Just about the time I think the Democratic Party can’t get any more out of touch, it proves me wrong. Headline from Sunday’s Boston Globe: “Anti-Trump wave lifts and worries Democrats.” Worries!!!??? Some party leaders fret that the leftward tilt of the Warren-Sanders “base” will be a turn-off to “moderate” voters in the Rust Belt. Or so says Ohio’s Tim Ryan.
Okay, so much wrong with that, starting with the obvious: any party ignoring its “base” will crumble like a randomly stacked pile of stones. Worse, Ryan’s sentiment is more of the all-bullshit-no-beef posturing of Hillary Clinton and many of her doe-eyed middle class supporters. Need I remind you how that turned out? Can we revisit the question of why so many Sanders supporters did not vote for Clinton? Wrong answer from Democratic elites: "These delusional fools are responsible for putting Trump into the White House." Real answer: Clinton never connected with palpable economic and social concerns, excited far fewer than voted for her, and resonated best with educated elites. (Spare me the, “She got three million more votes” line. I agree the Electoral College is a travesty but, for now, it exists.)
Moderates? Try this definition: Those who lack the courage, the commitment, the compassion, and/or the incentive to make up their minds. Ryan and others who worry that the anti-Trump movement will push the Democratic Party too far to the left are drawing the wrong conclusion. The goal isn't to become more like Trump; it's to push the “moderate” electorate leftward. The "center" is a myth. Stop thinking of wage earners as inherently racist, sexist, and conservative. Many are, but that’s true of the vaunted middle class as well—especially suburban whites, the only difference being that the latter dissemble in politeness. (That’s why Martin Luther King Jr. feared white "moderates" more than overt bigots.) Here’s a short history lesson: The American working class has been far more liberal and activist than the middle class. This is the class of the labor wars, unions, civil rights marches, NOW*, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, anti-globalization protests, etc. It is the class that taught the middle class how to protest.
I weary of hearing about the woes of the middle class—a den of privilege and plenitude that behaves like they are paupers. (Yes, I am now a member of its intellectual elite.) Here’s a small guide for the misguided who conflate the working and middle classes. Take it to heart; the Democratic Party cannot speak to the first if it carries the assumptions of the latter. ( MC= middle class WC = Working class)
1. Housing: You are MC if you worry about affording a mortgage. Many in the WC fear not being able to scrape up rent money.
2. Making your income meet needs: You are MC being "strapped" means Johnny’s orthodontics have to wait, if you are forced to forgo a new cell phone, or carry some debt on credit cards. Many in the WC must choose between which bills to pay immediately, still have a landline, and their cards are maxed out.
3. Food: Pretty simple: If you’ve never known hunger—real hunger, not gluttonous desire—you’re MC.
4. Clothing: WC is patch and pass down; MC is pitch and keep up with fashion.
5. Paycheck: MC draws a salary; WC gets paid by the hour. The size of the paycheck matters less than its security. Contract workers must be paid for the length of that document. No such net for hourly employees.
6. Cars: The MC worries about car payments. So does the WC, but it truly fears unexpected repair bills. No one from my WC family has ever used Uber.
7. Education: The MC worries about how to pay Buffy’s tuition to Stanford; the WC fears its smart children won't have enough to go to a local state school or community college. The WC fixates on what kind of job their kids will get; the MC wants its kids to develop their minds.
8. Mindsets: Before you tell me how much more electricians make than teachers, I know! But the MC misses the point when it measures everything in monetary/property terms—as if they were Marxist materialists! If you don’t get the whole intellectual versus manual labor thing, you’re clueless—the difference resonates in how worldviews are formed, including thoughts on economics and politics. Don’t tell the WC that globalism helps the economy or generates investment wealth; it's fixated on well-paying jobs—in the USA and now. The MC also needs to be less particularistic and more universal, because every time it uses group-specific terms, the WC thinks, “Special privileges. What about us?” And they’re right!
If the Democrats actually want to win elections, it needs to shut down the Tim Ryans of the party and listen harder to Warren and Sanders on how to re-radicalize the working class--at least in the North and Midwest. (Much of the South might be hopeless!) Think big, not small: free health care, cracking down on Wall Street pirates, job creation, protectionism, equal opportunity, higher taxes on the wealthy, improving public education, deregulating individuals, and securing the blessings of the Bill of Rights for all Americans—not just elites. That’s true populism, not Clintonian triangulation.
*Sadly, we tell the story of feminism from a middle-class perspective. Women from the United Auto Workers co-founded NOW.