulation rules being in the agreement. “If it’s an acceptable bill we’ll run a campaign to pass it, if it isn’t we’ll run a campaign to defeat it,” he said. “I suspect it’ll be a campaign to defeat it.”

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, September 1, 2015

September 2, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Richard Trumka, Working Class | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Corporate Wage Hike Subsidities”: CEOs Call For Wage Increases For Workers! What’s The Catch?

Peter Georgescu has a message he wants America’s corporate and political elites to hear: “I’m scared,” he said in a recent New York Times opinion piece.

He adds that Paul Tudor Jones is scared, too, as is Ken Langone. And they are trying to get the Powers That Be to pay attention to their urgent concerns. But wait — these three are Powers That Be. Georgescu is former head of Young & Rubicam, one of the world’s largest PR and advertising firms; Jones is a quadruple-billionaire and hedge fund operator; and Langone is a founder of Home Depot.

What is scaring the pants off these powerful peers of the corporate plutocracy? Inequality. Yes, amazingly, these actual occupiers of Wall Street say they share Occupy Wall Street’s critical analysis of America’s widening chasm between the rich and the rest of us. “We are creating a caste system from which it’s almost impossible to escape,” Georgescu wrote, not only trapping the poor, but also “those on the higher end of the middle class.” He issued a clarion call for his corporate peers to reverse the dangerous and ever-widening gulf of income inequality in our country by increasing the paychecks of America’s workaday majority. “We business leaders know what to do. But do we have the will to do it? Are we willing to control the excessive greed so prevalent in our culture today and divert resources to better education and the creation of more opportunity?”

Right on, Peter! However, their concern is not driven by moral outrage at the injustice of it all, but by self-interest: “We are concerned where income inequality will lead,” he said. Specifically, he warned that one of two horrors awaits the elites if they stick to the present path: social unrest (conjuring up images of the guillotine) or (horror of horrors) “oppressive taxes” on the super rich.

Motivation aside, Georgescu does comprehend the remedy that our society must have: “Invest in the actual value creators — the employees,” he writes. “Start compensating fairly (with) a wage that enables employees to share amply in productivity increases and creative innovations.” They have talked with other corporate chieftains and found “almost unanimous agreement” on the need to compensate employees better.

Great! So they’ll just do it, right? Uh… no. But he says he knows just the thing that’ll jar the CEOs into action: “Government can provide tax incentives to business to pay more to employees.” That’s his big idea. Yes, corporate wage-hike subsidies. He actually wants us taxpayers to give money to bloated, uber-rich corporations so they can pay a dab more to their employees!

As Lily Tomlin said, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”

First of all, Georgescu proposes this tax giveaway to the corporate elite could “exist for three to five years and then be evaluated for effectiveness.” Much like the Bush tax cuts that helped drive the economic divide, once the corporate chieftains get a taste for a government handout, they will send their lawyers and lobbyists to Washington to schmooze congresscritters into making the tax subsidy permanent.

Secondly, paying to get “good behavior” would reward bad behavior, completely absolving those very CEOs and wealthy shareholders of their guilt in creating today’s gross inequality. After all, they are the ones who have pushed relentlessly for 30 years to disempower labor unions, downsize and privatize the workforce, send jobs offshore, defund education and social programs, and otherwise dismantle the framework that once sustained America’s healthy middle class. These guys put the “sin” in cynical.

If we want to fix income inequality, Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, has a solution. In response to Gerogescu’s offer of charity to corporations, Hanley wrote: “Strengthen labor laws, and we can have democracy and equality again.”

 

By: Jim Hightower, Featured Post, The National Memo, August 26, 2015

August 27, 2015 Posted by | CEO'S, Corporate Welfare, Wages, Working Class | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Jeb Bush Suffers From Foot In Mitt Disease”: As Simple As That, The Beleaguered American Middle-Class Proles Are Slackers

Jeb Bush ought to be running away with the Republican nomination. He isn’t, and his persona as a national candidate looks increasingly — how shall I put this? — Romneyesque.

Bush is supposed to be the safe, establishment-approved choice, which is where the Republican Party usually turns. He and his allied super PAC have raised a phenomenal $114 million thus far. The hot mess that is Donald Trump ought to be sending GOP primary voters toward Bush’s column in droves. But the scion-in-waiting hasn’t yet consolidated the establishment’s support.

Instead, Bush made news for announcing an economic strategy that sounded straight from the Mitt Romney playbook. He told the New Hampshire Union Leader that “people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families.”

Simple as that, beleaguered American middle-class proles. You’re slacking.

The echo of Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remark was unmistakable. Bush seemed to blame those struggling in these unsettled economic times for their own predicament. Coming from a man who was born into great wealth and privilege, it was tone-deaf to say the least.

Politically, Bush’s pronouncement was the equivalent of a hanging curveball over the fat part of the plate. Hillary Clinton couldn’t have missed it if she tried.

“Well, he must not have met very many American workers,” the likely Democratic nominee said Monday in a speech outlining her economic policy. “Let him tell that to the nurse who stands on her feet all day, or the teacher who is in that classroom, or the trucker who drives all night. Let him tell that to the fast-food workers marching in the streets for better pay. They don’t need a lecture. They need a raise.”

Bush’s supporters claimed that what the candidate meant to say had to do with the millions of men and women who would like to have full-time jobs but are settling for part-time work — and also the millions who have dropped out of the workforce altogether. But why, then, didn’t he speak of the need to create better jobs for the underemployed? Why did he approach the problem from the opposite angle by blaming the workers for their plight?

There are two possible explanations. One is that Bush, like his father and brother, clearly has a troubled relationship with proper syntax. He may never match George Bush the Younger’s classic mangling of the language — he once said “you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda” — but Jeb appears to have the potential, at least, to match George Bush the Elder for linguistic pratfalls.

When he was reacting to Trump’s anti-Mexican screeds, Bush tried to warn that the Republican Party could not succeed by appearing to be angry and negative all the time rather than sunny and positive. But he couldn’t find some elusive synonym for anger and instead went “grr,” thus creating one of the campaign’s most entertaining sound bites to date.

So maybe the “work longer hours” line was simply the kind of clumsy misstatement that Bush’s aides will spend a lot of time and effort cleaning up in the coming months. But maybe — and this is the other explanation for the remarks — it’s what he really believes.

If any Republican is going to win the White House, I’m confident it won’t be by scolding the middle class for its shortcomings. It is clear that Americans have no problem electing wealthy candidates. But in the 2012 campaign, Romney inadvertently helped define himself, accurately or not, as a rich man who held the less fortunate in contempt. People don’t like that so much.

With Trump (speaking of contemptuous rich men) now drawing the support of up to 13 percent of Republicans in recent polls, you would think the saner factions of the party would be coalescing around an alternative. But they’re still shopping. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who formally entered the race Monday, is about to have his day in the sun. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is still polling well. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Texas governor Rick Perry and political neophyte Carly Fiorina all have significant establishment support.

All this suggests to me that the GOP mainstream, determined to avoid Romney Redux, hasn’t made up its mind yet about Bush. As his brother once said, “Fool me once, shame on, shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again!”

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 13, 2015

July 17, 2015 Posted by | Jeb Bush, Middle Class, Working Class | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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