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Meyerson: Bring White Working Class Back Home

In the current issue of Dissent, Harold Meyerson has a must-read article for Dems, "Beyond the Consensus: Democrats Agree on How to Play Defense, But What Are They Fighting For?" Meyerson offers a lucid assessment of the current state of the Democratic Party, its propects and what can be done to create a majority anchored in Democratic principles:

One point on which all Democrats agree is that the party needs a red-state strategy. In olden days, the DLC might have made this argument, to the strenuous opposition of social liberals. These days, labor has embraced a proposal from the Teamsters that the movement should focus its organizing in battleground and red states....

Consensus reigns. We are all Democrats; we are all cultural moderates...Though the killer issue in last November's election, we know, wasn't really moral values; it was national security. And we need to be for that, too.

Will that get us back into the majority? For the really disquieting thing about the exit polling was that it showed that the number of self-identified Republicans equaled the number of self-identified Democrats. It's particularly instructive, and depressing, to look at the turnout figures in the non-battleground states, where neither party was buying the airwaves or flooding the mailboxes or walking the precincts to get out their vote. In battleground states, Kerry pulled down 3.6 percent more votes than Al Gore had four years before, and Bush exceeded his 2000 totals by 4.4 percent. But in non-battleground states, where voters were left to their own devices, Kerry increased his total over Gore by just 1.5 percent, while Bush boosted his total by 3.9 percent. In Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, where no major offices were on the ballot, turnout hit an all-time high. That's the white working class, flocking to George Bush.

And did they ever flock! Kerry lost white, working-class voters-a group that constituted roughly half of the 2004 electorate-by 23 percent, six points worse than Gore had done in 2000. The shift away from the Democrats came chiefly among white, working-class women, who voted nine points more for Bush this time than they had four years ago. To a considerable degree, that's a function of their trust in Bush on matters of national security: 66 percent of white, working-class voters said they trusted Bush to handle terrorism, compared to just 39 percent who trusted Kerry. (These numbers come from Democratic poll analyst Ruy Teixeira, who has been rummaging around in the raw data from the exit polling.)

But it's a secondary result that should really give the Democrats pause: 55 percent of these voters trusted Bush to handle the economy, compared to just 39 percent who trusted Kerry. The economy? Bush? They trust the man on whose watch the nation lost three million manufacturing jobs in four years, whose recovery has seen the lowest increases in wages and salaries of any recovery since before the Great Depression? That Bush? And among precisely the voters-the white working class-who've lost the most economically during his presidency.

Perhaps this collapse of confidence in Democratic economics isn't as bad as it seems. After all, once Kerry lost these working-class voters' trust on national security, his trustworthiness on other topics likely plummeted as well. In addition, the Bush people were certainly more successful depicting Kerry as a cultural plutocrat (not that hard a job, really) than Kerry was in depicting Bush as the economic plutocrat's favorite president. Kerry was always more comfortable talking about America's proper role in the world than he was discussing America's economy, and Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg faults Kerry's campaign for failing to focus on the economy during the homestretch....

Politically, the declining strength of unions has hurt the Democrats most within the white working class. Over the past forty years, white union members have tended to vote Democratic at a rate roughly 20 percent higher than their non-union counterparts. But with the rate of private-sector union membership now down to an abysmal 7.9 percent, the voting habits of working-class whites have shifted markedly rightward.

In addition to his sobering observations, Meyerson asks some tough questions and has a lot more to say about how Democrats can challenge corporate abuse of working people. Highly reccommended for Dems interested in building a stronger party.