Your Union Rep

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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62 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    Yeah i know D’s never deliver for working class and poor people. That is a given and true.

    On other related notes the percentage of uninsured people is continuing to drop, millions more people have HI and most of those people are poor and/or minorities. So ummm yeah. There is a bit more to the story then what you have said not that there isn’t some truth there.Report

  2. Tod Kelly says:

    I had always assumed the reason that the white working class tended to skew GOP in so many places was a combination of two things:

    1. That conservatives’ message is more positive and hopeful if you’re part of the white working poor, and

    2. conservatives tend to speak to the white working poor as a group with more respect.

    I believe this also explains why when you get to the working poor that is not white, the support for them drops like a stone.Report

    • LWA in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Yes to 1, and 2, and:
      3. conservatives tend to speak about the black working poor as a group with less respect.Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      So the reason is racism, as with everything else that’s ever been bad in America ever. Boy, it’s nice to have such an easy answer for things, isn’t it?

      Although you’re right, in a way, because nonwhites banned same-sex marriage in California while voting straight-ticket Democrat on elected representatives, because Republicans Are All Racist. And there’s the infamous Howard Stern bit where people agreed with McCain when his statements were attributed to Obama, and vice versa. Maybe we can explain everything in American politics with “races stick together”.Report

    • LauraNo in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      I know I’m late with this but I guess I’ll throw it out here anyway. I have always thought that for many working class (white) people, it’s a zero-sum game. If democrats are defending minorities, then they are not defending white people. I think some of the anti-union and anti-government worker and especially anti-USPS feelings stem from the same thought process. The union protects ‘them’ too, which means hard-working, saintly white dude must be losing out somehow…Report

  3. Jim Heffman says:

    American voters don’t vote for things, they vote against things. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with someone on 99% of their positions; if there’s one thing you don’t like, then you won’t ever vote for them.Report

  4. Michael Drew says:

    So, here’s’ my theory on the “‘none of them care about people like us!’ And yet, they always vote for the Republicans. Admittedly, some of it has to do with how the Republicans get out their message. Many of my family members listen to Rush Limbaugh or watch Fox News regularly and they feel it speaks to them” thing.

    It gives Rush a lot of agency, but I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong.

    Broadly, the second half of the 20th c. was an era of liberal ascendancy in the U.S. Democratic Depression-era programs had redefined the role of the federal government coming out of the war. Democratic presidents had won the war. The major Republican figure of the era didn’t materially dissent from much of that: he supported the major Depression-era social insurance programs (program?); he sent federal troops to desegregate Southern schools; he had won the war the Democrats directed from the WH. Then the Democrats held Congress for fifty years (roughly). In that time, the Democrats had one iconic, presented-as-liberal-idealist president (though in fact a hard-nosed Cold Warrior and social gradualist), and one presented-as down-and-dirty doer of a president, a wildly successful expander of liberal social programs and steward of civil rights progress (though in fact a disastrous foreign policy bungler). This ascendancy created a whole class of pious priests of that political religion, whose piety was ripe for mockery by the middle of the 1980s.

    Enter Rush Limbaugh. Rush’s main shtick is to mock liberals. He does some policing of True Conservatism, but I don’t think that was so much his thing in his early 90s heyday, nor still his Main Thing. His Thing is to mock liberals (i.e. the Pious Priests) – i.e. the Establishment of the dominant political religion.

    From this perspective, I think it’s easier to see how someone who mainly feels that “none of them care about people like us!” could end up almost always voting for the Republicans, via listening to Rush and other mockers of the Pious Priesthood. Rush says Republicans are the ones to vote for if you have contempt for either the actual religion of the Pious Priesthood – or just for the fact of their holding power, and the arrogant way they do it. I think if you ask them, you’ll find many of them will affirm that Republicans as well don;t care about people like them – but at least they’re not the Liberals who broadly oversaw the establishment of an order in which They don’t care about people like us. It’s protest vote.

    Obviously, this will only account for so many votes. Many people listen to what is said, and agree with what Republicans say. (One can, after all, vote that way while not feeling that the person you’re voting for actually cares about a person like you.) But that’s the sense I get when i listen to what Rush has basically done over the last couple of decades. And people listen to Rush. They do listen.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Michael Drew says:

      I’m going to rudely shoehorn in something here that I probably should have said in the post, which is simply that many people have had really bad experiences with government bureaucracy. I’d say most people, in fact. In my experience, though, the higher your income level, the less you have to have these negative interactions. My former in-laws, for instance, were rich and had a very positive view of the government when they had to interact with it. People who are on the lower end- the sort of cliff’s edge of poverty- tend to have more frequent interactions with government, in my experience, and much more negative ones.

      But, to a large extent, bureaucracy just fishing sucks, and I don’t know that Democrats acknowledge that nearly enough. When they are lauding what a new government program will do for people, it’s not hard to understand that many will think “Great! Another government bureaucracy to navigate that, in the end, won’t do anything for me!” Hell, I think that! It’s usually the case.Report

  5. Saul Degraw says:

    I think one problem here is that the Democratic position is now divided between DLC types and traditional Democratic supporters of the working class. I pointed this out in my essay on Mario Cuomo.

    The Democratic Party has a lot of wonks who sincerely want to help the working class but they feel the best way to help the working class is through roundabout indirect welfare measures like the Earned Income Child Tax Credit and/or through education so the working class can learn new skills which will allow them to join the modern economy.

    As much as I went at it with North, there is a good deal of truth in the idea that certain jobs are just not coming back and sometimes helping people is making them accept tough truths. Though truths can’t be too tough. I don’t expect anyone to accept “you aren’t going to have it as good as you did a few decades ago ever again” easily. Sometimes pundits and wonks seem perplexed that people just don’t accept their paradigms or realities.

    But as I pointed to you via e-mail, I think union voters still swing Democratic for the most part and the white-working class does vote for the Democratic Party in reasonable numbers in every part of the country but the South.

    I know this will just get me called a yankee and I do have a reputation for being an unrepentant Northeast elitist but I don’t think you can talk about how the solid South went from being solidly Democratic to solidly Republican without discussing the fact that the Democratic Party became the party of Civil Rights and the party that ushered in the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. This started with Hubert Humphrey’s speech at the Democratic Convention in 1948 when he urged the Democratic Party to step into the sunshine and become the party of human rights, not state’s rights and continued onward.

    The work of Ira Katznelson and Rick Perlstein is good here. I recommend Ira Katznelson’s When Affirmative Action Was White (showing the deals with the devil FDR made to get the New Deal passed) and Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time. FDR worked with Southern Democrats to pass the New Deal and did so by excluding many blacks from New Deal legislation. The fact that domestic workers are excluded from minimum wage laws was a classic racist deal that FDR made to get Southern Democratic politicians to vote for the New Deal. As these became increasingly unacceptable to non-Southern Democrats, the South left the Democratic Party.Report

    • Don Zeko in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      The Democratic Party has a lot of wonks who sincerely want to help the working class but they feel the best way to help the working class is through roundabout indirect welfare measures like the Earned Income Child Tax Credit and/or through education so the working class can learn new skills which will allow them to join the modern economy.

      Honestly, I think this somewhat understates the problem. Things like the EITC or the minimum wage are directed at the poor and help them fairly directly. The Medicaid expansion in the ACA helps the poor. Lots of tax subsidies for things like mortgages and retirement savings help the middle class to upper middle class (and also help the rich much much more, but that’s not the point). But for much of what I think we’d call the working class, there’s a bit of a gap where they get very little direct benefit from social programs for non-retirees. And if you ask a mainstream Democratic politician what the have to offer these people, the answer will be pretty weak tea, with probably the strongest point being that at least they aren’t the Republicans, who don’t care at all and have absolutely nothing to offer when it comes to the pocketbook concerns of these people.Report

      • Don Zeko in reply to Don Zeko says:

        shoot, can somebody fix the blockquote tags on the first paragraph of that post, please?Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Don Zeko says:

        Don Zeko,

        Probably right. Now there is a question of what Democratic politicians and supporters think will help the working class and what the working class will help the working class.

        I think Universal Healthcare will help the working class but if the working class disagrees….

        I also wonder how many Americans identify as working class specifically. Erik Loomis at LGM goes into rants when people he considers to be working class or blue-collar are referred to as middle class by the media. I’ve also noticed that when the media talks about the middle class, they tend to imply blue-collar workers exclusively and mainly the former factory workers who would graduate from high school and then go straight to the factory floor and get a decent life in mid-20th century America.Report

  6. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Nice analogy, I think Vikram would even agree.Report

  7. Burt Likko says:

    My theory is that the segment of the white working class that votes Republican does so because they perceive that neither party will ever actually do anything to help their economic circumstances, but at least the Republicans are with them on normative social issues.

    Patrick wrote in another threat about his meetings with voters as part of his activism with school issues. The voters ask him questions relating to his values, searching for some common ground in terms of norms. They are willing to consider voting for him, and will if they perceive that he and they have some common ground in terms of what is thought of as good and beneficial, what is thought of as important. This is likely a reaction to the fact that the actual policy issues the politician in question will confront once in office are probably too arcane, and may be too difficult to predict, for the voter to understand in advance. So instead, they look for “Does this person think the way that I do? Does this person value the same sorts of things that I do?”

    That’s why Republicans do well with this segment of the electorate: they are able to more successfully convey a suite of basic values, priorities, and morals that resonate with the voters than their Democratic counterparts. It’s also why Republicans seem somewhat more uniform in their political attitudes: they have found a formula that works well and because it’s based on this sort of emotional resonance rather than specificity of policy proposals, deviation from that formula carries a high risk of loss at the polls.

    When a Democrat is able to convey a message about himself or herself that resonates on an emotional level, that candidate can and does do well with voters. Clinton. Obama. Both really good, on an emotional level, on the campaign trail. This, of course, has nothing to do with skill at governance or possession of good policy ideas: it’s just a different vector.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

      That was through and through an excellent comment.Report

    • It’s worth pointing out that this analysis supports the strong preference among a significant part of the Democratic coalition that Democrats simply give up on areas of the country that are too far-gone in terms of tendency to vote Republican. This is just basically a view that these voters are social conservatives, and they’re going to vote that way (unless somehow the Democrats can very strongly break through on economic issues, but even then we don’t know that the social issues won’t prevail regardless). Probably the strongest-held views among the growing part of the Democratic coalition are social views – they’re extremely personal and critical to the attachment to the party for them. Trying to compete in Republican areas if this is why they’re Republican really only has extreme downside for people who have attached to the Democrats because of social issues, and for those in the party who have worked to form those attachments on that basis.

      If we want the Democratic party not to give up on the South and much of ruralia for the next X cycles, it will be necessary to interrogate this account to see whether and where it is mistaken, and to an extent to hope that it is mistaken to some significant degree. Or, I suppose, to find ways to make it so that these people feel not only that their economic welling is at stake with governance, but also that those stakes are enough to offset their apparently highly salient social values, and that the Democrats represent the upside of those stakes for them. Otherwise, competing in the South, if it means trying to reconcile divergent sets of social values, will be largely a profitless prospect for Democrats, and won’t be undertaken.Report

      • It can be done. For example, Jim Webb crosses that cultural divide pretty well, IMO.Report

      • Don Zeko in reply to Michael Drew says:

        So now, more than ever, Democrats should put a greater emphasis on jobs and wages for the bottom half of the income distribution, and come up with policies and policy arguments that reachable voters will actually take seriously.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Eh, I see that as analogous to the argument that Republicans ought to not give a crap about the African-American vote. What are they up to? 93%? Something like that is probably a pretty good argument that Republicans could… but it seems to me like there are a lot of inroads that Republicans (well, vaguely principled ones, anyway) could make into the African-American community.

        Discussions on the police state, discussions on the war on drugs, discussions about school choice.

        I’ve no doubt that there is a good chunk of the AA vote that could be convinced to vote for local Republicans if only the main Republican Party hadn’t taken an attitude of “hell with them, they don’t vote for us anyway” when the numbers were in the 70’s and 80’s. That got them numbers in the 90’s.Report

      • It won’t be done, if it means filling the party with more Jim Webbs. I’m okay enough with Webb myself, but that way is not the way to a growing party for the Dems. For one, he doesn’t represent the core values of the core of the party, who are moderate social liberals. (Or, maybe he is himself a moderate social liberal – I think that may be the case – in which case, he would lose in the South jus tike other Democrats – and for these analyses, Virginia statewide races are not the South). But more fundamentally, he represents a move away from the direction the party has taken that has succeeded in growth.

        As I said in the other thread, largely we’re not talking about much here in terms of what “the party” will do, as the local politics are local. So perhaps another Jim Webb will turn up in the South at some point through sheer chance. But in terms of managing the national profile of the party, to the extent that’s done in a strategic way, that’s not going to involve purposely raising the profile of people like Jim Webb in the near future.

        For that not to be the case, you need to hope that Southern voters’ voting decisions are based on social issues much less significant than you surmise, so that candidates maintaining a liberal social profile and who promote diversity can make headway with an appealing economic message.Report

      • Don Zeko in reply to Michael Drew says:

        @jaybird The cynic in me wonders how many white voters who like the War on Drugs, welfare reform, mass incarceration, etc., would be lost in an attempt to credibly signal to black voters that the Republican Party gives a damn about them or their concerns.Report

      • @jaybird

        No, it’s analogous to an argument that if we want Republicans to compete among blacks, we need to hope that blacks are going to be willing to give them a chance to earn their vote.Report

      • @jaybird

        …And that’s the other part of the analogy, that @don-zeko points to.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Perhaps on the National Stage… but surely local Republicans could make inroads.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Burt Likko says:


      “Patrick wrote in another threat about his meetings with voters as part of his activism with school issues.”

      A most fine typo… 🙂Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Republican politicians seem like members of the tribe to many white working class voters. You can imagine them drinking buds, hunting, and watching football. A lot of Democratic politicians don’t come across as regular folk. Kerry in a hunting jacket always looked artificial.Report

      • Don Zeko in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I don’t buy this as a general thing. It has some explanatory power when it comes to Bush v. Kerry, but if you look at Clinton or Jim Webb or Jimmy Carter it suddenly doesn’t seem true at all. And of course that’s without getting into the artificiality of George Bush’s good ole boy schtickReport

      • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @don-zeko, there are a few Democratic politicians that are immune to this but I’d say that Democratic politicians have been portrayed as effete urban yuppies as opposed to real American Republicans since McGovern. Dukakis and Mondale also suffered in this regard against Papa Bush and Reagan.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

        The Republican Party seems to have mastered the whole “how do we run against Northeastern Democrats?” thing.

        They seem less skilled at running against Democrats from other areas.Report

  8. j r says:

    It seems like Americans talk so often about race, among other reasons, because they never talk about class.

    This is a very odd statement. It is as if you have never written anything that @saul-degraw ever wrote.Report

  9. j r says:

    Also, this sentence:

    So, voting for the anti-union guy is pretty cynical in a lot of ways, but it’s at least somewhat understandable.

    implies that because some one is a member of the working class, they ought to have some allegiance to the union or to the union rep in the first place. You can be working class, anti-union and not cynical.

    Following on my other comment, it’s not that Americans don’t talk about class. It’s that Americans don’t talk about class in the specific way that many on the left would like. As a result, we tend to get a lot of arguments of the What’s the Matter with Kansas?/false consciousness variety.Report

    • LWA in reply to j r says:

      I’m genuinely curious- what way DO Americans talk about class?Report

      • DavidTC in reply to LWA says:

        I second that question.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to LWA says:

        hooray i get to bring out my favorite thing to citeReport

      • Tod Kelly in reply to LWA says:

        How did that post get one single comment???!!!Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to LWA says:

        Now you know why I’m skeptical of reviving the sub-blogs.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to LWA says:

        You know, at first I was very skeptical of the new format since I felt like I would inadvertently step on toes or something. My thinking was that I tailored the content of my claims to fit the prejudices of the sub-blogs (or something like that) to some extent, and that breaking down the sub-blog format would result in more noise than what the proprietor viewed as signal. Part of me still feels that way, what with Russell and Rose and Tim basically shutting the shop doors. Course, I could be wrong in thinking there’s a correlation between those things.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to LWA says:

        @burt-likko That should have been a front pager regardless.

        @stillwater We are actually talking about revising the subs, or at least some of them. Sadly, I don’t know that it will make a difference with the three people you mentioned, since I think their lack of posting these days comes from other factors.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to LWA says:

        @burt-likko The more I think about it, the more I think you should re-post that this week, and I think that you should feature it. It’s as timely now as back then, and I am guessing based on that lone comment almost no one read it. (Pretty sure I never did.)

        Think of it as being like a great book that didn’t sell well and fell out of print, but then the author writes a new best seller and that old book gets republished and everyone snatches it up and it becomes a best seller too.

        Seriously, I think you should do this.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to LWA says:

        Mark sponsored that piece as a cross-post from my sub-blog. It got 46 hits as a guest post, which satisfied me at the time. (This was before I was a named front-page contributor.)Report

      • Jaybird in reply to LWA says:

        It was, indeed, an amazing piece.

        If we ever again have a slow day, we should have “Blast From The Past” essays.Report

  10. LeeEsq says:

    League alumnus Jamelle Bouie, had an article about this on Slate recently:

    My feelings are similar to Saul’s on this topic, a lot of white working class resentment towards the Democratic Party is a a result of hostilities that arouse during the Civil Rights Era. The Democratic Party began being perceived as the part of the urban poor rather than the working to lower middle class. The policies of the Great Society were seen as helping the poor more than the working or lower class. There was a lot of racial resentment that the Republicans used to attract working class voters during the Nixon administration.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I think it’s very likely that the government has addressed what you might call catastrophic poverty and ignored structural problems- directing government programs to help people who are in the most dire circumstances, while not doing much for people who are working class and just keeping their heads above water. This could easily breed resentment for government and an ironic sort of envy for the people who are receiving aid in dire circumstances.

      I don’t know Jamelle, other than through mutual acquaintances and didn’t want to pull him into the conversation too much, but it’s probably fair to note that I am quoting him anonymously in the first paragraph of this post.Report

  11. Roger says:


    You have defaulted to a zero sum conflict value of society and then pondered why those on one side of the paradigm construction don’t rally as you might expect. Workers vs management! Working class vs non working class!

    Another possible way to solve the issue is to consider they reject your paradigm in part or whole.

    For example, they may not think that government’s role is to take stands of one side against another. Indeed anyone who does think this way is kind of an exploitative bastard…no? “FY I Want Mine From You?” Perhaps they think the role of government is to provide just rules which apply to everyone and then get out of our way.

    Alternatively to the above, they could, as you suggest, have no faith that a government which takes sides will really take their side as opposed to the side of elites or other special interest groups. For example, if they view democrats as for minority privilege, and they are not a minority, then they realistically see this as a threat to their opportunity and equality.

    On the union angle, I am familiar with three working class takes on unions. First, that they are valuable and “help people like me.” Second, that they encourage free riders and loafers at the expense of “hard working responsible people like me.” And third that they are a net drain on value for all workers, often creating a zero sum dynamic and animosity which creates “harm for all of us, and drives jobs away.”Report