The Left and Blue Collar Voters
Saul linked to a short quote from The Atlantic that discusses problems that liberals have in the Rust Belt. My responses below. As a preface, I think it’s important to note that the problem isn’t just in the Rust Belt. Liberals in general are struggling with blue collar voters nearly everywhere.
1) “I fully understand why transgender bathrooms are important, but I also understand why progressives’ obsession with prioritizing cultural issues infuriates many Americans whose chief concerns are economic.”
While policy wonks know that more energy is spent on things with economic impact, the big cultural items will always get more attention. It’s why most of the cases considered to be ‘landmarks’ with SCOTUS have cultural implications. Liberals are often on the winning side of those items with regards to (capital P) Progress. They celebrate those wins. They talks about how history will remember that conservatives fought desegregation or gay marriage or abortion. And that’s their right to do, however the negative PR that comes with it can hurt them. It looks like misplaced priorities to a not-small number of voters. The same is true, and it’s the point made by the quote above, of all those smaller issues that happen at the state and municipal level. All those old Regan Democrats that are not very inclined to care about those issues but remember when you could work at Acme Manufacturing for 40 years and retire with a nice pension, etc…well, yeah, they feel left out and probably voted for Trump. I see that stuff every day with my blue collar relatives.
2) “Democrats have tried, with proposals like infrastructure projects, science and technology education, and tax credits for companies that offer apprenticeships, but few of the policy prescriptions that could begin the process of getting millions of white, working-class men back to work are very sexy.”
If infrastructure and STEM education and incentives for apprenticeships are a liberal idea…then i guess I lean Left on those issues. Ironically, President-Elect Trump also seems to feel that way, or at least when it comes to infrastructure projects. I’m a big WPA fan and I know quite a few Millennials that are adrift right now. If they could be persuaded that trades are awesome and there’s a bright future there…and this could also be tied to big projects…well, you might have a winning recipe. The problem is that at the same time you also have liberals screaming for universal access to higher education, which hurts that idea. It sounds cruel at first glance, but making higher education somewhat less attainable might make the other options more attractive. According to a quote I heard last week, 80% of skilled trade jobs went unfilled last year. That’s a lot of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc that we need and those jobs will never get outsourced.
My friend and OT alumni Phillip Hoffman pointed me towards a good article on the subject of the Heartland and what Democrats could do differently. It offers a critique, and then some alternatives:
Enter the Republicans. They have been even worse, abusing the condition of heartland America without ever intending to do anything about it. As heartland America has declined under the weight of both the changing economy and inattention, the Republicans have learned to win elections stirring their passions by blaming the Democrats for their plight. The Democrats, they are told, take their money and give it to urban minorities, and celebrate the non-traditional cultures of the cities. Listen to comments any petty rightwing demagogue like Limbaugh or Gingrich, and it is little more than a rant about “San Francisco” values, “Hollywood culture” or the media.
The Republicans have not the slightest interest in doing anything that would really help heartland America. They want the most laissez-faire free trade agreements with a minimum of protections. They do not want to spend money on building infrastructure or early childhood education, healthcare or even childhood health. Despite heartland America being the source for most of our volunteer military, Republicans resist programs to help returning veterans.
But, Mark Warner is very popular in heartland Virginia. Why? Because when he was Governor, he listened to heartland Virginia, and addressed their needs, directly. They want quality jobs, but they do not want to have to move to cities to obtain them. Nor do they want their children to be forced to move away. So, Warner led the nation in linking small town schools and libraries to the internet, provided small town classroom teachers with training in how to use those tools to improve the quality of education. With a more educated population, lower costs, and links to the web—presto!, quality jobs started coming to some of those towns. Even his tax increases were not subject to the same demagoguery as Republicans usually employ, because the “heartland Virginia” voters saw the money as coming to address their needs, not just urban minorities.
Lot of options out there, but that means Democrats have to stop focusing on one office (the Presidency) and start paying attention to the thousands of smaller offices all over the country where they could actually make some progress.