Let’s start by blaming Thomas Frank. In 2004, before John Kerry lost to George W. Bush, Frank published What’s the Matter With Kansas?
What was the matter with Frank’s home state? Voters there were just too dense to understand that the liberals in the Democratic Party had all their answers. Frank’s thesis was that, even though Democrats had economic policies that benefitted the working class, the Republicans had hoodwinked them into voting for them by emphasizing hot button social issues.
What was taken for granted in Frank’s book was that economic issues should trump social and cultural issues. Except, of course, that they don’t. If you really think that abortion is tantamount to murder, why wouldn’t that be more important to you than the minimum wage?
As a matter of fact, affluent liberals make that sort of calculation all the time. They keep talking about how they want to raise taxes on themselves so that we can pay for all kinds of social goods. They’re choosing their values over their bottom lines, just like blue collar workers who might choose the party of pro-life over the party of the higher minimum wage.
But there was an even deeper problem with Frank’s argument. He didn’t just miss the point on values; he missed the point on the value of work, the value of earning things. Rightly or wrongly, the Democratic brand is about giving stuff away. Democrats are always talking about what the Federal government is going to do for you, and they’ll pay for all that by taxing rich people or corporations. It’ll be free.
Left out of the conversation is the idea that people should earn what they get. American workers do not want to be given things; they want to earn things.
And, of course, it gets worse. Because one of the things Democrats are famous for wanting to give away is a college education. Prominent Democrats would forgive up to $50,000 in college loans, no questions asked. No questions like, why did you take out the loan if you knew you couldn’t pay it back? Or questions like, why should the two-thirds of Americans without a four year degree, who earn half of what a college graduate earns, pay back their loans for them?
Also left out of Frank’s book is the recognition that not everybody hates the rich. There’s still a strong aspirational streak in working class Americans. They don’t want to bring down the “one percent” because they hope that they, or their children, will be the one percent some day. And even if they’re realistic enough not to believe that’s likely to happen, they still very well may see wealthy people more as job creators than as oppressors, oppression being very much a preoccupation of elites these days as opposed to those who are said to be oppressed.
Unfortunately, Frank’s argument has become dogma among Democratic elites. In a Labor Day essay for the home office of liberal dogma, the New York Times, Steven Greenhouse, a former Times labor reporter, offers comfort to readers. His narrative is right out of Frank’s book. Liberals know what’s best for workers and all they have to do is break through that evil Republican rhetoric about abortion, Critical Race Theory and the like, and they’ll be home free.
What about the politics of the last 17 years does Greenhouse not get? Democratic support among what was once their base has deteriorated because the party’s brand is trashed with them. And the brand is trashed because Democrats no longer speak to working class values. Sure, their policies are right, but their underlying philosophy and messaging are all wrong.
To make matters so much worse, when Democrats and liberals are confronted with this reality, they just dismiss it all as racism. When their arguments don’t work, they figure they’ll win over blue collar voters by insulting them. Always a good strategy.
Well, yeah, I’d be naive not to realize that there is an element of racism and xenophobia about all this. But it’s far from the whole story. It does not explain 100% of the problem.
For people who are always congratulating themselves for how smart, educated and well-read they are, it’s just amazing to me that the world view of affluent liberals is so simplistic. If all these dumb blue collar people, who can’t figure out their own self-interests, are racists to boot, how come so many of them voted for Barack Obama? Twice. And then turned around and voted for Donald Trump? Twice again.
Could it be that they’re so desperate for somebody who understands them that they’ll vote for a Black man (even though they might harbor some racist views) and then vote for a gross man (even though they understand what an idiot he is)?
And, by the way, you can make a pretty decent case that working class Blacks have more in common with blue collar whites than they have with elite African Americans. It was rank and file Black voters who saved Joe Biden in South Carolina and made him president. And Biden was most definitely not the first choice of Black elites.
Democrats will continue to lose support among blue collar voters until they shake off the false narrative of Thomas Frank. Because there’s nothing the matter with Kansas, but there’s plenty wrong with how the Democrats think about it.
Welcome to the 201st consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for read reading!