Ideology and Politics
Paul Rosenberg, writing in Salon.com, quotes David Hopkins, co-author with Matt Grossman of “Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats” as saying “The Democrats are best understood as a coalition of social groups, and Republicans are best understood as the agent of the conservative ideological movement. The American public collectively leans to the right in terms of abstract ideological predispositions, but it also leans to the left in terms of specific policy views”.
Well that explains a lot. For example, why do Republicans always advance the cause of tax cuts for the wealthy, when history tells us that such cuts don’t help the economy? Because that’s their ideology and they’re going to stick with it, evidence be damned. Ditto health care. They are unconcerned with the doomsday predictions of the Congressional Budget Office if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, because results are irrelevant. Their ideology mandates no government role in health care delivery, and that’s that. Another particularly maddening example: women’s reproductive health care. Both research and common sense tell us that readily available contraception lowers the abortion rate, and yet the people who most oppose abortion rights are the same people who want to make it harder for women to obtain contraception. This makes no sense unless you view it through an exclusively ideological lens in which outcomes are irrelevant. Same thing with guns. That the ubiquity of firearms in this country does not keep us safe is made patently obvious by comparing our gun violence (homicide, suicide and accident) rates (very high) to those of countries that impose the kind of restrictions on the private ownership and possession of guns that we do not. But if you are ideologically disposed to completely unfettered gun ownership, as is the Republican party, the outcome (lots of dead bodies) really doesn’t matter. I find that chilling.
All of which is prelude to my discussion of an issue that is currently roiling Democratic party politics, i.e. how to win back white working-class voters who voted (to their own detriment in the opinion of many, myself included) for Trump in 2016. I feel like I’m constantly being told by people like New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, et al, that in 2016 Democrats ignored the legitimate financial concerns of this demographic, which is why it voted Trump, and why Hillary Clinton lost the election. Oh, and also because not-nice progressives like me talked down to Trump voters, the poor darlings, and so they just had to vote Trump in order to stick it to the liberals. To which I reply: bullshit! (Okay, I could have said “poppycock”, but it’s my essay and I’ll curse if I want to. Besides, poppycock? Really? I don’t think so). First of all, the Democratic party platform was the most progressive in history, with very significant input given to the Sanders campaign. It called for keeping the Affordable Care Act, increasing the minimum wage, making college affordable for the masses, raising taxes on the rich, and more. The Republican platform offered none of these populist economic planks for the white working-class, and yet they voted for Trump anyway. And if “economic insecurity” accounts for their votes, why did some vote for Obama in 2008, when economic times were much worse, and then switch to Trump in 2016 when economic conditions were actually far better? In fact, there’s a good part of your answer right there. They voted Trump in 2016 because times were better, and so they felt free to vote their ideology over their needs. This demographic subscribes to basic Republican ideology (rugged individualism! Just say no to socialism! Yay for God and guns! Boo for homosexuals!), and when times are good, or at least not that bad, they vote that ideology. Those who voted for Obama in 2008 did so because the Great Recession left them scared shitless, and they knew that only Democrats would take care of their needs. And by the way, if people are willing to vote for an ignorant, narcissistic conman who will fleece them blind, just because they don’t like liberals, I think the problem is with them, not me. I knew before the election that Trump would wind up betraying the white blue-collar workers who supported him, but that didn’t cause me to vote Trump just to screw over people who aren’t like me. If I can be that careful with my vote, so can they. As Bob Cesca wrote recently in Salon.com, “I’m done with walking on eggshells around Trump voters and their low information nincompoopery… It’s time to make America smart again”.
White working-class voters go for Democrats when they are so scared and in pain that, ideology be damned, they need the Democrats to take care of them. But when they don’t feel that fear and pain so acutely, they go right back to the elephants, their ideological soulmates. So we should stop pandering to them; it won’t work. Right now, the only way for Democrats to get these voters back would be to give up virtually everything we believe in. If Democrats forget about reproductive health care, and environmentalism, and LGBTQ rights, and immigrant rights, and African-American civil rights, and unionism, and equal pay for women, maybe white working-class voters would come back to them. But then again probably not; why vote for a fake Republican when you can vote for the real thing? This group will vote for a Democrat when their pain and fear overcome their dogma, and there’s nothing we can or should do to hasten that day. So is there anything that Democrats can do? Yes, protect the voting rights of the base and then get out the vote. According to a CNN report issued the day after the election, “African-American, Latino and younger voters failed to show up at the polls in sufficient numbers to propel Clinton into the White House”. There is electoral gold in them thar hills; Democrats need to do a better job of turning that gold into actual votes.
Democratic policies already favor the working class of every race and ethnicity, including whites. So when it comes to real policies that favor blue-collar voters, the Democratic party is already doing all it can. But when it comes to winning elections, white working-class voters will only go for Democrats when they desperately need them, and there’s nothing that Bernie Sanders or anyone else can do about that.