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“The Working Class Isn’t All That White Anymore”: It’s Inaccurate To Talk About Trump’s “Working-Class Appeal”

From the point of view of the attention being paid to it in analysis of both parties’ presidential contests and the general election as well, you could possibly call 2016 the Year of the White Working Class. Self-styled populists of the left and the right are arguing that Democratic and Republican party elites are reaping the whirlwind from years of sacrificing white-working-class interests to upper-class economic and cultural preoccupations, as evidenced by the strength of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

There are good reasons for this preoccupation. Among Democrats there is a sort of moral obligation to ask why a category of voters once fundamental to the New Deal coalition has strayed so far. And the conflicting interests of the white-working-class and big-business branches of the GOP have been evident for a good while and have this year finally blown up into a shocking presidential nomination and a potentially deep party split.

But it’s important to remember, as Jamelle Bouie reminds us at Slate this week, that while the white working class is interesting, the working class as a whole is a lot less white than it used to be. And ignoring the views and interests of the black and brown elements of the working class is as big a mistake empirically and morally as ignoring non-college-educated voters generally. Marshaling data from the Economic Policy Institute, Bouie notes the trends that are steadily eroding the stereotypes of “blue-collage” wage earners as white folks:

As recently as 2013, more than 60 percent of working-class Americans between 25 and 54 years old were white. If you extend the age bracket to 64, that increases to nearly 63 percent. But in 2014, those numbers—for the first category—dropped to 59.6 percent. In 2015, it was 58.8 percent. This year, non-Hispanic whites are 58 percent of the working class, a historic low.

The idea of the “working class” being composed of the horny-handed sons of toil is a bit archaic as well:

[C]lose to half of all working-class people—across all races and ethnic groups—are women working in service jobs as well as traditional blue-collar professions.

So loose talk about Trump cutting deeply into the working-class vote misses much of the picture:

The truth is that it’s inaccurate to talk about Trump’s “working-class appeal.” What Trump has, instead, is a message tailored to a conservative portion of white workers. These voters aren’t the struggling whites of Appalachia or the old Rust Belt, in part because those workers don’t vote, and there’s no evidence Trump has turned them out. Instead, Trump is winning those whites with middle-class incomes. Given his strength in unionized areas like the Northeast, some are blue collar and culturally working class. But many others are not. Many others are what we would simply call Republicans.

I’d add that a myopic approach to the working class that limits it to white people sometimes infects analysis of Democratic primaries as well. Bernie Sanders gets a lot of props for his appeal to the white working class, and is sometimes viewed as Donald Trump’s primary competitor in this demographic. While Sanders has (by my back-of-the-envelope calculation) carried non-college-educated white voters in 14 of the 24 primaries and caucuses with exit polls (Hillary Clinton won them in six states, and they were basically tied in the other four), he’s lost non-white non-college-educated voters just about everywhere. That shouldn’t be a footnote. Nor should the frequent comments on the political left about Clinton betraying “the working class” and now suffering the electoral consequences go unchallenged without some attention being paid to her robust support among working folks who happened to be non-white or non-male.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 6, 2016

May 9, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Republicans, White Working Class | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Heartland Election”: Ultimately Determined By “Makers” Quite Different From The Ones In Paul Ryan’s Speeches

When Mayor Bobby J. Hopewell talks about the importance of manufacturing to this friendly Michigan town with a name that lends itself to song, he doesn’t reel off the usual list of heavy industries typically associated with the word “factory.”

He speaks of Kalsec, the Kalamazoo Spice Extraction Company founded in 1958 that produces and markets natural herbs and spices for food manufacturers. He mentions Fabri-Kal, a 62-year-old packaging company that describes itself as “the seventh-largest plastic thermoformer in North America.” Think of products in drug stores encased in heavy plastic. And he doesn’t leave out the pharmaceutical industry, long vital to his city’s economy.

Yes, we still make a lot of stuff in the United States of America, and one of the good things about this election is that it is likely to be decided in the nation’s industrial heartland — in the towns and cities of Ohio above all, but also in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

President Obama almost certainly needs these states to win reelection, and if he does, manufacturing is destined for a larger role in the American economic conversation. Many promises have been made this year to the people and the communities whose ability to thrive has long depended upon manufacturing. The campaign’s thrust should move them to the heart of our efforts to seek a path up from the financial catastrophe that engulfed the country in 2008.

For two decades now, we have acted as if nearly all of us are destined to work in the tech industry or health care — or to survive on money that trickles our way courtesy of the world of finance. But while Hopewell is proud of the part played in his city by universities and those engaged in work involving what he calls “intellectual property,” he adds: “We are major makers in the region.”

When Hopewell is asked if he used the term “makers” in the way Paul Ryan does in drawing a distinction between “makers” and “takers” — between those who produce and those who get government aid — this Democrat laughs heartily. No, he says, his views have little in common with Ryan’s. The mayor is talking about manufacturing, pure and simple.

Leaders of traditional factory towns are by no means interested in a stagnant world in which members of each generation follows their parents into the same old factory job. On the contrary, this city is proud of “The Kalamazoo Promise,” the remarkable initiative of anonymous local donors who have established a fund that pays for a college education for every graduate of the city’s schools.

In Parma, Ohio, the industrial suburb of Cleveland where both Bruce Springsteen and Bill Clinton recently campaigned on Obama’s behalf, Mayor Tim DeGeeter said the top priority of the city’s blue-collar workers is a college education for their children. Parma and places like it, he adds, also want the sort of economic development that creates higher-end jobs so graduates can stay in the area, “and not have to move to Phoenix or Charlotte.”

What both mayors are saying (there are many like them) is that they want the market system to work for their communities, but do not want to leave their citizens utterly at the mercy of decisions made by economic actors far away, or of economic forces that no one controls.

This is why the rescue of the auto industry has been such a defining campaign issue in the Midwest. In Parma, DeGeeter notes that the auto revival means that GM recently made a $20 million investment in its stamping plant in the city. “That helps me sleep at night,” he says.

Hopewell says that even though the auto industry is not as important to Kalamazoo as it is in the Detroit area, “you can’t be a Michigander and not understand the importance of the auto industry, and not understand what it has done for our state.” The Republican sweep in Michigan in 2010 suggested it might be open to the GOP’s presidential candidate this year. But so far, it has remained anchored in Obama’s camp.

More broadly, white voters without college educations are voting for Obama at nearly twice the rate in the Midwest as in the South. In the Midwest, Obama is drawing 41 percent of their votes, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News Poll, compared with only 24 percent in the South. If Obama prevails, “makers” of a sort quite different from the ones in Ryan’s speeches will have played a central role.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 28, 2012

October 29, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Spine Holding The Book Together”: Bain Is Just Chapter One In The “Book Of Romney”

The real Mitt Romney is finally running for president — but not in his own first television spot, a superficial checklist of issues which provides no insight into who he is or what makes him tick. It’s the Obama commercial on Bain and the destruction of GST Steel that starkly reveals the real Romney as a vulture capitalist. And this is just the beginning of what we will hear about Bain, and of a narrative arc that will position Romney as the candidate of the few, by the few, and for the few.

The Obama ad is so powerful because, like the Ted Kennedy ads in Romney’s losing 1994 Senate race, the story is told not by a smoothly modulated professional narrator, but by working people whose jobs and lives were shredded so Mitt and his men could amass their millions. One of the workers voted for John McCain in 2008 and for George W. Bush before that. Now these authentic blue-collar voices, these Reagan Democrats, are talking directly to swing voters — to folks who could be brothers or sisters, friends or cousins — in the battleground industrial states. It’s a different kind of political media — gritty, unslick, and therefore quite convincing.

My then-partner Tad Devine and I conceived and produced the Kennedy spots in 1994. They hit the Massachusetts airwaves with devastating force. In that landmark Republican year, Romney had a slight lead in September, but he swiftly fell in the polls and then melted down in a televised debate that outdrew the statewide audience for most Super Bowls. On Election Day, the boy from Bain lost in a landslide — by 18 points.

It was fascinating to watch how Romney responded as his campaign unravelled. In fact, he mostly didn’t. He seemed paralyzed — a guilty guy caught in the act. In a token push-back, his spokesman alleged that we had “put words in people’s mouths.” The Boston Globe checked and slapped down the story. The workers were spontaneous and unscripted. No political consultant could ghostwrite the rebuke of a packer laid off after 29 years, who looked into the camera and addressed Romney directly: “If you think you’d make such a good senator, come out here to Marion, Indiana, and see what your company has done to these people.”

The workers boarded a bus for Massachusetts and demanded a meeting with Romney. For days, he refused — which kept the episode in the headlines. When he finally sat down with them, he coldly said he’d consider their comments.

He wasn’t ready then, but that was 18 years ago — and he had to know this was coming at him again in 2012. Newt Gingrich stumbled onto the issue in South Carolina, where Romney was routed. But it was never going to be as devastating in Republican primaries as in the contest with Barack Obama. And the presumptive GOP nominee once again appears unready or unwilling to answer beyond offering up ritualistic bromides about “free enterprise”.

This is the false banner under which he campaigns — the claim that he is a job-creating businessman. The total has oscillated from 10,000 jobs to 100,000, to maybe not exactly that. But the abstract number, unsubstantiated and as soulless as Mitt himself often seems, is no match for a steel worker named Jack Cobb, discarded in Romney’s profiteering deal, but sad and defiant now: “To get up on national TV and brag about making jobs… he has destroyed thousands of people’s careers, lifetimes, just destroying people.”

The ads shatter the candidate’s fundamental rationale — that with his business experience in creating jobs, he’s Mr. Fix-It for the economy. It’s a thin rationale, but voters might have believed it. Now disbelief will deepen as the Obama campaign rolls out a dishonor roll of Bain’s depredations. The campaign already has a website that state by state — just coincidentally the battleground states, of course — pinpoints other companies exploited and extinguished by Bain.

I suspect that Romney will eventually have to abandon his strategy of treating the election as a referendum and not a choice — and attempt to defend his business record in paid media. The 1994 outcome suggests that any other course is a road to defeat.

I doubt he will make an ad repeating his disingenuous and dangerous claim that Obama also cut jobs while saving the auto industry. It’s disingenuous because the president saved GM and Chrysler — and Romney frequently did precisely the opposite to other companies. It’s dangerous because if he hopes to compete at all in Michigan and Ohio, he shouldn’t mention the auto bailout outside a confessional. His approach would have doomed the industry.

More likely, Romney will trot out workers — say, from Staples — to highlight jobs he claims to have created. The problem here is that during his tenure, Bain had two businesses. One was venture capital investing in start-ups. The other, which Romney drove, consisted of buying out a firm, hollowing it out, loading it up with debt, cutting wages — and making millions before the firm went belly-up. The one endeavor doesn’t redeem the other: What’s at issue here is not an accounting question, some mere matter of addition and subtraction, but the crass calculation of pillaging jobs and oppressing workers as a conscious business plan while occasionally grabbing a government bailout along the way.

Moreover, the response irresistibly invites a challenge: Romney should release the records of all Bain transactions from which he profited. He probably can’t afford to because the picture could be pretty grim. Presumably, he’s about as likely to risk this kind of full disclosure as he is to release tax returns for years when he may have paid little or no taxes.

There’s a (literally) rich vein to mine in Romney’s record at Bain. But it’s just the beginning of the narrative arc because the Obama campaign will move from the vulture capitalism of his private endeavors to his failures as a public official and the unfairness of his far-right agenda.

Thus the financial manipulator who decimated jobs in the private sector was a governor whose policies left his state 47th in job creation.

The takeover artist who slashed health benefits for workers would end Medicare as we know it, subject seniors to the harsh mercies of insurance companies, and raise their costs by approximately $6,500 a year.

The mega-millionaire with his offshore bank accounts would slash taxes for the very wealthy, and everything from education to food safety for the middle class.

The rapacious Romney, who in business took a government bailout and then would have let the auto industry collapse, now rails against bailouts and calls for rolling back financial regulation for the Wall Street firms that benefited from them.

The list goes on. The narrative is compelling. We haven’t heard the end of Bain — and we won’t until the end of the campaign — despite the inexplicable comments of Newark’s “Democratic” Mayor Cory Booker, who must be spending too much time cozying up to Republican Gov. (and potential running mate) Chris Christie. On Meet the Press, Booker equated the race-baiting, anti-Obama ads about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright that were recently proposed to billionaire clown Joe Ricketts with Obama’s Bain attack: “It’s nauseating.”

Well, Ricketts and his now-renounced smear job certainly was nauseating. But with Romney, what’s nauseating is what happened at his hands to ordinary hardworking Americans thrown out of work so he could rake in the bucks. And what’s worrying is Romney’s austerity agenda that would drive the U.S. into a double-dip recession, which is what such policies have already done to Great Britain.

Within hours, Booker retracted his comments and conceded the point: It is Romney who has made his business experience the centerpiece of his campaign. Bain is the spine that holds the whole Book of Romney together. As one of the workers in that Obama commercial put it, “If he’s going to run the country like the way he ran our business, I wouldn’t want him there. He would be so out of touch… How could [he] care?”

 

By: Robert Shrum, The Week, May 21, 2012

May 26, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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